Manzanar National Historic Site

Just north of Lone Pine, CA, is one of the 10 War Relocation Centers into which Japanese in the US were placed during WWII. Many of these persons were US citizens having been born here. They were not accorded the rights guaranteed in the Constitution. They were moved here “for their protection” with only what they were able to carry and lived here throughout the war. They left homes and businesses to which most were never able to return. They could not leave this barbed wire enclosed enclave. After the war the government removed most of the structures and buried gardens and basements. Time has continued to destroy and bury but it is amazing what is seen when you walk about the area. The Park Service brochure points out that one can find the footprints of a child who walked through wet cement and the ten iron rings embedded in a concrete slab which evokes the humiliation of ten women forced to sit exposed next to strangers for the most private of bodily functions.

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Some buildings have been reconstructed as was the tower. The building behind the flag was originally built in about 1943 to become the “community center” in which dances and other parties and celebrations were held. After the center was closed down the building had many uses. Now, after extensive reconstruction, it houses the visitor’s center, museum, theaters, etc.

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As this indicates, there were 36 blocks with 14 barracks in each. This center housed more then 10,000 detainees. The second picture here shows how the barracks in a block would have been lined up one after the other.  The barracks were “divided” into “apartments.  As you can see below, there was no privacy.  In addition, while the men and women had separate latrines, within those they showered and did other things completely in the open with one another. I think of the Japanese people as very private and can’t imagine how difficult his must have been for them. In the reconstructed barracks we toured were audio recorded stories from people who had lived there. Very moving.

DSC_5552 DSC_5554 DSC_5563Behind this building to the left one can see the concrete pads for the laundry and ironing buildings. Behind and to the left is the mess for this block. Prior to construction of the “community center” building, dances and other activities were held in the mess hall.

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Eventually some of the residents built furniture from scrap lumber, made curtains for the windows and as dividers and made other improvements in their living conditions.

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They also constructed gardens. There was one large garden (Merritt Park) into which people could escape the monotony of barracks living. It was designed by Kuichiro Nishi and, many years later, his son (in his 90s) returned to help excavate and restore his father’s landscape.

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Other gardens were built near a mess hall so they could wait with some beauty around them.

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Even the hospital had a garden area.

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Finally, the cemetery. Most of the graves here were of infants and old men who had no family. Others who died here were cremated and their remains given to their family to take when they returned to their homes. Some bodies were sent to family living elsewhere. Only six graves still contain remains as all others have been disinterred and moved.

DSC_5640 The inset picture shows the Hindu funeral of a young woman who died giving birth to her twin girls who also died .

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The 22 minute movie is very well done as is the museum. The movie is narrated by survivors. The movie reminds us, as this place so eloquently does, that we should never again treat our citizens this way, denying them the right to due process.  Otherwise, we are no better than the countries we criticize for their human rights violations. Let us learn from our mistakes.

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