Blown Away (Manzanar 2)

Day 2

Independence, 36F-18F


Somehow, the heater had lost its efficiency. Again, the sun shone through the windows. I woke up an hour earlier than our scheduled breakfast, arranged my bag and leftover dinner for lunch, and started reading Jurassic Park. It was a slow morning but I got to enjoy the outdoors.

Hunters usually came to Independence and in December, the lodging was full of them. Outside, the alley led to a street where deciduous trees stood before a completely white Sierra Nevada.

I decided on oatmeal for breakfast to warm me up.

And the tumbleweeds kept rolling…

What I didn’t know was tumbleweeds-how they looked like and why they “tumbled” until we arrived at Manzanar and the tumbleweeds kept rolling across the desert sand. Sometimes they were large, maybe one foot in radius.

Until I attempted to open the SUV doors again, I didn’t realize the force that carried these weeds. I was blown away by the fierce wind that was probably enabled by El Nino.

East Theater

Our tour guide, Mark soon revealed a plethora of historical facts.

When the Japanese Americans were incarcerated, they were told that Manzanar would be windy and would have rattlesnakes (there weren’t, but it was sandy and windy).

Asian history in California could be said to have begun in the 1850’s when Chinese immigrants started working on the railroads. Then, the gold mines attracted more Chinese and many others, and the fear, the “yellow peril” began.

In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed for 10 years, but was extended for 10 more years and made permanent in 1902. (Later, it was repealed by the Magnuson Act in 1943.) In the late 1800’s, Japanese continued immigrating to America.

But then, the Immigration Act of 1924 (The Johnson-Reed Act) excluded all Asian including Japanese although “picture brides” allowed immigration.

Then on December 7, 1941, there was a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. A friend of Hearst, General Dewitt of the Western U.S. Army was influential and eventually rounded up the Japanese to prevent an “invasion.”

  1. The Japanese in Los Angeles were plotting to bomb the airport.
  2. They settled near Seattle because of Boeing’s aerospace defense.
  3. They lived in Santa Maria because of the oil reserves.

Thus, the “War Relocation” plans began, even employing Japanese American to build in the empty apple orchard.

The captivating film revealed turmoils and happiness in the land of strife.

Summer Camp for Three Years…

For some, Manzanar was a three-year summer camp, especially for those under 20. Finally, they could befriend those who can understand them culturally (etc.). For others, like their parents, they lost everything they were beginning to cultivate.

Still, within 6 months of its opening, Manzanar already had Japanese gardens blooming. Today, 11 has been uncovered. Among them, Merritt Park (Pleasure Park), which was a popular photography place because the barracks were hidden from the view.

Shikata Ga Nai (“Cannot be Helped”)

There was nothing they can do, so they had to make the best of it.

–“Because I looked like the enemy, I was treated like [one].”–

Even after, they fingerprinted children as young as six, a traumatic experience that implied xenophobia and Japanese Americans as would-be criminals. “Go home Jap” was still prevalent.

When they returned, the “neighbor” who watched their place either took it or gave everything back. It truly depended on their “friend.”

Finally, President Reagan gave Japanese Americans an apology that lifted weights off their shoulders. However, they had lost freedom which no money can compensate.

The documentary included many interviews and a lasting message: when our nation violates a constitution, our nation begins to unravel. It is why individual rights should be preserved and Americans should know the Bill of Rights.

Tour of the Barracks…

Well, replicas of barracks… I was surprised to learn that the Visitor Center was actually the high school auditorium and in it, was the museum, the theater, and gift shop.

Looking at its Manzanar model helped me realize how many people they have to fit, how merciful it was to have a Children’s village for the orphanage, how they dedicated buildings for martial arts, and how crowded it would have been even though it had a good sense of community. On the other hand, the hospital seemed small, and ironically, they had to contribute to the war effort in the large warehouses. IMG_8200

The barracks shivered…

In the barracks (not pictured) that included the mess hall, there were no white boards lining the walls and the barracks shivered from the wind. They attempted to make the barracks better, but it didn’t really happen. There were supposedly cracks everywhere. If this was cold, imagine the night!

The exhibits were full of information. One emphasized on the loyalty questions: IMG_8203

(Scroll onto or click for photo descriptions.)


After lunch, I worked in the firehouse on graveling to make a draining system. It was dusty work, but it was like making a Zen garden too and tranquil.

When Citizenship isn’t Enough

It was my turn to lead the discussion for the night. My article was about a marathon runner who wasn’t “American” because despite becoming naturalized, he was born in Africa. What struck me was that some people were really into racial identifications. The more I thought about it, the less it made sense. Some identifications were vague. Why are people from India and even part of Middle East considered Asian when people from Russia were not? What’s the fine difference between Asian and Pacific Islander?

For some naturalized citizens, they had to work harder to prove themselves as “Americans.” Unfortunately, that also goes for most American-born minorities, but sometimes, we don’t recognize the struggles of our predecessors who have paved the road.

The Wind

I did not think I could have face the wind again. It made the internment camp seem real.

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