The unfortunate events at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 are a regrettable memory in U. S. History and an onset to the U.S. participation in World War II. What followed after that was much more grim. Japanese persecution and xenophobia grew every day in the United States. By February of 1942, the U.S. president at the time, F.D.R., issued Executive Order 9066 allowing the Secretary of War to declared prescribed areas military zones. This led to the incarceration of Japanese and others. Sadly in the name of “protection” the Japanese population was detained and placed at one of 10 internment camps around the country. Over 100,000 people were held at internment camps during a period of nearly 4 years. The internment camps were heavily guarded, with barracks as living quarters each with no partitions, mess halls, schools and communal bathrooms with no privacy stalls. Everyone was being forced to relocate, men, women, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and children. The governmental decisions then led to rights violations under the guise of protection that were an embarrassment to the nation. Several years later everyone was released and the internment camps demolished. It has been the mission of many survivors and family members to not let this moment disappear along with it. It was an uphill battle spanning several decades for the government to admit wrongdoing and offer restitution.
Last semester I had the pleasure of joining Dr. Jeff Burton, Archaeologist and Cultural Resources Program Manager, who has dedicated the last 20 years of his life to archaeological research and restoration of the first and most largely populated Japanese internment camp in California’s Owens Valley, Manzanar. Now known as Manzanar National Historic Site, the research that has been conducted led to the finding and reconstruction of watch towers, living quarters, and children’s hospital & orphanage. The site currently has a museum educating visitors on the history that precedes the site and offers tours of the reconstruction. During my time with Dr. Burton, I was volunteering with fellow Anthropology & History majors contributing to the ongoing archaeological project of the children’s village. We spent two days learning about how sites are strung up, weather and local vegetation, proper digging techniques and gear, and how to bag and process artifacts. Also, we spent a day visiting the museum and touring the facilities reconstructed based on the archaeological findings. During the museum walk through and later the tour, I found myself upset as I moved from one exhibit to the next reading about the events, watching interviews of survivors and seeing photographs. As I was walking around I asked myself, “Why is this the first time that I am hearing about this?” I have taken my fair share of history courses, learned about WWII & Pearl Harbor and this had never come up. When the weekend was done, I had a newfound interest to continue the journey of learning about this historical event and volunteering whenever I had an opportunity.
On April 25th, 2020, Manzanar National Historic Site was scheduled to host its 51st Pilgrimage event in commemoration of the site and all of the progress that the project has completed. This is an annual event that brings in hundreds of people from all over the area. The largest group of attendees consists of Japanese families that were either present during that time, children then, or next generations who are invested in the history here, including the cautionary tale. Whilst our own plans to attend the pilgrimage and continue our efforts in the project were derailed this year due to the recent events surrounding the coronavirus and shelter-in-place, I am excited to share my experience and bring this piece of history to you.
Reading List Recommendations:
Grade 3-5: The Journal of Ben Uchida by Barry Denenberg
Grade 6-8: Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
Grade 9-12: Executive Order 9066: The History of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Controversial Decision to Intern Japanese American Citizens During World War II by Charles Rivers Editors
Grade 12+: Confinement and Ethnicity by Jeff Burton, Mary Farrell et al
For more information visit the Manzanar National Historic Site at https://www.nps.gov/manz/index.htm