Please Print and Use this Guide

Children of the Camps
Viewer's Guide

Developed by Dr. Satsuki Ina

About this Guide

This viewer's guide is designed to help individuals and groups most effectively use the Children of the Camps documentary. It contains thought-provoking questions, as well as sources of more information on the Japanese American incarceration experience. A college level Teacher's Guide is available on our Web site's Resources page here.

About the Program

Children of the Camps
is a one-hour documentary that portrays the poignant stories of six men and women who were incarcerated as children in US prison camps during World War II. By Executive Order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, men, women, and children solely by virtue of their racial similarity to the enemy, were deemed a "risk to national security" and, without determination of guilt, were imprisoned behind barbed wire for up to 5 years.

The film captures a three-day intensive group experience, during which the participants are guided by a trained therapist through a process that enables them to speak honestly about their experiences, often for the first time. The six participants openly share how their families were torn apart, the shame and humiliation they watched their parents endure, and the legacy passed on to them for how to survive in a world that had accused and ostracized them for no other reason than the color of their skin. Through the telling of their personal stories we witness an unfolding of the deeply traumatic nature of that early childhood experience.

The documentary sheds light on the deeply damaging personal impact of racism and offers an opportunity for viewers to understand the cultural and familial consequences of growing up as a scapegoated minority group member. As the film shows, the trauma was not merely the overt experience of being imprisoned at a young age, but even more so, the covert victimization from racism that conveys to children that they are unworthy and unwanted.

The healing process is reflected in the participants' increasing ability to tell each other the truth about their experience, allowing them to feel their long-held grief and anger. Through this process, they gain a deeper understanding of how that early trauma has continued to effect their lives today. The once secret and darkly shrouded private suffering becomes clearer and better understood, thus clearing the way for self-acceptance and new possibilities.

Facts About the WWII Japanese American Concentration Camps

* Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 194l, shocked all Americans, including Japanese Americans.

* On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which set into motion the exclusion from certain areas, the restriction of movement by curfew, and the eventual mobilization for mass incarceration of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens. For most prisoners, this represented the single most traumatic episode in their collective lives. ("The Bill of Rights and the Japanese American World War II Experience", National Japanese American Historical Society, San Francisco Unified School District Dept. of Integration Staff Development, 1992.)

* Most of the 110,000 persons removed for reasons of "national security" were school-age children, infants and young adults not yet of voting age. ("Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America's Concentration Camps", Michi Weglyn, 1976.)

* Early rumors of sabotage and espionage by Japanese residents in Hawaii and the West Coast were found to be false by the FBI and other government agencies, but these findings were suppressed by high U.S. officials in government. There was not one instance of sabotage or espionage by Japanese American citizens or residents of the U.S. before or during the war. Nevertheless, the government did not deny rumors to this effect. ("The Bill of Rights and the Japanese American World War II Experience", National Japanese American Historical Society and San Francisco Unified School District, 1992)

* Japanese Americans died in the camps due to inadequate medical facilities and emotional stresses they encountered. Some were killed by the military guards posted around the camps. ("Legacy of Injustice", Donna K. Nagata, 1993)

* One of the most hauntingly pressing issues facing Japanese Americans today is their concentration camp experience during World War II. Yet, the major group of survivors generally do not confront the implications of it within themselves or with their own children. In many respects the Nisei have been permanently altered in their attitudes, both positively and negatively, in regard to their identification with the values of their bicultural heritage; or they remain confused or even injured by the traumatic experience. ("Identity Crisis of the Sansei and the Concentration Camp", Nobu Miyoshi, 1978.)

* Recognizing the great injustice that took place, they carry with them the legacy of their parents' internment. Time has not severed the psychological ties to events that preceded them, nor has the fact that their parents will not openly discuss the internment. On the contrary, the vast majority of Sansei (third generation) feel that the incarceration has affected their lives in significant ways. ("Legacy of Injustice", Donna K. Nagata, 1993.)

* The recent Japanese American redress movement was "led largely by younger Japanese Americans whose parents and grandparents still bore the psychological scars of internment". ("Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese American Internment Cases", P. Irons, 1983.)

