November 21, 2015

11/7/15 - Manzanar NHS

"Manzanaar National Historic Site was established to preserve the stories of the internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II and to serve as a reminder to this and future generations of the fragility of American civil liberties."
-- US Park Service Brochure
Manzanar National Historic Site

Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of the ten camps where Japanese-American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were interned during WWII.  It's located on US 395, just north of Lone Pine, California.  On the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas, it's in a lonely desolate place.  With snow on the mountains behind, it's beautiful--but I can leave anytime I want.
They may have called it a "War Relocation Center" or an "Internment Camp", but don't the guard towers convince you that it was a prison?
Manzanar was laid out in 36 blocks, each housing  200-400 people.  Most of the buildings were dismantled after the war, but a couple of barracks have been reconstructed and now house exhibits so we can see how the people lived, and give us an understanding of the issues as they were during the war.
We went on a tour with a very well-informed ranger.  There was a Japanese-American couple in the tour group who had been interned in relocation centers as small children, met years later and married.  They were as interested about the place as we were, only they were a whole lot more subjective, remembering things from when they were young or stories they'd heard from relatives and friends.  Gives you a whole different perspective.
Looking out of the screen in one of the barracks, back towards the auditorium--now the Interpretive Center.  The barracks were hastily built and poorly made with little insulation, and the internees from California and Washington were not used to the desert climate.  They were only allowed to bring what they could carry 
After the tour of the buildings, we met out at Merritt Park. An internee who had been a nursery owner convinced the park director to furnish supplies and equipment for a community garden.  They decorated it with pools, waterfalls and rock ornaments.  More than just an oasis in the desert, it became a place of peace and tranquility for everyone.   
Next stop was the cemetery.  Although 150 people died at the center, only 15 were buried here, and six remain.  Paper cranes are tied to the fenceposts around the cemetery and around the Obelisk.  The monument was built to honor the dead. 
The lady in the center was an internee here; she's here with her family.  It's a very emotional place.
After the cemetery we headed to the Interpretive Center, having scampered through it in order to join the tour.  The museum was very interesting, with lots of personal information about people who lived here.  
Flags from the 10 War Relocation Centers
The history of the US is varied and not always commendable.  Places like this can help us remember that we're all just people, and it's how we relate to each other that counts.  

More pictures of Manzanar NHS:  Manzanar

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