Manzanar Day One…
It has been a week since I returned home from not only an amazing experience, but an awesome trip with my dad. I know some people think it might be weird, but I have always loved traveling with my parents and though this is the first time we have taken a trip this long, ever, and without mom, we did great!
When my dad first told me about this trip I was excited for him and wished I could have taken it with him. His initial plan had more stops and a more mileage, but then he had second thoughts, because truly, it’s not always exciting to travel/drive alone. Then I was laid off when my position was eliminated. Fifteen years and I was without a job and though I knew my path, I was filled with fear and anxiety about the idea of going it alone to pursue my dreams. I wanted to take this trip mostly to spend quality time with my dad, but to also get away from life for a few weeks. So the trip was back on.
The finalized itinerary was just as spectacular as the initial trip my dad was going to do, save for the day we crossed Nevada and a section of Utah. If I ever wished a car could grow wings, it was that day, but that’s further along in the series.
Day one we drove to Lone Pine, California just over two hundred miles from Los Angeles. Manzanar is situated right between Lone Pine and Independence, CA, which is ironic to me considering that Manzanar was a Japanese Concentration Camp. Now, before I go on, there was some debate awhile ago on what to call this place, but because a Concentration Camp has become synonymous with people being imprisoned for no other reason than their race, this term was settled on.
As we drove to the National Historic Sites (NHS) entrance, it was a little unnerving to see a guard tower, and instantly feel whisked back to a time when people were seeing this for what it was, a guard tower, not just a piece of what is now history. As I sit on my patio writing this, I can’t even imagine what it might have been like to feel like a prisoner in a place that was being “sold” to you as a place to keep one safe. If that were the case, as noted by an internee, “why were the guns pointing inward?”.
In total there were ten camps, which I will list at the end of this blog. Ten. That may not seem like a lot until you realize that in these small places were housed thousands of people, just under 113,000 people for those doing the math. Manzanar is located at the edge of the Sierra’s. For you skiers out there, it’s on the path to Mammoth, so it was cold and the winters were as harsh as the hot summers. Each living space was given one space heater, despite the amount of people that might have been forced to live in twenty-five by twenty-five feet of living space.
I could go on and one about how horrible the conditions were for these resilient people, but instead I want to focus on just that, their resilience. From building play areas for the children, gardens to walk around and sit in, to small vegetable gardens, they were going to do what they could to make the best out of a bad, and unfair, situation. Now mind you, they did these things with what they had from what little they were given, they even made their own furniture, after the government neglected to follow through on that promise as well. That is resilience, making the most of a situation you have no control over.
Although my becoming unemployed is nowhere close to what this amazing group of people overcame, it taught me that sometimes you have to move in the direction that is best for you, even if it is hurts or doesn’t make sense. What I witnessed, over seventy years later, was far more important than my own troubles and it began my path to healing, because I saw their history and how they made it. How they survived and thrived in the worst conditions, including after their release with little money, no homes, and being forced to relocate. Still, they moved forward. Ho’omau.
Life is about moving forward and making the most out of the situations presented to us. We can control certain aspects of our life, but we can’t control everything, and that’s when we have to take the bull by the horns and ride it until we are on firm ground again. Sometimes we might get thrown, but when that happens, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and climb right back on.
Life will always throw curveballs, and we won’t hit each one out of the park, but even just taking a swing, shows you haven’t given up, just like this beautiful, strong and amazingly resilient group of people refused to give up. There is no way to pretty up the harsh conditions they lived under, or moreso the reasons they were forced to live like this, but we can take a page out of their book and learn how to move forward with heads held high.
The list of Camps…
*Topaz Internment Camp, Central UT, population: 8,130. *Poston Internment Camp, Arizona, population: 17, 814. *Gila River Internment camp, Phoenix, AZ, population: 13,348. *Amache Internment Camp, Colorado, population: 7,318. *Heart Mountain Internment Camp, Wyoming, population: 10,767. *Jerome Internment Camp, Arkansas, population: 8,497. *Manzanar Internment Camp, Independence, CA, population: 10,046. *Minidoka Internment Camp, Idaho, population: 9,397. *Rowher Internment Camp, Arkansas, population: 8,475. *Tule Lake Internment Camp, California, population: 18,879.