Unlike most of the Chinese-Indians I know, my family migrated to a small town in North Carolina where we were one of the only Asian families. So, I spent a lot of my childhood not knowing or understanding the camp and the Chinese-Indian community. I remember growing up with my father mentioning the internment camp here and there, but I never fully understood or listened to what he was saying back then. I had also been confused about how my family could be Chinese and Indian at the same time.
Later on, when I was about twelve or thirteen years old, I remember having a school homework assignment. The assignment instructed us to imagine that we had to go on a journey—we didn’t know where we would go. We were only allowed to take one suitcase and put five items in it, and we had to decide what five items we would take, and why. At first, I had wanted to bring books, clothes, toiletries, games and other luxuries. When I showed my father the list that I had made, he laughed and told me how foolish I was for the choices that I had made.
We argued a bit over the assignment, when my father finally said, “Trust me, I know what I’m talking about. This happened to me before.” Confused, I asked him what he meant, and he told me all about the camp, the uncertainty, the hunger, the fear, the three years wasted and a lifetime of displacement. This time, I listened closely.
Knowing about the camp explained so many mysteries and quirks about my cousins, aunts and uncles. I wanted to learn more about the camp and about the Chinese-Indian community, but there was no literature on it at that time. When I was young, I made it my goal to someday write a book about the camp. I wanted others to know about what happened in 1962.
In 2012, with the help and encouragement of my professor, I finally decided to start writing and I went to Toronto to interview ex-internees. After hearing so many stories though, I wanted to do more than just write. So, I joined AIDCI. When I first joined, there were almost no young people who were involved. It’s been even more difficult getting other ex-internee children involved. Many of them feel detached or uncomfortable talking about it. But slowly over time, I’ve gotten more emails from young people who have read our blog or website. Some are other Chinese-Indians, some are overseas Hakka people, some are activists, some are filmmakers and some are people who have identified with the internment experience.
While Deoli Internment Camp haunted the Chinese-Indian community for the past fifty years, I feel empowered by knowing that we have survived it together.
Association of India Deoli Camp Internees 1962 (AIDCI)