Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Manzanar Revisited

And it seems to me important for a country, for a nation to certainly know about its glorious achievements but also to know where its ideals failed, in order to keep that from happening again.
George Takei

This year there was a certain poignancy in my visit to Manzanar. One of my newer patient's and his wife had been in internment camps during World War II. They weren't at Manzanar, but had relatives who were. We have talked at length about it and he commented, "as I a result I no longer trust the American Constitution." With his experience who can blame him. It's essential to know that in a country that takes great pride in its achievements, we have also had colossal failures. Perhaps due to the emergence of a homeland security in the last several years, we again sit on a knifes edge of letting our ideals be submerged again.

There is now a mess hall and barracks at Manzanar. I sat in them taking photographs and could hear the groan of the building as the wind moved it. I could feel the bitterness of the cold as it whipped the edges of windows and doors. And I thought, how would it have felt to me if suddenly I was placed here as a perceived enemy of the United States simply because I bore a certain ancestral heritage. It was sobering and frightening.

Yet many people accepted this, not fighting much (there were outbreaks here and there at this and other internment camps). The phrase "shikata ga nai" or "it can't be helped" indicated cultural norms over which one had little control and was used to explain why there wasn't much fighting about the placement directly. It is hard for Westerners or people from today's era to understand, but it was how many were able to keep face in great adversity and survive.
I continue to learn on every visit I make to Manzanar and try to use my voice to help see it never happens again.

Kitaro, "Heaven and Earth":

1 comment:

susanna said...

Good post! My mom spent her childhood in B.C. during WWII. She told me that one night her parents sent her and her siblings to bed early and without any explanation. The next morning, they were told that "something has happened" and that they were not allowed to talk about it. When my mother went outside to play, she discovered that the Japanese in her neighborhood, including a childhood friend, had disappeared during the night, leaving their house and all their belongings.

I wish that my grandparents had taken a stand for their neighbors that night. Eighty years later, I think my mom's fears stem from that time, too.

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