Hank Umemoto, a former Manzanar incarceree, and author of Manzanar To Mount Whitney: The Life and Times of a Lost Hiker, wrote the following letter to the Board of Water and Power Commissioners, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, regarding their proposed Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch, which would be built east of the Owens River, but in a direct line of sight from Manzanar National Historic Site.
The Manzanar Committee announced its opposition to the construction of the solar ranch near Manzanar on August 16, 2013. Our statement: Manzanar Committee Denounces LADWP Proposal To Build 1,200-Acre Solar Ranch Near Manzanar.
October 22, 2013
RE: “Japs’ Crap” – Proposed Plan For Solar Farm On Potential National Historic Landmark Site
Dear President Mel Levine, Vice President William W. Funderburk, Jr., Commissioner Jill Banks Barad, Commissioner Michael F. Fleming, Commissioner Christine E. Noonan:
Having spent thirty-nine months during my formative years at Manzanar, I visit the Owens Valley several times a year, perhaps because it has become a part of me; and once in awhile, trespass into your DWP property across the Owens River, and through the gate to the site of the Manzanar sewage processing plant.
Hopefully, some day, this site will be designated as a National Historic Landmark, since it is an integral part of the Manzanar National Historic Site It is also in close proximity to your proposed solar farm.
In 1942, our rights as citizens and members of a civilized human species were eradicated, and our self-esteem dishonored, by five strands of barbed wire fencing that caged us like a herd of worthless critters. Eight guard towers around the compound, with searchlights and machine guns, targeted us as though we were a group of menacing savages, and a fleet of armed jeeps patrolled the camp to harass us 24/7.
11,070 innocent earthlings of our kind were treated like pieces of worthless crap, and were victims of people who had no more rights than we had, and who committed a cardinal, moral crime upon us, a sin that is surely beyond that of a punishable nature here on Earth.
Amid this mayhem, at least our waste flowed peacefully southward, under Highway 395, and below the Owens River to its final resting ground, to be processed at the plant which was the most modern facility in the nation, at the time.
“Well, what the hell! They’re only [expletive deleted] ‘Japs’ crap,’” some may say, as they uttered in 1942.
Constructing a solar farm on the site of the former processing plant is re-living 1942 all over again, hailing the phrase, “A Jap is a Jap, whether born here, or in the Land of the Rising Sun, and deserves to be treated like a piece of crap,” which he meekly accepted at the time, but by no means was it justified, and is certainly not acceptable today.
Building a solar farm at that particular site, where men from Manzanar labored and maintained the facility, and which is a vital part of Manzanar’s dark history, would indeed be evidence of disregard for compassion and disrespect for fellow mankind.
I believe you are in a position to make the final decision. May God and your conscience be your guide, and let whatever remains of the “Japs’ Crap” rest in peace, with at least a bit of dignity.
For those who may wish to write a letter to the LADWP regarding the Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch, send it to:
Board of Water and Power Commissioners
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
Room 1555-H, 15th Floor
111 North Hope Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Umemoto, a member of the Manzanar Committee, was born in 1928, and grew up in Florin, California, near Sacramento. He was incarcerated at Manzanar at the age of 14, and, as stated earlier, he is the author of Manzanar To Mount Whitney: The Life and Times of a Lost Hiker. Umemoto, who writes from Gardena, California, often volunteers as a docent at the Manzanar National Historic Site.
The views expressed in this story are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.