* Trauma may directly or indirectly affect the children of trauma victims. The multiple pathways of its effects create a variety of consequences. Despite the silence, or perhaps because of it, the Sansei who had a parent interned felt the effects of that experience in numerous ways. They are sad and angry about the injustice and attribute a number of negative consequences in their own lives to their parents' internment. These include feelings of low self-esteem, the pressure to assimilate, an accelerated loss of the Japanese culture and language, and experiencing the unexpressed pain of their parents. ("Legacy of Injustice: Exploring the Cross-Generational Impact of the Japanese American Internment", Donna K. Nagata, 1993.)

* Long-term health consequences included psychological anguish as well as increased cardiovascular disease. Traumatic stress was buffered by culturally constructed coping mechanisms that were less inculcated in the youngest detainees. They reported more post-traumatic stress symptoms of unexpected and disturbing flashback experiences than those who were older at the time of incarceration. Survey information found former internees had a 2.1 greater risk of cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular mortality, and premature death than did a non-interned counterpart. California Nisei-age individuals, the proxy for internment, died 1.6 years earlier than Hawaiians who represented non-interned status. I concluded traumatic stress has lifelong consequences even in the presence of efficacious coping strategies. (The Experience of Injustice: Health Consequences of the Japanese American Internment, Gwendolyn M. Jensen, 1997.)

Using the Guide

It is our hope that the Children of the Camps documentary will educate its viewers about the incarceration experience and the lifelong impact of racial oppression, while instilling a sense of hope and responsibility for healing the wounds of racism in all its forms. The healing for all of us begins by talking to one another and listening very carefully. The following suggestions and guidelines can help members of the viewing group to gain a better understanding of themselves and others.

Invite others to a group viewing . . .

Children of the Camps, the Documentary, offers many levels of experience and learning. Because it is an emotionally impactful story, we believe that viewing it with others and talking about your response and insights can provide a very powerful opportunity to examine topics and issues that are normally too difficult to discuss.

We encourage you to invite family, friends, colleagues or classmates to participate in a frank and open discussion about this little-known aspect of US history and all of its ramifications for understanding and unlearning racism.

Be sensitive about the subject . . .

For anyone who has been directly affected by the incarceration personally or through a family member, this program can touch a sensitive nerve. We urge members of the viewing group to be respectful of the extent to which that individual may feel like sharing their personal experiences. In addition, during World War II, the general public was caught up in wartime hysteria and as a result, many people today may have long-held beliefs about the justification for incarceration. We ask that viewers allow themselves to take in the reality of the personal stories presented so that they may reconsider any judgments which might be based on misinformation.

Suggested Discussion Format

The healing for all of us begins by talking and listening. The following suggested format can help the viewing group to achieve a better understanding of one another.

For Japanese Americans

Suggestions for having a family dialogue after viewing Children of the Camps:


  • Talk to family members about why it's important for you to learn more about your family's experience in camp.

  • It often helps to look at camp photos or artifacts together. These can stimulate memories and create a focal point for discussion.

  • Listen carefully and without judgment. Many prisoners have been reluctant to speak for fear they will be judged for decisions and choices they made.

  • Walk in the other person's shoes. As you listen, try putting yourself in that picture, in those circumstances and be aware of the your thoughts and feelings.

  • Acknowledge the feelings that come up in you and those you observe in the person sharing the story. Releasing the emotions is an important part of the healing.

  • Express your gratitude and appreciation. It helps to remind the prisoner that every decision and choice they made contributed to their survival and their presence in your life today.

Some questions you might ask of yourself:

  • What has made it difficult for me to ask about camp?

  • How do I think I might have reacted under those same circumstances?

  • What coping strategies are used in my family that are strengths and/or problems for me?

  • What does the camp experience mean for me and what are my feelings about the incarceration?

Some questions to ask of the former prisoner:

  • What helped you to survive the camp experience?

  • What were your greatest worries and fears?

  • What were the best times for you in camp?

