Journey through Manzanar

Day 1

That morning, I was awake at 2 AM. I had woken up at this hour and driven to Inyo County before, but that wasn’t why I was up. Neither was it because of excitement exactly… There was a meteor shower, and I went to a small, well-to-do neighborhood park, which sat on a bluff overlooking a one-mile sandy bay.

There, clearly above the Pacific was Orion’s belt and Gemini. (It was a Geminid shower.) Sometimes, we saw one meteor right after another. They were bright strikes across the sky, lasting only a few seconds. The whole scene was dark but full of stars.

Beyond the secure balustrade and foliage, were the crashing waves that reminded me not to drop my phone. It was windy and cold. Had I not worn a windbreaker, I wouldn’t have lasted an hour in the frosty air. We quietly found our way back to the road.

Bright and a Little Later…

The sun shone brightly at 8 AM and soon I was with the other alternative breakers, waiting for the rental cars which were delayed because of windy weather–so unexpected of Southern California.

I was excited because it was my first week-long project with people I have never met before. Already, I felt a bond because we gathered for a similar cause.

So we left a little late and had detours. Within that day, I had adjusted to driving the large Chevrolet Tahoe.

More Than a Vacation…

When I first went to Inyo County, we explored Bishop, Volcanic Tablelands, and Fish Slough, and up north, Crowley Lake in Mono Country. The two counties constitute the Inyo National Forest in the Eastern Sierra.

The Owen Valley (which includes Bishop, Big Pine, Independence, and Lone Pine) is between the snow-covered Sierra Nevada and the White Mountains, which ironically did not look white because of its lower elevation. The US 395 follows the Owens River, which would become the Los Angeles Aqueduct and the center of the California Water Wars.

We wanted to go up the Sierra Nevada, perhaps through Big Pine Creek Canyon to the John Muir Wilderness, but the roads required snow chains. By evening, we stopped at Manzanar, a desolated place.

Now on this road again, it was so windy I couldn’t open the SUV door at times. I should have been unnerved by the Manzanar watchtower, but I was either too in awe with the scenery or have already learned to brave it. Manzanar seemed to take something from you, perhaps your voice.

Located between mountains that seems to form a great fortress, Manzanar had no apparent apple orchards. Everything seemed dry. An artist would have seen beauty. A historian would have seen suffering. A realist would have seen leafless trees, a few building, and not much at the forlorn place.

A few people reached out to me when I mentioned my journey to Manzanar, and it was through them that I realized I should not neglect the spiritual side and natural scenery of Manzanar.IMG_8157

Evening Drive

Independence, 34F-21F

After California City, the sights became interesting: sedimentary rocks and vast landscapes.

There were cacti in the foreground of forlorn mountains, clouds moving, and dust rising from the dry floors. We traveled in a warm car at 72 F, and the sky quickly became dark. Many times, we had to flash the high beams so we can see ahead. Sometimes, a large truck obscured our view so that it was impossible to borrow the opposing lane as a passing lane.

We arrived later than expected at our motel in Independence, easy to spot because of all the Christmas lights.

There, we collaborated with an accomplished landlady and nurse. By 7PM, we had unpacked and the wind made it seemed like 20F –freezing– instead of 34F. The windbreaker worked fine again, and it was my hands that felt the frigidness. Within ten minutes, it was unbearable.

After a hearty meal of macaroni and cheese and spaghetti with garlic bread, we began our discussion.

Seventy Years Later… Our Discussion

It’s hard to believe that seventy years have passed. Yet what has happened in those three years continues to be impactful and relevant to current events. We started the first of our discussions, which was based on an article one or two of us students had read.

Manzanar incarcerated about 10,000 of the 110,000 Japanese American during World War II. Umemoto was one of many who lived in Manzanar and at times, wished he wasn’t Japanese. As a second generation Japanese, a Nisei, he was embarrassed by his accent. “Internment camp” and “Relocation Center” were really euphemisms for what it was, a concentration camp.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, author of Farewell of Manzanar added in the interview that it was “shameful […] to be living in [a] prison camp.”

Lily Tamai, a curator said, “By not protecting a minority, it really reflects that American membership is not valid.” There was no due process. How could a belief so adamantly stated in the 1791 Fifth Amendment and kept throughout the centuries be tossed away?

The psychological trauma was difficult to delve in. For some, like Nakamura’s father, they want people to know that the camp was more than a tragedy, a community. (After does not tulip spring from the dirt?-Jonathan Swift.)

Do history textbooks cover incarceration? Today, Manzanar is one of two camps that has been designated as a National Historical Site, but not much is left except for its concrete foundations.


We thought that we would have more time to explore, but the drive took the whole day.

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