While traveling south on Route 395 we visited the Manzanar National Historic Site – home of the Relocation Site where almost 12,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II.
Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in California – Long before the first incarcerees arrived in March 1942, Manzanar was home to Native Americans, who mostly lived in villages near several creeks in the area.
Since the last incarcerees left in 1945, former incarcerees and others have worked to protect Manzanar and to establish it as a National Historic Site to ensure that the history of the site, along with the stories of those who were unjustly incarcerated there, are remembered by current and future generations.
The primary focus is the Japanese American incarceration era, as specified in the legislation that created the Manzanar National Historic Site.
On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War to designate military commanders to prescribe military areas and to exclude “any or all persons” from such areas. The order also authorized the construction of what would later be called “relocation centers” by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to house those who were to be excluded.
This order forced relocation of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were native-born American citizens. The rest had been prevented from becoming citizens by federal law.
Over 110,000 were incarcerated in the ten concentration camps located far inland and away from the coast.
People left businesses, homes, jobs as the US Government instructed. The people who were moved had no idea why or what was going on. Once they arrived, they realized that the Government was not going to treat them kindly. They were locked up with no chance of escape – all this and having done nothing wrong, just born the wrong race.
Life was hard, hard at Manzanar.
Food at Manzanar was based on military requirements. Meals usually consisted of hot rice and vegetables, since meat was scarce due to rationing. In early 1944, a chicken ranch began operation, and in late April of the same year, the camp opened a hog farm. Both operations provided welcome meat supplements to the incarcerees’ diet.
The incarcerees made Manzanar more livable through recreation. They participated in sports, including baseball and football, and martial arts.