Manzanar in the Middle of Nowhere

On September 16 (yeah, a while ago) we visited Manzanar. Manzanar was an internment camp for Japanese Americans during America’s time in World War II. For approximately four whole years these people- two thirds of whom were American citizens- were locked in this camp. They were taken out of their homes with only what they could carry. No pets were allowed. And children grew up thinking that home was a tar-paper shack with orange crate chairs. The chefs would give them food including combinations like cold jello on warm rice. People thought and were told that this was their part to play in the war effort. 

The “reasoning”(because there is no good reasoning for locking regular people up) was that they could be spies during WWII. Those that lived in California (and other places) and were Japanese were forced into camps like Manzanar to keep them from feeding intelligence to Japan. No reports of Japanese spying were ever filed (though you can claim that’s because of the camps). German Americans were not put into camps, even though we were fighting Germany as well as Japan.

Back at Manzanar in the Vistors Center, which is in the old auditorium of Manzanar we watched a movie. And in the movie we watched (which was the same as the one in the traveling exhibit about the Japanese internment at the FDR Presidential Library) one man spoke about how they were told that the guards were to protect them. But, their rifles faced into the camp instead of out. They weren’t trying to keep things from getting in, just to keep the Japanese from getting out. This really made me think about what these people went through with the lies they were told and the verbal abuse they took.

After four years in Manzanar (and the other camps) the war was over. Many people couldn’t go home because California was still closed to them. Lots of families had no idea what to do. You could stay in the camp until they kicked you out or leave as soon as you could. Many people moved to new places towards the east. When they had notice to leave or heard about it from relatives, many put belongings in storage places. After the war many of these places had beeen “accidentally” robbed or ruined including valuables.

When we drove around the one square mile of former camp it was almost completely empty. When the war was over and the US realized its mistake, the government bulldozed most of the buildings at Manzanar. The NPS has put a few new barracks to try to show what it was like, but I thought the insides looked too modern and there weren’t exactly holes in the ceilings and cracks in the floors.

Julie and I had to read the book Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Watsuki Houston for worldschooling this year. It was a really good book about Jeanne’s life before, during, and after Manzanar. It gives the reader lots of insight into the struggles and hardships that so many people had to go through. 

You are taught throughout your life that you should learn from your mistakes. Well the US decided not to do just that. Right at the end of the war when they kicked out the Japanese from the camps and they tore them all down. At Manzanar all that’s  left are some rock gardens that archeologists uncovered, the former auditorium-now-visitors-center, and the memorial to those who died at Manzanar.

The rock gardens are very interesting because they make you think about what they had to do in the camps. There isn’t much. School, some adult and after-school classes, and adults built rock gardens. There were also a couple factories they worked in, like one that made camouflage netting for fighting in the Pacific Theater of World War II. The Japanese culture really respects nature and has a love for it. Rock gardens were familiar to some in the camps and made them feel more at home. Some of the gardens at Manzanar were beautiful, you can tell and even without water and plants (though there are lizards) are still amazing.

Manzanar is a sad reminder of our mistakes as a country where racism kicks in and takes over. We need to combat that and keep it from happening ever again. Visit Manzanar and explain it to kids. Make everyone understand how wrong it was. Make our country learn from its mistakes. We need to remember.

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