Manzanar

I love the feel of the air as it changes into fall.  There is a dry whisp of a scent.  Two different temperatures; a warmth to the front of the breeze but something colder just behind.  I find myself thinking of the interment camps of WWII, and what it was to be taken from your home, to watch a sunset in a place unfamiliar to you.  To watch the sun set behind Mt. Whitney from Manzanar as the weather turned cold. 

The last rays of a sunset come through the weeds in silhouette
The last rays of the sun shine on Sept 28, 2020.

The Japanese internment camps of WWII have been present in my thoughts the last few months.  It started with reading, “Snow Falling on Cedars” in April.  I knew about the camps, but that book, so beautifully written, re-awoke me to the time in our country when land was taken, Japanese immigrants and citizens imprisoned (anyone with Japanese ancestry classified as “enemy aliens”), families torn apart.  This weekend I finished reading, “Daughter of Moloka’i” which also explores the Japanese-American isolation of WWII. I didn’t understand how the land was worked and developed in Florin (Sacramento), California by Japanese families.  I didn’t realize the early relocation camps involved housing people in dirty horse stalls at race tracks. I didn’t understand how businesses were sold for nothing, that there were no options allowing those of Japanese ancestry to hold on to what they had built.

I didn’t know that residents in internment camps were asked to fill out forms which, depending on their answers, could label them “loyal” or “disloyal”.  Question 27 asked if you would be willing to serve as a soldier or a nurse in the war.  Imagine the fear in making this decision; to say no could mark you as disloyal, to say yes could mean leaving your young children or your elderly parents in the dire landscape of internment.  Question 28 asked “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States… and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization?”  For those who were immigrants, forbidden US citizenship, would it leave them without a country?  If Japan won this war, would they be killed or tortured for signing this form? If they didn’t sign the form, would they ever leave the camps?

My daughter will be reading “Farewell to Manzanar” this year, an unexpected assignment again connecting us to this time and place. She broke down last nigh, feeling like she has been betrayed by history in that this is something she is only learning now.  I explained that I’m learning too. 

A yellow and orange light around the Tehachapi Mountains after the sun has set
The last colors of the sunset on Sept 28, 2020

And so I watch the sun set, and think about how it must have been almost 80 years ago, with the wind shifting towards winter. 

Links:

Japanese Internment from The History Channel

Japanese Americans and The US Constitution – The Questionnaire

Books:

Snow Falling on Cedar by David Guterson

Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

Farewell to Manzanar by James D. Houston and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

4 Replies to “Manzanar”

  1. It seems appropriate in this political climate to be examining our countries mistreatment of immigrants. There’s a lot of talk of Patriotism and what it means to be a Patriot, and it seems completely unnerving to those of us who are looking at what’s happening now through the lens of history (the not so distant history). It’s important to consider the political climate of the time, and how many American’s didn’t even understand what was happening to their hard-working Japanese neighbors. It makes me want to be extra vigilant and to pay attention right now.

    Also, beautiful observation of the turning of the season.

    1. Hi Bridgette! Yes to all that you wrote. I think books like this are so important right now to expand our empathy and awareness to what is happening in the world, helping to keep us vigilant. There is a wonderful podcast, Hidden Brain, that had an episode called “Empathy Gym” (August 31, 2020) and “How to Exercise Your Empathy” (July 29, 2019) which discusses how reading increases empathy. Another reason to support reading in children!

  2. I had enjoyed two other books by Alan Brennert and thus also read his well documented “Daughter of Moloka’i” and concur it is excellent. A sad time in American history, that American citizens were deprived of their rights.

    1. Hi Hank!! Thanks you so much for stopping by and supporting this writing endeavor I’m on, it means a lot to me. I’ll have to check out other books by Brennert, “Moloka’i” is the only other one I’ve read. Brennert is an incredible researcher, I really appreciate the amount of time and energy he puts into the accuracy of the stories he tells.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.