  • What were the most difficult times for you in camp?

  • How did you make sense or meaning about your camp experience?

  • How did camp experience effect the way you raised your children?

  • What strengths do you now have as a result of camp?


  • Tell your story. By sharing your experience you are educating others who can benefit from your direct experience.

  • Be aware of your emotions. Acknowledging these feelings can be very liberating and can help others to more fully understand your experience.

  • Acknowledge the truth about the losses you and your family suffered. Minimizing our experience can create a distorted image of what can happen when civil liberties are denied.

  • Identify the strengths you have gained. Share with your family and friends what you feel helped you to face the situation.

  • Finish any unfinished business. If you need to make amends, acknowledge a mistake, clarify a misunderstanding related to or during the incarceration, take action that will contribute to healing.

Some questions for the former prisoner to consider:

  • Who did I identify with the most in the group?

  • What do I want my family and friends to get out of this program?

  • How do I feel about the intensity of emotions expressed in this program?

  • What is the most difficult thing for me to talk about?

  • How has camp effected how I view the world and what I expect in life?

For General Audiences

We suggest the following to facilitate your discussion. . .

  • Listen very carefully, avoiding judgment and encouraging discussion.

  • Listen to your own emotional and intellectual response to what you're hearing and try to express it.

Ask and Discuss:

  • What parts of the program affected you the most and why?

  • What kind of feelings did you experience as you watched the program?

  • In what way or with whom did you identify the most and why?

  • What did you learn that you didn't know?

  • What do you believe made it possible for this large-scale incarceration to occur? Could it happen again, perhaps to a different racial group?


  • What you can do to help educate others about the dehumanizing consequences of racism.

  • What is one thing you can do to help yourself and others to heal from the wounds of racism.

How you can teach tolerance:

  • Stand up for others whose rights are being challenged, whether through a racial joke or an institutional decision.

  • Cherish your freedom by voting, contributing your time and resources to support human rights.

Suggested Books

A Fence Away From Freedom: Japanese Americans and World War II. Ellen Levine. G.P. Putnam's Sons. 1995.

Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese-American Family. Yoshiko Uchida. University of Washington Press. 1998.

Drawing the Line, Poems by Lawson Fusao Inada. Lawson Fusao Inada. Coffee House Press. 1997.

From a Three-Cornered World, New & Selected Poems. James Masao Mitsui. University of Washington Press. 1997.

Identity Crisis of the Sansei and the Concentration Camp. Nobu Miyoshi. Sansei Legacy Project. 1994.

Imprisoned Apart: The World War II Correspondence of an Issei Couple. Louis Feist. University of Washington Press. 1997.

Legacy of Injustice: Exploring the Cross-Generational Impact of the Japanese American Internment. Donna K. Nagata. Plenum Pub. Corp., 1993.

My Six Years of Internment: An Issei's Struggle for Justice. Rev.Yoshiaki Fukuda. The Konko Church of San Francisco. 1990.

Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. The Civil Liberties Public Education Fund and University of Washington Press. 1977.

The Bill of Rights and the Japanese American World War II Experience. National Japanese American Historical Society and San Francisco Unified School District. 1992.

The Experience in Injustice: Health Consequences of the Japanese American Internment. Gwendolyn M. Jensen. UMI Dissertation Services. 1997.

Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America's Concentration Camps. Michi Nishimura Weglyn. University of Washington Press, 1996.

Purchase a DVD!

DVDs may be purchased for educational, grassroots and home use (specific usage rights included).

For CREDIT CARD orders, email Hesono O Productions for PayPal instructions, or contact our distributor:
Center for Asian American Media (formerly National Asian American Telecommunications Association) at (415) 552-9550 (home use video/DVD available by phone only) or on their web site at http://www.caamedia.org.

Children of the Camps is also available to rent or purchase from Amazon Prime Video.

The Children of the Camps Documentary and Educational Project is made possible by a grant from The California Endowment and The California Endowment's CommunitiesFirst Program, and was produced under the auspices of Asian Pacific Community Counseling.

Children of the Camps
(916) 947-5194


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