Seventy years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which established an exclusion zone and allowed the forced evacuation and incarceration of over 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry into concentration camps, such as Manzanar in California’s Owens Valley, where they spent up to four years in “camps” during World War II.
After a short walking and historical tour, the heat and the wind was reminiscent of the weather during the incarceration of Japanese Americans during the war. The students partcipated in Pilgrimage, and were among over 1,200 people attending the program at the Manzanar National Historical Site.
We spent time walking through Block 14, a demonstration block which is being reconstructed to help visitors see what life was like at Manzanar during World War II. Replicas of two barracks and a renovated mess hall are part of the new exhibits.
A block, or residential living area, contained 14 barracks which were divided into four 20’ x 25’ rooms. Each room had a single light and ab oil-burning stove. Entire families were often housed in each room, leaving virtually no privacy.
Bathrooms, known as latrines, with showers were located between the two rows of barracks with a faucet found outside of each barrack.
As we walked toward the mess hall, the students asked about what types of food was available. Through the interactive displays, they gained a better idea what camp cuisine was like and what life was like at Manzanar.
After the tour, we got back on the bus to go the Manzanar cemetery, where the Pilgrimage program is held. Over lunch, the students listened to the speakers and participated in the interfaith ceremony, along with the traditional ondo dancing at the end of the program. Following the ondo, the students returned to the Interpretive Center to explore and ask questions about who came to Manzanar and why.
My hope is that these students now have a better understanding about the forced relocation and incarceration of Americans of Japanese ancestry and the lack of due process, which certainly has a huge impact on our past, and great significance for our present and future.
James To is a member of the Manzanar Committee.
The views expressed in this story are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.
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