Colorado History Museum

Hey fellow indies! It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been on. The Indie Carnival is in the process of coming up with cool new discussion topics, which will include information on how to get onto Net Galley, a site where writers can find reviewers and vice versa! And more Indie Author Spotlights are coming up soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to point people to an amazing experience I had at the new History Colorado Center. It’s our history museum that was recently opened, or at least renovated and put in a new building with new exhibits. It was designed as a classroom in motion, so it’s not like a regular museum in many ways, which makes it great for kids (or adults with ADD).

There are sections on the first Colorado town, with working displays of things that the kids can play with, and character actors of snake oil salesman doing their schtick and pretending to sell you everything from arsenic to laudanum. Hilarious! There’s a ski jump simulator. This one I could only look at for about one second before I had flashbacks to the Blair Witch Project. There was a mine simulation complete with a rattling mine car ride, a storytelling tommyknocker, and a blast simulator. My daughter and her friend loved that display because it allowed them to push ‘dynamite sticks’ into the wall in a kind of mining version of Simon Says, in the right sequence, and set it off. Once they pushed the blaster plunger, a computer screen simulated what would happen, and whether or not they did it right, or just buried themselves. This sounds gruesome, but the kids were all giggling and jockeying for their chance to blow stuff up. After the kids got done, it was their daddies’ turns. Men and explosions…

As you’re leaving that area, there’s a computer game very much like WWF throwdown, except it’s between various well-known Colorado figures, such as Molly Brown, etc. This cast of characters also included ‘the brown cloud’ that used to hang over Denver before we cleaned up the pollution, and the terrifying red-eyed Sleepy-Hollowesque blue horse that everyone is subjected to upon entry into Denver from the airport. The Blue Horse Throwdown even had the horse shooting lasers from its eyes (which we all secretly knew it did, in our nightmares anyway).

But by far, the most powerful display to me, was of the Granada Japanese internment camp. I never knew this existed in Colorado. I had heard of the internment camps before, in history, and also from one of my nerd icons George Takei (Sulu from the original Star Trek). He spent part of his childhood in one, and sometimes talks about it. But hearing about it over the internet, even from someone who was there, or learning about it as a passing footnote in history class is nothing like what I saw. That’s the nature of the internet, and the nature of classrooms and history books, I suppose. They still maintain a distance.

There was no distance here. You walked through a room no larger than your living room at home, where several people spent half their lives after giving up most of their belongings and whatever futures they had on the outside. As you looked at their belongings donated by some of the folks who had been there, there were voice-narrated stories told of what it was like, or letters that they had written.

It’s been two weeks since I’ve been there, and this is the first time I could talk about it. Because I realized when I was standing in that room that this was a concentration camp. In Colorado. It wasn’t called that. It was called a War Relocation Center. But it required people to give up their homes, their jobs, and move themselves and their families to a strange place built like a camp, one room for many families with cots for beds, strangers who someone on the outside thought were alike because of their color, descent, culture. No, they weren’t gassed. They weren’t shot, or tortured in the same way as the Nazi versions. But they had to live with the realization that they were asked by their fellow citizens to give up everything because they spoke a certain language and looked a certain way, and that the country they belonged to and were loyal to, didn’t trust them. I heard that in the story this teenage girl told, it was her valedictory speech at her high school. It was, in the literal sense of the term, a concentration camp. In America.

When that hit home, as I was sitting at this young girl’s desk, I started bawling. Thank God I was the only one in the display at the time. I don’t mean a couple sniffles. I mean cover-your-mouth-and-go-into-a-corner-hoping-nobody-sees-you-until-you-can-calm-down kind of bawling. Of course people did filter in, and chickenshit about showing emotion to strangers as I am, I faked a sneeze and left, which I’m sure fooled no one.

George Takei recently showed a photo on Facebook that shows him outside the internment camp he was in as a kid, with a sign “This Place Matters’. It does. It’s incredibly instructive to me to really understand that there were concentration camps here in the U.S. That we did discriminate based on color, creed, etc, and not in the distant past, less than a hundred years ago. But one thing that really got me was one of the last things the girl on the recording said was that America had made a mistake, and that she believed America would correct it someday. She still had faith, she still believed. Wow.

Kinda put things into perspective for me. I’ve been bitching about a lot of things in politics.  I’ll never be a politician. I have no editor between my brain and my mouth. Generally not a useful trait in a politician. But this experience made me think about how I deal with the current climate. Man, this little girl didn’t lose her hope, she never gave up even after we’d just taken everything away from her, and stuck her and her entire family in a tiny box because she was Japanese.

As a writer, this was one of those Holy Cow moments that stay with you, and you hope make you a better (or at least less bitchy) person in addition to hopefully a better writer. So here’s my advice as a writer for today, at least what I found. I’ve lived in Colorado for ten years and never knew this existed here. It was right under my nose, these people’s lives. The message I got that day was ‘Look around you.’ There are stories everywhere, some which really need to be told, and aren’t, not much.

See what stories there are to tell in your own state or town. And if you happen to be in Colorado. This is a site worth visiting.

http://www.historycolorado.org/museums/history-colorado-center

http://coloradopreservation.org/projects/current-projects/granada-relocation-center/

The only way I know how to communicate to any significant degree, is through writing. I imagine that as this keeps seeping into my brain, it will work its way into my stories. I hope I can do it justice.

 

 

 

 

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One Response to “Colorado History Museum”

  1. This is one powerful post, Rachel. I also had no idea there were such camps in the US and I am shocked. I can totally understand why you bawled your eyes out… I would have done the exact same thing. Thank you for such an eye opener xx

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