Heart Mountain Interpretive Center


Museum dedicated to the story of Heart Mountain, located near the site of the World War II concentration camp in Wyoming. The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center opened in 2011.

The roots of the center go back to the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation (HMWF), which formed in 1996 with a mission of preserving the Heart Mountain site and educating the public about the larger story of Japanese American forced removal and confinement. Governed by a board that includes both former Heart Mountain inmates and their descendants, largely from the Los Angeles area and Wyoming residents, the HMWF restored the camp's Honor Roll in 2003 and made the necessary arrangements to have the site named a National Historic Landmark in 2007.

In the fall of 2007, the HMWF announced the launch of a $5.5 million campaign to build the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center (HMIC). Two grants from the Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grant program totaling over $1 million highlighted fundraising efforts, along with grants from the Kresge Foundation, Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund Board, Atlantic Philanthropies, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, UPS Foundation, and Takata Americas.[1]

The HMIC held its grand opening on the weekend of August 19–21, 2011. Some 1,500 attended the series of events over the weekend, which also attracted wide media coverage. The 11,000 square foot facility—designed to look like a Heart Mountain barracks—included a core exhibition titled "Across the Wire: Voices from Heart Mountain," which was designed by Split Rock Studios and an introductory film titled "All We Could Carry" by Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Okazaki. The facility also includes a changing exhibition gallery and an archive. The core exhibition tells the story of mass removal and incarceration and includes a replica of a typical barracks "apartment" at Heart Mountain. Visitors entering the museum are issued tickets that look like the tags famously affixed to Japanese Americans as they were being rounded up. To dramatize the lack of privacy cited by many inmates, the public bathrooms at the center include mirrors that try to re-create the discomfort of camp latrines.[2]

Though the reaction to the center was generally positive, a review in the New York Times drew the ire of many Japanese Americans and others in injecting largely discredited justifications for the removal/incarceration policy.[3] Further controversy ensued over a 2012 temporary exhibition titled titled Esse Quam Videri—Muslim Self Portraits, which resulted in angry phone calls and e-mails by the public, including some Japanese Americans. In reaction, three local papers published editorials in support of the exhibition, and many Japanese Americans spoke out in favor of it.[4]

The HMIC continues to be open daily during the summer months and four days a week during the winter and hosts annual Heart Mountain pilgrimages and other events.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Official website: http://www.heartmountain.org.

"Heart Mountain Dedication Ceremony," August 20, 2011. 47 minute video. C-SPAN. http://www.c-span.org/video/?301340-1/heart-mountain-dedication-ceremony.

Footnotes

  1. Kokoro Kara newsletter, Fall 2007 and Spring 2009.
  2. Kokoro Kara newsletter, Summer 2011, Fall 2011; Stephanie Simon, "Memorializing a Painful Chapter of History," Wall Street Journal, Aug. 20, 2011, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424053111904070604576516544140839746; Rothstein, Edward, "The How of an Internment, but Not All the Whys," New York Times, Dec. 9, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/10/arts/design/heart-mountain-interpretive-learning-center-review.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0; and Diana Lambdin Meyer, "Wyoming: Heart Mountain's Chill Winds of Japanese American Internment," Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2013, http://articles.latimes.com/2013/mar/31/travel/la-tr-heart-mountain-20130331, all accessed April 30, 2014.
  3. Rothstein, "The How of an Internment." For a summery of responses to the review, see "Japanese Americans Respond to New York Times Review of Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center," Manzanar Committee Blog, Dec. 20, 2011, http://blog.manzanarcommittee.org/2011/12/20/japanese-americans-respond-to-new-york-times-review-of-heart-mountain-interpretive-learning-center/, accessed on April 30, 2014.
  4. Kokoro Kara newsletter, Fall 2012; "Controversy Emerges Over Heart Mountain Exhibit," Rafu Shimpo, July 25, 2012, http://www.rafu.com/2012/07/controversy-emerges-over-heart-mountain-exhibit/, accessed on April 30, 2014. In his July 31, 2012 column, George Yoshinaga of the Rafu Shimpo wrote, "As a former resident at Heart Mountain, I am pissed off with an exhibit that has nothing to do with the evacuation of 120,000 Japanese Americans." He ends by asking, "Just who made such a stupid decision?" George Yoshinaga, "Horse's Mouth: About Signed 'Markers' in Vegas," Rafu Shimpo, Jul 31, 2012, http://www.rafu.com/2012/07/horses-mouth-about-signing-markers-in-vegas/. In response, Gann Matsuda wrote, "As a community, Japanese Americans have a responsibility to be among the leaders of the fight against discrimination and racism, in any form. Those who oppose this exhibit are, at bare minimum, not seeing the big picture." Gann Matsuda, "Exhibit on Muslims Belongs at Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center," Manzanar Committee blog, Aug. 8, 2012, http://blog.manzanarcommittee.org/2012/08/08/exhibit-on-muslims-belongs-at-heart-mountain-interpretive-learning-center/#more-7819. Matsuda cites the three local editorials that supported the exhibition: "Muslim Exhibit Is Part of Heart Mountain's Mission," Casper Star-Tribune, July 30, 2012, http://trib.com/opinion/editorial/muslim-exhibit-is-part-of-heart-mountain-s-mission/article_836e569e-1cd3-5aff-9926-4836038745a9.html; Bruce McCormack, "Muslim Portraits Foster Understanding," Cody Enterprise, Aug. 6, 2012, http://www.codyenterprise.com/news/opinion/article_44a75d52-e00a-11e1-8e3b-001a4bcf887a.html; Tessa Schweigert, "Editorial: Learning from Heart Mountain's History," Powell Tribune, Aug. 7, 2012, http://www.powelltribune.com/editorials/item/9976-editorial-learning-from-heart-mountain’s-history, all accessed on April 30, 2014.