The Hauntings of Internment, with job descriptions for working with interned children at the border

An aerial photo of immigrant children at a recently opened facility in Tornillo, Texas. (Reuters/Mike Blake)

Courtyard of the Happy Way 樂道院 (le dao yuan) –  picture and corresponding map – courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

From the job description to work for Southwest Key: Must be prepared and physically able to respond with appropriate protocol in a variety of dynamic supervision situations with clients of 0-17 years in age. In a sudden or emergency event.

Several letters from the British Crown urged him to return to England from China. My grandfather had been living in Hong Kong, Swatow, and Tianjin since the early 1930s, working as a physician for the Kailan Mining Administration. News of Japan's seizure of Nanking and Shanghai in 1937 did not motivate him to leave. During the bombings of neighboring Swatow, he worked with locals to build makeshift hospitals in the streets to treat the wounded, and still he did not leave China. His colleagues had boarded the ships back to England, but China was his home by then. He had matured professionally and socially more at Shing Moon in Hong Kong than any of the clubs in Kensington.

He wanted to join the 8th Division Army fighting with the Koumintang. It would not have been for the martial law Chiang would become known for, but for China. It would have been as an enemy of the Axis nations and as an ally of China. But with a wife and two very small children, he remained in Tientsin (now Tianjin), with servants "above and below table" (as my grandmother described them) amid the British Concession's rows of stately Victorian homes, and working as a physician.

He did not believe the Japanese would ever be a threat to the English residing in China. He was certain he was safe.

Must be prepared to administer emergency First Aid, CPR or CPI techniques to clients, regardless of the time of day or hour of the staff’s shift, the size of the client, or the staff’s level of personal fatigue.

I reach moments in my life where I don't think about it anymore. I don't think about the cotton badge with the Japanese characters that my grandmother wore stitched to her jacket and that I now have framed with a photo of her younger, smiling self sitting on the steps of her adolescent home in Manila. I don't think about the electric barbed wire my father was instructed never to touch or of the image of my toddler father and uncle licking plaster walls of their compartment within the compound to get calcium into their systems. I don't think of all the prisoners arriving by train in their minks and tweeds, having been told by the soldiers of The Empire of the Rising Sun they were being taken to a resort. Or of their surprise when the toilets backed up and no one came, for three years, to fix them so they built latrines they themselves had to empty with shovels, just one of the jobs they arranged in a schedule everyone participated in because the time of having servants was over. I don't think about my grandmother's stories, for brief periods of time, and I attempt to live my own.

Must be at least 21 years of age at the time of hire.

A trigger is an invitation to explore, again after respite, what it means to be a granddaughter and daughter of trauma. As a survivor of any trauma can choose to "black-box" it for a period, that box has to be reopened and explored for the self to continue growing. Otherwise, that box, in the word of Langston Hughes, explodes. Images of children being led into detention centers recalls the stories of the three hundred children who were separated by war from their missionary parents and transferred to The Courtyard of the Happy Way. I have read their stories as adults. Now I see them as children again. Little girls with their arms reaching all the way up to hold the hand of someone who works in the center--someone whose job description asks for someone capable of working long shifts under challenging conditions in uncomfortable weather, someone with a GED (as opposed to a Masters Degree in Child Care Services). The stories, the time-frame conflate.

Preferred • Bilingual (Spanish/English)

I understand that my family's is a trauma of privilege: if my grandfather had not been a wealthy doctor trained in Scotland and granted an esteemed position in one of Britain's mining operations in China, benefitting from Chinese labor, Chinese land, a beacon of Colonialism, he would not have been in a prison camp. His is also a trauma of hubris: had he not possessed that Edwardian perspective that indeed it would never happen to England, he would have returned when advised.

High School Diploma or GED with experience working with youth either through paid or unpaid positions preferred.

Trauma doesn't recognize race, gender, or 'class.' Despite the privilege, the internment camp tormented its inhabitants for three years of life (and long beyond) under a bayonet's gaze, starvation, malnutrition, hypothermia in winter, sunstroke in summer, illness, and death. In one of my grandmother's notes she wrote, TORTURE, in capital letters. In one of her stories, my uncle was put in solitary confinement at age 5 in a bamboo box placed in the sun.  2250 people in an area of roughly 50,000 square meters. There were no facilities after the first day. War and cruelty equalize, particularly through long-term effects. I think of the children at the border. I particularly think of the 2000 captured by the United States between the start of the separations weeks ago and the executive order to end them yesterday. The 2000 children.

Must be able to stand, bend, or stoop for the entire duration of the shift, as necessary.

I taught GED at a facility for incarcerated youth in Black Mountain back in the late 90s. I saw how being in a facility like that can bring out the worst abuses of powers in the adults positioned there to supervise. No human being is equipped to treat another human in captivity well. The duress of the shifts, the intensity of the conditions, the entire matrix of the work all nourish nothing but violence. The guards placed bets on which inmate would win a fight the guards would then instigate by stealing from one and placing it under the mattress of the other. My students came to class with broken wrists and still tried to write so they could get out of there. It would take years of deep meditation and spiritual education to prepare anyone to nurture within such a place. Instead, they hire 20 year olds with no education of the soul to recognize the soul in others.

Staff must be able to maintain clarity of thought throughout the entirety of a shift and be able to respond quickly to duress or circumstances requiring immediate action.

What we know of trauma is enough to know that this experience has already broken a part of these children's minds. What part? Aren't children resilient? Don't they all heal? The part that welcomes the world in bit by bit, truth by truth. The part that builds a story of the world, beginning with the love and support immediately around them and developing into an understanding of finding this love and support beyond the realm of the family. This story is now fractured if not blasted: this part now is a gash in the narrative of world-making.  All children are not resilient. Children break. No one wholly understands how some children thrive and others do not. Alice Miller observes that Hitler and Wittgenstein attended the same prep school. Explain about nurture and nature again. She also observes that for children to survive and thrive, a benevolent witness must appear at some time during development.

I tell the children in a whisper, the entire world is watching.

Staff must be at all times physically able to run, jump, lunge, twist, push, pull, apply SWK-approved restraint techniques and otherwise manage or coerce the full weight of an adolescent.

Source of job description:;jobs#htidocid=Vpl-TR6D6UvYTbakAAAAAA%3D%3D


Rich Swingle said…
I tell some stories about life in the Weihsien internment camp in my one-man play about Olympic champion Eric Liddell. Part of his story is told in Chariots of Fire, which won four Academy Awards in 1981. My play tells the rest of the story from Liddell's perspective:

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