Humanities Dean Jasmine Alinder receives NEH grant to enrich teaching of Japanese-American incarceration during WWII

UC Santa Cruz Humanities Dean Jasmine Alinder. Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta. 

Jasmine Alinder, Humanities Dean at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has received a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, making it possible for her to co-direct a summer institute that will enrich U.S. educators’ understanding of the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and the aftermath of their devastating displacement.

Engaging an intellectual and pedagogical framework that foregrounds justice and fosters student agency, the institute’s workshops will consider where and how, despite all the odds, Japanese Americans rebuilt their lives after incarceration. 

At the heart of the project are two pressing questions: What were the consequences of the U.S. government pressuring Japanese Americans to absorb the shame and trauma of forced removal and wrongful imprisonment in order to be free, and what relationship do participants’ local communities have to the history of Japanese American resettlement?

This year, the NEH awarded 37 grants to American educators to run summer institutes and workshops that provide professional enrichment and research opportunities for K–12 teachers and college faculty.

Each NEH-funded institute will take on a different aspect of American history. The wide range of topics includes the cultural impact of the American automobile industry and the political, cultural, and economic histories of the Buffalo Nations of the Assiniboine, Sioux, Blackfeet, Crow, Northern Arapaho, and Eastern Shoshone.

Alinder and Ashley Cheyemi McNeil will co-direct the institute, which will meet in person in Chicago and also meet online. Alinder and McNeil are planning every aspect of the project. McNeill directs education and research at Full Spectrum Features, an arts/media non-profit that works to uplift stories from marginalized communities. 

Locating the history of Japanese American resettlement

Alinder will kick off the residential portion of the NEH-sponsored institute by lecturing on the complexities of locating the history of Japanese American resettlement in the dominant narrative of U.S. history. 

The subject of Japanese American incarceration during World War II  is often limited to a passing acknowledgement in K-12 standard curricula,” Alinder said. “But what happened to the 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry after they were forcibly displaced and unjustly incarcerated almost never appears in textbooks—an omission that dehumanizes the survivors of the concentration camps and their families.”

Focusing on the history of Japanese Americans’ resettlement after incarceration, the institute will invite teachers to consider the impact on the Japanese American community of being displaced multiple times over and forced to assimilate into white American culture to prove they were not the enemy society had painted them to be.

The institute will approach the topic of resettlement in a way that centers the human experience and promotes compassion from participants and healing for the Japanese American community. 

“This is a timely moment to offer such an institute,” Alinder said, noting that last year was the  80th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which violated a core constitutional right by authorizing the forced removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast without due process or any specific accusations. 

“The executive order set into motion the policies that would eventually result in roughly half of the Japanese American population being ‘resettled’ in a place they had never been,” Alinder said.

U.S. state education systems, however, have yet to acknowledge and include this as an essential part of American history, much less follow through with an inclusion of how E.O. 9066 has deeply impacted hundreds of thousands of people over multiple generations, Alinder said. 

Expanding the canonical U.S. history of World War II and deepening it through place-based and community-centered learning, this institute provides educators the opportunity to reclaim and humanize this hidden history in their classrooms.

Calling attention to a tragic chapter in U.S. history

Alinder and McNeil’s upcoming institute is only the latest example of the partnership between Alinder and Full Spectrum Features, as well as UCSC Humanities public scholarship on this tragic chapter in U.S. history. 

Meanwhile, THI and the UCSC Humanities Division are co-sponsoring UCSC Associate Professor of History and History Department Chair Alice Yang’s  “Never Again Is Now!”  This ongoing exhibit at the Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery at Cowell College highlights the experiences of Japanese American women who experienced the World War II mass incarceration and have a long history of activism including protests within the camps, participation in the social movements of the 1960s, and the successful campaign for a national apology and monetary redress. 

They, their daughters, granddaughters, and non-binary individuals continue to invoke memories of injustice to defend the rights of all people of color in their activism and art. 

Showing the powerful connection between the past and the present, this exhibit highlights how women’s historical memories helped win redress, challenged racial and gender stereotypes, promoted intergenerational ties, and developed coalitions with other communities fighting discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, immigration status, gender, and sexual orientation.

Another project, “Trekking To Topaz,”a videographic essay woven into a long-form documentary film about the Topaz incarceration of Japanese Americans,  recently received $50,000 in funding from the California State Library’s Civil Liberties program. The project weaves together an essay by UCSC professor emerita of literature and creative writing Karen Tei Yamashita, "Trekking to Topaz," with oral history interviews conducted by Yamashita and by Tim Yamamura, who received his Ph.D. in Literature at UCSC. Other interviewees include people from Delta, Utah, and Japanese Americans in California and Salt Lake City connected to the Topaz concentration camp. These funds will assist with the film’s post-production requirements.

This past March, The Humanities Institute’s Signature Event, UCSC Night at the Museum, at the Museum of Art and History in downtown Santa Cruz featured a screening and panel discussion of “Resettlement: Chicago Story,” a short fictional film and accompanying website about people of Japanese ancestry remaking their lives in the Midwest following their wrongful incarceration during World War II.

Both the film and website were produced by Full Spectrum Features. Alinder served as the lead academic advisor and member of the education team for Resettlement Chicago, her second project with FSF. The award-winning first project, The Orange Story, follows the story of a Japanese American man as he tries to sell his business before his forced removal. Through books, articles, exhibitions, and digital humanities projects, Alinder has focused much of her research on the Japanese American experience during World War II.

The event served as a Day of Remembrance to reflect on the impact of the signing of Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt in 1942. That order, under the pretext of preventing espionage on U.S. soil, forcibly removed more than 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes. 

The vast majority of detainees were U.S. citizens. After being transported to detention facilities, these Japanese-Americans were moved to 10 internment camps set in windswept and desolate locations, most of them in the American West. 

Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at