My journey to Manzanar

The journey to Manzanar is rough. Driving the 230 miles in an air conditioned Prius at 80 miles an hour, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to make this journey 60 years earlier on a government bus, holding everything I own in my hands. Current events prompted me to explore America’s history of interning its own citizens. So, on April 26, I made the annual pilgrimage to Manzanar in Inno County, California.

When I arrived, several hundred people sat in folding chairs listening to Archie Miyatake, an ex-detainee from Manzanar, relate his first experience with camp guards, “They said they were taking us here to protect us, but I couldn’t help notice that the guards held their guns facing in, at us, not out.”

One theme became clear as the next speaker, Mickie Okamoto, President of UCLA Nikkei Student Union and third generation Japanese American, climbed onto the makeshift stage, a yellow flatbed truck, and spoke of his grandmother’s detention: there was a divide between the sentiments of the old and young.

“She believed she was being a good American,” Okamoto said. “But I’ll never understand how they could let this happen.”

For many, Manzanar is not just a forgotten moment in time. One of the causes adopted by these activists is the protection of Arab and Muslim American rights. Hussam Ayloush, Executive Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, was the next speaker invited onto the truck.

“After Sept. 11, the first call I received was from my Japanese friend, Bruce. He warned me that what happened to the Japanese might happen to Arab and Muslim Americans. He told me, ‘You need to have friends outside of your own community, and we’re by your side.’”

Exploring Manzanar’s interpretive center, I noticed a display of authentic documents that reflect the gross manipulation of facts throughout the early 1940s.

I realized these documents stirred enough hate and fear to imprison an entire people, even in a country that prides itself on its diversity.

I recognized that the ability to move beyond one’s own victimization and actively reach out to others who are now in your situation requires profound strength. I left Manzanar with a sense of complete appreciation and hope.