A Wyoming anthropologist, educator and advocate who educates her students and audiences around the country about the Japanese American incarceration during WWII
Listen to Aura’s story.
Aura Newlin is an anthropologist, educator, advocate and public speaker whose Wyoming roots run deep. A 4th-generation, Japanese American Wyomingite, Aura grew up in Riverton, Wyoming. Her parents, former peace-corps volunteers, exposed Aura and her siblings to a broader world through international volunteer work. This global imprint influenced Aura’s interest in learning about other cultures and led her to become an anthropologist. “Anthropology turns everything on its head. As anthropologists, we try to understand what it might be like to live in someone else’s shoes, to understand what their experiences are like through their eyes.” Aura loves sharing the world with her students by introducing them to anthropology and the practice of “questioning whether something is normal and natural or if that’s just seemingly normal and natural because that’s the way you were raised.”
Aura landed her dream job teaching anthropology and sociology at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming, a mere 15 miles from the Heart Mountain confinement site. After Pearl Harbor, up to 14,000 Japanese American immigrants and their children were incarcerated at Heart Mountain, one of ten confinement sites established by the War Relocation Authority during WWII. Her great-grandfather made his career as a railroader in southern Wyoming, but by WWII had moved to Hollywood, California for health reasons. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, effectively placing approximately 120,000 Japanese immigrants and their American-born children in war-time camps, Aura’s great-grandfather was sent back to Wyoming, this time to Heart Mountain. Aura’s grandfather, living and working for the Union Pacific railroad in Green River, Wyoming at this same time, was fired along with all the other employees of Japanese ancestry. Later, her grandfather was offered his job back, but he declined.
For Aura, working as an educator in such close proximity to her relatives’ experience at Heart Mountain “feels like destiny.” In addition to teaching her students, she speaks around the state and to legal audiences around the country about what happened at Heart Mountain and the Japanese American incarceration.
Reflecting on why she continues to educate her students and speak to various audiences, she says, “We need to embrace the bad along with the good, because it’s part of what makes us who we are. I don’t see Heart Mountain as something that belongs to Japanese American history. It is American history, and it is Wyoming history. As I go around the state talking with different communities about this, I hope to instill some of that passion and hope that I feel about this history. I would like to continue to have a voice at the national level and to be heard because we have an important story that needs to be told, and I like telling it.”
Scenes from the Heart Mountain Confinement site, where in WWII, up to 14,000 Japanese American immigrants and their American-born children were incarcerated.