HH and I went to Manzanar National Historic Site last weekend. The Park Service has done an outstanding job here; it would have been worth the drive even without the spectacular scenery along the way.
*With many thanks to the Park Service for all of their interpretive information
being in the public domain. In other words, I freely plagiarized.*
President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, authorizing the Secretary of War to establish Military Areas and to remove from those areas anyone who might threaten the war effort. Everyone of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast was given just days to decide what to do with their homes, farms, businesses, and other possessions. They were allowed to take with them only what they could carry. By November 1942, 120,000 people were sent to one of ten relocation centers built in remote deserts, plains, and swamps scattered among seven states. About two-thirds of those interned at Manzanar were American citizens by birth. The remainder included many who had lived here for decades but were denied citizenship by law.
The entire site was 6,000 acres; the housing area was 500 acres surrounded by barbed wire and eight guard towers with searchlights and military police patrols.
By September 1942 more than 10,000 Japanese Americans were housed in 504 barracks like this one. The barracks were organized into 36 blocks. Each of the blocks shared latrines and showers without dividers (privacy), a laundry room, an ironing room, an oil storage tank, and a mess hall. The barracks consisted of four 20x25 foot rooms, each inhabited by any combination (my emphasis) of eight people. Each barracks - not each room - had one hanging light bulb, an oil stove, cots, blankets, and mattresses filled with straw. I saw a photo in the museum that showed internees filling their own mattresses. There was no running water. Walls between the four rooms did not reach the ceiling. The barracks had been hastily built with green wood and blowing sand and intense heat and cold were constant companions.
This is one of the "improved" barracks that came about over time, because it has wall board. Knot holes in the floors were covered with tin can lids until linoleum was installed to keep the sand from blowing in between the floorboards.
This sign marks the original entrance.
All internees passed by the military police sentry and internal police posts at the entrance. They were built by an internee-stonemason in 1942. On the left of the road were the administration buildings. None of them remain.
The former auditorium housed a gymnasium and was used for plays and ceremonies, concerts and lectures. They had dances, talent shows, and movies. It's now the Site's interpretive center with an excellent museum.
Merritt Park was created by internees - a landscape designer, a floriculturist, and workers, in 1943. It had disappeared under several feet of sand over the years but in 2008 it was excavated. The water and plants are no longer there; the stones creating the waterways remain.
The stone is a memorial to those who passed through the gates of Manzanar.
This space was called the 3-4 Garden. It was a mess hall garden, easing the monotony of long mealtime lines. There were more gardens in Blocks 9, 12, and 22, each of which acted as a source of block identity and pride.
The 3-4 Garden was excavated in 1999, along with a mess hall root cellar. The fence, next photo down, was reconstructed.
The obelisk in the cemetery has memorialized not only the 150 internees who died at Manzanar, but also the more than 120,000 confined everywhere during the war. This side of the memorial reads Soul Consoling Tower. Hundreds of artifacts have been left here by those who come for the annual pilgrimage and by other visitors. Small stones are visible on the ledges at the base of the obelisk.
The reverse of the tower reads Erected by the Manzanar Japanese, August 1943.
150 died at Manzanar; 15 were buried here, the rest cremated. Six burials remain today.
The museum is fascinating. I learned a lot, including this horrible history:
Under pressure from the U.S., sixteen Latin American countries interned 8,500 residents of German, Italian, and Japanese descent. Over 3,000 others were deported to the U.S., where they were to be exchanged for U.S. citizens held as prisoners of war. The deportees' passports were confiscated and, upon arriving in the U.S., they were declared illegal immigrants and placed in Department of Justice camps in Texas. The majority of the deportees of Japanese ancestry were eventually sent to Japan either as part of the exchange program or as repatriates after the war.
Of the 2,264 Japanese nationals who were deported from Latin America, eighty percent were from Peru. When the war ended, Peru refused many of those remaining in the U.S. reentry and the U.S. denied their residency requests. In 1952 364 Japanese Peruvians were declared 'permanent legally admitted immigrants' and became eligible for American citizenship.
Manzanar is far away, in terms of distance, but also in terms of the even marginally heightened awareness and sensitivity we say we have today. I'd like to say it couldn't happen again, not on this scale, but I'd be a fool to say it does not still exist in more subtle, insidious ways.
Thought of the day:
When you were a little girl, Madam.....was this the woman you dreamed of becoming? - Andrew Sean Greer, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells