The drive east out of Cody to Heart Mountain is through the high desert, and the weekend I visited, it was bitterly cold. The wind was blowing so hard that at one point I lost my footing and fell. But I was wearing a nice down coat, snow pants and boots, riding in a cozy warm SUV.
That’s not how the Japanese arrived at Heart Mountain and for three years, nearly 14,000 Japanese Americans endurred here with only the clothes on their backs and “all they could carry.” They came from California and they weren’t wearing down or fleece.
The black, barracks-style buildings reflect the design of the living quarters hastily assembled for those uprooted from their homes, businesses, communities and lives on America’s west coast. At the time, President Roosevelt and most Americans felt this was necessary for national security.
So this museum is their story. It’s a first person narrative of what some have called legalized racism. Even though many of these individuals were first and second generation American citizens, they lost their rights to vote, to own property and all that is guaranteed in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
This is not a pretty chapter of American history, and I admit, I was disturbed as I left the visitor center and looked out over the landscape that had been almost as cruel to these individuals as their government.
Each year, nearly three million people visit nearby Yellowstone National Park. If you are one of them, make that drive east into Cody Wyoming and spend a few hours at Heart Mountain. It will be time well spent.