Tuesday, September 4, 2012


One of the darkest days in the history of the United States was when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. This document allowed local military commanders to remove any person from the West Coast of the country who had Japanese ancestry. The illogical reasoning behind this was that the United States was now at war with the Imperial country of Japan the American military wanted to ensure no one of Japanese descent would willingly aide the enemy by allowing access to the western coastline. So, over 110,000 Japanese-Americans were taken from their homes and businesses and distributed through the country into ten different relocation camps.
One in Utah, one in Idaho, one in Colorado, one in Wyoming, two in Arizona, two in Arkansas, and two in California.
With this in mind J & L took a brief trip to visit one out of the relocation camps in California. A visit to Manzanar, just south of the town of Independence and about 230 miles north of Los Angeles along Highway 395, will let the visitor to get a first hand glance at the isolation and breath taking emptiness of the area. It would be enough to make a corpse cold.
Main Entrance to Manzanar
The eastern edge of the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains is a postcard in perfection. Towering mountain peaks stretch into the clear blue skies like fingers looking for freedom. The majestic mountains on the western edge of Owens Valley with Mount Whitney to the north reaching over 14,500 feet in elevation are things of beauty. This is an area in which to camp, hike, travel, and reside if that is your choice. It is not a place to be suddenly dropped into because of your ancestry.
The stark reality of Manzanar is made more than apparent when you drive through the one square mile camp with the nicely folded auto tour pamphlet given out at the Forest Service headquarters at the entrance.
Reconstructed Guard Tower
Row upon row of vacant lots depicting where barracks were set up for the internees are a reminder of what ‘we’ did to fellow citizens. As stated earlier, a very dark chapter in our often glorious history.
One famous internee was Ralph Lazo who was both of Mexican and Irish descent who felt, at the young age of 16 felt that if the United States could simply place citizens into ‘holding facilities’ because of their nationality then he should, in protest, join the deportation. He jumped aboard a train out of Los Angeles in May of 1942 and in solidarity went voluntarily to Manzanar with his fellow neighbors and friends.
“Internment was immoral. It was wrong, and I couldn’t accept it. These people hadn’t done anything that I hadn’t done except to go to a Japanese language school,” Lazo told the Los Angeles Times.
Not once did anyone in authority ask for his identity papers but placed him behind the barbed wired fences just east of the Sierra Nevada’s. He stayed there until the end of the war when the rest of the internees were released and sent home.
A hero? We think so as researchers and Americans.
Another famous person interned during World War II for the fact they were of Japanese descent was the actor George Takei, fame from all the Star Trek series and films as Hikaru Sulu. He was not at Manzanar but in two different camps, Camp Rohwer in Arkansas and Camp Tule Lake in California.  
Takei Family (George in inset)
Famous now, a mere child at the time, like the tens of thousands of other everyday citizens, living  and growing up inn a relocation camp -- it numbs the mind. Hard working, loving, and peaceful friends, co-workers, and neighbors were treated as though they were criminals.
They weren’t and in honor of these people put through hell because of a random genetic moment it would behoove all those who read this blog to take the time to visit Manzanar or what remains of the other nine internment camps. It would be this reflection remembering what we put our fellow citizens through during a given time of extreme caution that will make us stronger individuals.
I wonder if it's fair to question what we did to our citizens to what Nazi Germany to the Jewish population. With the exception of the attempt for a final extermination of a race, how fine is the line? The Japanese-Americans only lost their respect, property, and dignity but not their lives.
Or did they in some abstract manner?