by Bridget Thompson
As history has shown, leaving home is a difficult task. Some who venture from their home return because the homesickness becomes too great, while others long for a home they will never return to. Regardless of the case, American history is dotted with instances where children are removed from their home despite whether the children would like to go or not. In some cases children must leave parents home and forge on alone; others families full-blown send their children away. Starting in the 1870s, American Indian children were removed from or left their homes and tribes and sent to federal boarding schools. The children entered schools with various religious and cultural beliefs, skill sets, and feelings towards the schools. Some attempted to run away and make the journey back home, while others stuck it out to make the best of the situation. Richard Henry Pratt, the founder of the first off-reservation Indian boarding school credited his school’s actions to “kill the Indian, save the man” (Prucha 1990).
Once at the school, students bonded with one another over their homesickness and longing for home. Students were schooled in basic academic subjects and trained with work force skills in hopes they would graduate and assimilate with the general population instead of returning home to their reservations. At first, the traumatic and militant treatment of Indians cemented the brotherhood amongst students. In some schools, the children were allowed to play with one another in the woods or wilderness close to campus. In others, students bonded over rebellion and planned escapes. A major fear of parents whose children were taken to boarding schools was that students would grow so homesick they would attempt to travel the sometimes hundreds of miles home by themselves. These journeys typically ended in the children succumbing to the elements. As the schools became more prevalent and it was accepted amongst tribes that children would leave to attend them, students were psychologically able to tackle extracurricular activities; something that policymakers hoped for, in order to attract Indian children to the “civilized world of the arts.”
This bond of coming together in difficult times is mirrored in another cultural group controlled by the American government: Americans of Japanese descent after WWII. The 1942 Executive Order 9066 signed by President Roosevelt sent approximately 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent from various areas of California to relocation sites and camps scattered amongst the northwest (Arrington 11-15). One of the War Relocation Administration camps located in central Utah was Topaz, a temporary home to 11,212 people throughout its three years of operation. Linguists and historians argue whether the camps can be labeled “internment” however, due to the lack of evidence as to the regulation and conditions of each camp. Many of these American citizens felt like prisoners without conviction or trial.
Topaz High School published two yearbooks while operating. The foreword of the first edition of “Ramblings 1943” expressed how the students wished to be viewed by their fellow camp members and the outside world.
The Topaz High School Student Body Association is composed of students from almost all of the big and small towns and cities of California, and includes some from the Hawaiian Islands. In one Year’s time these children of truck gardeners, grocerymen, merchants, clerks, domestic workers, carpenters, ministers, laundrymen, teachers, and others have amalgamated into a well organized functioning student body. Sports and activities have taken place in which every student has participated with an effervescent spirit although there was dire need for equipment. The first graduating class had one hundred and ninety-six seniors and twenty summer session students, many graduating with honors. The challenge of establishing a new school under unprecedented conditions was met and the hardships overcome, and this book is a record of the extent to which the students of Topaz High School have succeeded.
—“Ramblings 1943 Foreword,” 1943. Courtesy of Topaz Museum.
This quote showcases the students’ resound decision to come together as one student body and be recognized for their successes, even in a time of squalor.
Similar to that of the American Indians, the suffering brought closeness and eventual normalcy. As children began to attend school and adults in the camps assumed jobs similar to their careers back home in California, days became easier for residents. “School classrooms were set up, dances were held, dates were made, and sports were played,” wrote Eileen Hallet Stone for Pioneer Memorial Theater’s Topaz art display.
In both cases the resilience of the people to assimilate showed them making the best of an undesirable situation. Though negative circumstances brought the inhabitants together, their connections and bonds affected both their own outcomes and others close to them. For example, many 19th century middle- and upper-class white women were sent or chose to attend boarding schools to obtain the domestic and societal skills necessary for marriage and motherhood. These women didn’t go it alone throughout their schooling; they lived together, were taught together, and even instructed together. This connection is repeated from gladiators in Rome to slaves in the southern states. When collections of people are caused collective pain, history has shown bonds on a level unobtainable without that experience. That bond then fuels the rebirth of spirit in people who may have given up hope or may have decided to try another way. At the end of it all, it seems the best remedy for homesickness – regardless of if one is forced to leave or chose to leave for a better life – is to join together. Both negative and positive experiences will shape the groups to endure long after leaving their homes.
This post was completed as an assignment for the American Studies course, “The Concept of Home.” A list of the readings that informed this assignment can be found here: https://americanstudiesmediacultureprogram.wordpress.com/assignments-the-concept-of-home-spring-2013/