"A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched - so a Japanese American, born of Japanese parents - grows up to be a Japanese, not an American."
- Los Angeles Times
Notice of evacuation
One spring night
The image of my wife
Holding the hands of my mother.
- unknown Japanese American
I spent this last weekend with my friends visiting the Manzanar Relocation Center near Mammoth, California... the following are a few of my thoughts from the trip that we took to Manzanar, which I regard as one of the best decisions of my life.
I'll start by saying this is a hard one for me to write. I don't know if it is within my ability to articulate how I feel about the issue, but I hope that you will stick around and read this one the whole way through. It will be spread over the next few photos I post on DA.
On February 19th, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which mandated the immediate "evacuation" of all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast to "relocation centers" around the country. I use quotation marks because the words "evacuation" and "relocation centers" were originally fabrications made up by the United States Government to cover up the fact that A) the Japanese Americans were not being "evacuated", but instead imprisoned against their will, and B) that the Japanese Americans thought of the camps as concentration camps, not "relocation centers". Also, I won't get into what a concentration camp is or isn't... as one of the formerly interned Japanese Americans told me, the JA's attempt to inform others of what happened to them is in no way in competition with what happened to the Jews under Nazi Germany.
The public excuse that the government issued was that the Japanese Americans were being moved for their own protection. This seems ironic to me, because while the various internment camps did have guard towers, those guard towers had their guns "permanently aimed inwards, into the camp". Regardless of the United States' government's attempt to pamper the issue at the time, it didn't change the facts: thousands of Japanese Americans were forced, against their will, to give up the lives they had worked so hard to achieve in order to be shipped off to lonely and remote internment camps scattered throughout the country.
"Like a dog,
I am commanded
At a bayonet point.
My heart is inflamed
With burning anguish"
The night the first convoy of Japanese Americans arrived at Manzanar, they were instructed to go to a barn full of straw and fill bags that they were given with the straw. This was to serve as their beds for the first night's rest; these were later replaced by standard-issue army cots. The dwellings that they entered were miserable. They were ercilessly dusty, and there was no privacy because of the cramped quarters and the government's decision not to include curtains or walls in the shower-rooms. In the evening, when everybody had finally gotten to sleep, the wind would come. It would whip around and carry sand and dust from the outside into the cracks in the corrogated aluminum walls of the barracks.
"Vexed beyond my strength,
I wept. And then the wind came
Drying up all tears."
Today, there is little left of Manzanar. The barracks, latrines, etc. are long gone - either blown away in time or purposely destroyed by the United States government post-internment.
What is left, though, are the memories. Just walking around this place made me sad, because of everything that it represents to me as an American. I am a Chinese-American, but I do not feel detached from the Japanese American internment just because I am not Japanese; the internment of the Japanese Americans could have happened to any race, and it can still happen today. Many of the things that Chinese-Americans had to face coming up in this country are the same struggles we see today: I didn't want to bring it up, but look at the Rodney King beating. One of the police officers peed on the guy when they were done beating the shit out of him. I grew up sheltered, thinking that racism was a thing of the past; how could there be racism if I had black kids in my school, and they were just as loved (or hated) as the other kids? It really wasn't till I stepped outside of the Palo Alto bubble that I started realizing how bad things are.. I won't get into how I came to realize racism now - that is a story for another day. Still, it makes me disgusted and sad when I think of the racism and prejudice that still exists today. This is why I feel it is of the utmost importance to understand the cultural roots of racism, its history, and its manifestations.
Please take this stuff in small doses, but really do try and think about what your liberty and your freedom means to you. What is it worth to you, and what would you do if tomorrow it were taken away from you?
I will write more as it comes to me. I rarely ask for responses from those who view my Deviant Art gallery, but I would encourage anyone who is reading this to share their own experiences with prejudice and racism, how it has impacted their lives, and perhaps, if they have time, what people think we can do to change the way things are.