Saturday, December 17, 2011

Remembering Manzanar

Vast Emptiness at Manzanar National Historical Site
As we stood in the middle of this vast emptiness, we felt the coldness ( well, it was really cold with temperature in the 30s or near freezing) and the isolation. Can you imagine living in the middle of this desert emptiness, so hot in the summer ( temperature soars up to over 100s F or high 30s-40s C) and freezing cold in the winter, living in barracks where sands from howling winds could get in, where the holes on the wall and roof could not protect you from the searing heat and biting cold?
In 1942, about 120,000 Japanese Americans were uprooted from their homes and were given about one week to dispose of whatever they owned, except what they could pack and carry for their departure by this vast desert valley, at Manzanar.
Entrance of the Internment Camp (click here to see pictures of barracks before that were all gone now)
The relocation of Japanese into this internment camp also uprooted the Pauite Indians and early settlers of Owens Valley from their homes.  Though Owens Valley is a vast desert region, but the snow capped Sierra Nevada Mountains produces so much small streams that creates surprising regions of riparian green habitat that allowed easy farming for early Pauite Indian settlers to raise cattle, sheep, fruit, wheat and other crops.
Snow Capped Sierra Nevada Mountains to the West

Snow Capped Desert Mountain to the East of Manzanar
Manzanar is the Spanish word for "apple orchard", and the town of Manzanar was developed as an agricultural settlement beggining 1910. Early settlers grew apples, pears, peaches, potatoes and alfala on several thousand acres surrounding the town.
 What Remains of the Farm and Apple Orchard

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began acquiring water rights in the valley, and by 1920, Los Angeles owned all of Manzanar's land and water rights. Within five years, the early settlers and farmers were exiled from their town. Manzanar became an abandoned town.
Road to Nowhere? This bareness gave a chilling shock imagining how vast, isolated, and brutal the conditions were for Japanese who were interned here. 
In 1941, Japan's attack on Pearl harbor led the US into World War II and radically changed the lives of 120,000 Japanese American living in the United States. In 1942, the US Army leased 62,000 acres at Manzanar from Los Angeles to establish a center that will hold Japanese Americans during World War II. This is where the Japanese were brought to be isolated from the rest of the Americans.
Manzanar National Historic Site was established to preserve the stories of the internment of Japanese in the US during World War II and to serve as a reminder of the fragility of American Liberties. Though this historic site is now bare throughout the grounds, and the few structures left were concrete foundations, ruined water system, 
Japanese gardens, 

Some of the Japanese Garden in the Internment Site
I was told in the Visitor Center that the garden in the above picture won 3rd place based from the records of Japanese internees. To fight off the isolation, Japanese enjoyed nature by having garden contests, availed of the vast area by playing baseball, etc.
and cemetery.

The short 22-minute film, "Remembering Manzanar" is shown at the visitor center every 30 minutes. The film is very powerful in sending the message of the painful experiences of the Japanese who lived here in the camp surrounded by barbed wired-fences. Up until now, I still can almost hear the voice of the man who were sharing his first night at the camp.
 "The first thing we were asked to do was to fill the sack with straw. That would be our bed. Night came and I saw holes up the roof. I saw stars, so BEAUTIFUL. Morning, we woke up with sand all over us. The desert, it is so brutally hot in the summer, bone chilling cold in the winter, and there was always the sand and the WIND."- some words that haunted me after watching "Remembering Manzanar."
 Manzanar National Historic site is one of more than 380 parks in the National Park System. The National Park Service cares for these places saved by the American people so that all may experience America's natural resources, history and heritage.
I could not help but feel sad while walking in the trails of Manzanar, sad and inspired that despite the difficulties of the Japanese people at that time, they continued to be strong, and loyal to the country they still feel they belong, the United States of America. 
One of the exhibits that brought so much tears of inspiration, were American teachers who worked with the education of children in the camp, because, these children were also children of America. 
American Teachers for Japanese Children Continuing Education
Teachers recruitment and retention were difficult then considering the isolation of Manzanar but a few chose to remain moved by so many children uprooted from their normal lives. The teachers who remained dedicated themselves to bringing hope for better future.
The words above were so powerful for me that my heart became congested and eyes misty. The mistakes of the past is painful and heart ripping, but am glad the nation's history acknowledges this mistake that serves as a touching lesson. Forty six years after the Japanese internment, in 1988, congress passed, and signed by then President Ronald Reagan, a legislation which apologized for the Japanese American internment in behalf of the US government. The legislation said that the government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.". The US government eventually disbursed more than $1.6 billion in reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned and their heirs.

