LU Gulf Coast Reads to host panel on Texas internment camp

LU Gulf Coast Reads to host panel on Texas internment camp

Saturday, Oct. 19, Gulf Coast Reads will present a panel of historians at the Mary and John Gray Library on the Lamar University campus. Jan Jarboe Russell, author of the New York Times bestseller “The Train to Crystal City,” is scheduled to speak.

Russell was born in Beaumont and has been a journalist since 1972, including over 20 years of editing for Texas Monthly magazine.

“The Train to Crystal City,” published in early 2015, fills in the gaps about the only family internment camp during World War II to be located along the Texas Gulf Coast.

“This is the first year that Gulf Coast Reads has chosen a nonfiction book,” said Elizabeth Derouchie, library associate with the Mary and John Gray Library.

The camp at Crystal City held German and Italian as well as Japanese immigrants.

“I’ve spoken to so many people who had no idea that there was an internment camp in Crystal City,” Derouchie said, explaining that most schoolchildren now read “Farewell to Manzanar” about the Japanese internment camps, but many are unaware that there was a camp in Texas.

With the current political climate surrounding the 2016 presidential election, Derouchie said the group “picked this to help foster discussion in our community” and she “think[s] this was a wonderful choice.”

“I think we picked this book for a lot of different reasons, but it didn’t escape our attention that this is part of the discussion in America right now,” Derouchie said.

The immigrants kept at the camp were often repatriated in exchange for American diplomats trapped overseas in Europe during the war, explained Derouchie. Even children born to immigrants faced this threat. Many people that Derouchie talks to are surprised to learn that these children were not granted the privileges of citizenship.

“When you learn about something that’s going on in your hometown or in your state, that brings it to life,” Derouchie said. “People empathize a little more.”

Crystal City is a small town of approximately 7,000 located southwest of San Antonio. 

Gulf Coast Reads is an annual reading initiative started by librarians in Harris County that has now expanded to over 13 counties in Southeast Texas over the last five years. The group reads more than 50 books before making the annual selection.

The year’s pick is announced every October.

The book selected each year is usually related to Texas in some way, either written by a Texas author or focused on the history and culture of Texas. Last year’s book was historical fiction about the Galveston hurricane, according to Derouche.

Both public and academic libraries participate in Gulf Coast Reads.