Manzanar 2017


My first impression is that of expanse. There is so much space, and with the August heat, my body feels pulled apart, stretched across the bristly landscape. Then there is the feeling of being so small, huddled like we are against the eastern Sierra. Nothing, not even clouds, to shelter us from their jagged teeth. Even the trees here, mature at 70 years old, seem twisted and stunted. There aren’t many buildings anymore. Just the big auditorium and some reconstructed barracks in Block 14. Granted most of the structures are gone now, but still it must have felt unprotected. I try to imagine if it would have felt this exposed back then. When there were block upon block of barrack housing, warehouses, and guard towers along the fence. I can’t see it.

But I can read the accounts of those who were forced to live in Manzanar Internment Camp during the few years it was in operation. Families carrying suitcases full of diapers, some people alone, one young boy, a Mexican American not Japanese, who had lied to be able to go with his Japanese American friends, and then his friends were assigned to another camp. In his story, he is recorded as saying after the authorities unquestioning believed him when he said he was Japanese that “being brown does have its advantages.” A sobering advantage.

In the historical notes, everyone felt uncertain. Not really understanding the why. Some of the Japanese employed as block leaders expressed their frustration at having to answer questions that they themselves did not know the answer to. How can you fathom through no fault of your own, your country turning against you, calling you a potential threat. How can you justify people being torn from their homes, uncertain of the future, only taking what they can hold in two hands. Then moving into newly built rough wood barracks, hasty built and open. Open to the sky through the patchy roofs. Open to the desert sand through knotholes. As sweat twines its way down my back, I think about how a summer so exposed would feel. I think about the winter. I know which I would prefer.

How would it feel to be dependent on others to provide you with food, news, necessities. These others who represent the country that put you in this position in the first place. How long would they care for you? How long until a new policy makes things worse?


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