The Park is along Hwy 395, about 13 miles North of Lone Pine or 6 miles South of Independence. If you are interested to revisit this part of history, Manzanar National Historic Site should be an easy find if you are visiting the Eastern Sierra, where you can access two National Parks: Yosemite National Park to the West and Death Valley National Park to the East.

Facebook Twitter StumbleUpon Digg Delicious Reddit Technorati Mixx Linkedin


  1. The snowcap desser mountains look beautiful. :D

  2. How come there's a cemetery there? :/

  3. Miss Beth, I was teary eyed too when I read those words.

    I have these same feelings when I went inside the Malinta Tunnel in Corregidor...

    I believe it is very important for us to learn the lessons of history and to confront the atrocities of men to their fellow human beings with no sugar coating, so that we can realize how important it is to continually seek out peace...

    Aside from garden markers and a cemetery, I was actually expecting other structures and buildings where the Japanese-Americans were forced to live, same as those in Auschwitz...

  4. History always tells us the lessons learnt.

    Thank you for the effort to write it down.

  5. Its such a beautiful site to be such a sad location. Things like that shouldn't happen.

  6. Super pictures, I had never heard of Manzanar before.


  7. The way you tell this history of Manzanar brought tears to my eyes. Such beautiful sites to see, remember, and honor to those that went ahead of us.

    Gorgeous pictures, Betchai!

  8. I like the name of your blog.. The Joys of Simple Life. life indeed is very complicated nowadays.. let's keep it simple. The pictures in this post are awesome.

  9. thanks for sharing the very interesting history, Beth.

    "The first thing we were asked to do was to fill the sack with straw. That would be our bed. Night came and I saw holes up the roof. I saw stars, so BEAUTIFUL. Morning, we woke up with sand all over us. The desert, it is so brutally hot in the summer, bone chilling cold in the winter, and there was always the sand and the WIND." - haunting indeed! but beautifully haunting.

  10. in tears here too and praying the mistakes of the past are put to rest...and may there be peace for always..the photos tell a thousand stories, and I am as always captivated by the woman behind the lens, :)

  11. Very nice post Beth..
    For those interested in this story, search out an excellent movie on dvd by director Junichi Suzuki called "Toyo's Camera".. it is the story of a Japanese-American photographer from Los Angeles who documented his life at Manzanar using smuggled camera equipment.. quite an uplifting story. My wife is Japanese, so she wanted to see it and we both enjoyed immensely. He has another movie called "442" about the Nissei (first generation Japanese-Americans) soldiers who fought with incredible courage and honor for America in WW2, even though some had been in the camps themselves or still had relatives there.

  12. It is one of the saddest part of California history and the US history, that's why on our last visit, we did not go inside the visitor center. It gave me the chills the first time we went.

    I see how the colors of foliage has changed in a month or so. I still have photos not posted while all leaves were green.

    Nice post.

  13. Your pictures are beautiful, Betchai, but this is a sad but true memory in our history. It was a terrible time.

  14. As usual..not one of the US's finer moments. That many of the Japanese Americans fought for this country is testament for our shame. That many japanese americans died here is our shame even more because there was not adiqite medical treatment

  15. Nice photos! Interesting story about Manzanar.

  16. Thank you for sharing Beth. Your photos are wonderful. I will be back to read again.

    Dropping by to say THANK YOU. I think I did a mistake while clicking my paypal account. I am so sorry dear, it was refunded to your account. I didn't realize my mistake until I saw the balance.

  17. Such a sad event in our history. It looks like a beautiful place to visit, but nobody should have ever been forced to live there.

  18. I promised myself that I will return to this page to read the history behind those beautiful photos. This is what I love about blogging, I just don't get to see beautiful photos, I also learn something.

    Thank you so much Ms. Bethchai for sharing this post.

  19. Wow, great post and I loved all the photos. What a pretty place. Have a great weekend!

  20. This is the first time I have seen the remains of Manzanar. I visited Dachau while in Germany and they have it well preserved as a reminder to not let history repeat itself. Too bad Manzanar is not so well-kept, but I am glad to see there was some signage.

  21. How cool is that! I can't wait to take a trip like that one of these days.

  22. Very interesting. I've seen documentaries about it, but they never show what the ecosystem is like.

  23. The trees are lovely against the background.

  24. All of these I only see in the movies and travel magazines. But now, I could get to see it each time I visit your blog. How cool!

    Such amazing piece of history! I never heard of Manzanar before till I read this blogpost, Te Betchai. Very enriching piece of information. I have a heavy heart imagining what lives were like for the Japanese that were exiled back then.