Friday, July 6, 2007


“Make Manzanar even better physically, intellectually, and spiritually” by volunteering, asserts the NPS website. It is one of the only two internment sites that the National Park Service maintains. Manzanar’s interpretive center is a flood of experiences that will linger with the participant. You can stamp your passport and even become a junior ranger. Money from the Californian Japanese American community and its placement along a busy highway on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada makes Manzanar the “model camp town” and the representative of the internment. A visit to Manzanar is not, however, a visit to the other nine. No other sites are being reconstructed. The Park Service erected a watchtower on the exact location of one of the original eight. The internee’s elaborate ponds are being unearthed and rejuvenated. A mess hall has been moved into an original placement and is being refurbished for use in the “Typical Block” exhibit. The auto tour offers an overview of key sites: Toyo Miyatake’s residence in Block 20, the Children’s Village (the only internment camp orphanage), the Cemetery with its monument that has become the icon of Manzanar, and the camouflage net factory. In the lead-up to the Manzanar Revolt, Recycling and Garbage trucks flying Black Dragon flags endeavored to stop work at the camouflage net factory by threatening workers. Following the Revolt, workers at various jobs throughout the camp refused to show up for several weeks and the net factory never reopened. Manzanar National Historic Site, California, May 2007.

Manzanar Water

The City of Los Angeles purchased this land for its water rights in the 1920’s. From that point on, the water flowing out of the Sierras here was diverted to the LA aqueduct to quench the expanding population to the south. Despite summer temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, internees were forbidden from even wading in the water that ran through Manzanar. The LADWP has a reservoir just Northeast of the camp where internee crews built up the wall in February 1943. It is rife with cement inscriptions like the English, “I love myself, Tommy Miyaoka” and the Japanese “peace” and “Banzai, the Great Japanese Empire and Manzanar Black Dragon Group Headquarters”. Manzanar National Historic Site, California, May 2007.

Manzanar Cranes

Kenneth Foote argues that Sanctification of a site is creating a sacred space made special by the recurrence of ceremony and ritual commemoration. Of the many internment camp sites that have a pilgrimage, it is easy to attest to their being sanctified by the Japanese American community and only Designated memorials by the federal government. Manzanar ventures to be sanctified by the national community and perhaps will be as memory changes. Manzanar National Historic Site, California, May 2007.

Manzanar Revolt

On December 6, 1942 almost half the camp organized and marched to the administration area where a committee of five representatives negotiated the release of Harry Ueno. Harry was the organizer of the kitchen worker’s union at Manzanar. He had confronted the administration because while the mess hall was given insufficient sugar rations, the sugar bowls in the administrative buildings were full. Harry was arrested, without positive identification, following the beating of a JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) leader. The JACL, a minority group of young Nisei, cooperated with the internment and the camp administration and therefore procured positions of more importance and better pay than that of the Issei and Kibei. The administration’s release of Harry was met with uproarious celebration that evolved into general protest of the internment. The internees taunted soldiers, sang patriotic Japanese songs and threw rocks at the MPs. The MP’s used tear gas and fired into the crowd. Two internees died and nine were wounded. Harry Ueno was arrested along with the five negotiators. Fifteen “troublemakers” in all were held in local jails without hearings. In support of the prisoners, most work shut down in the camp for several weeks because the internees refused to show up. In January, the “troublemakers” were imprisoned at Dalton Wells, Utah. Harry was separated from his family and imprisoned for a year without ever being charged with a crime. And it all started with sugar. Manzanar National Historic Site, California, May 2007.