Lessons from Manzanar, part 2

Human Rights and the public good

At the visitor center at Manzanar National Monument, my wife and I spoke with a docent about a book of images available at their store There were images that Ansel Adams, the famous photographer of landscapes, had taken of internees over the years. Apparently, another famous portraitist, Dorothea Lange, also had taken a series of images that captured the human pain more succinctly (only such images that reflected positively were published; the others, subsequently, were not released publicly by the Government). Forty years later, after incremental policy reversals and President Ronald Reagan publicly apologizing to survivors and descendants, these sites were turned into monuments to make future Americans remember.  However, racism finds other targets.

 “After the attacks of 9/11, when people angrily singled out people wearing Muslim headscarf”, she said, “it was the Nisei – the children of those who had been in the relocation camps, who defended Americans of Mid-eastern decent.” They did not want the painful lessons of the past to be repeated.  She identified a child’s photograph on display there in the center, from the Manzanar camp, as one who defended a Muslim woman after September 11th. Like the refugees of the last few years who fled civil wars in Libya, from ISIS in Syria, crossing the Mediterranean and interdicted in Greece and Italy, Ukrainian women and children fled the Russian invasion there. With these emigrants joining those who have been resettled in several countries including the United States, the competition for services only gets more competitive. However, these recent immigrants are learning valuable skills to support themselves, notably in healthcare, which after the global COVID pandemic have seen a large need but few new workers among the native born. In the fifty years since Vietnam, Americans of Vietnamese ancestry hold public office. Americans of Philippine ancestry serve in the military and in public services. Americans of Middle Eastern ancestry hold public office. Americans have elected and reelected a black President, Vice President, congressmen and mayors. However, the public is still being persuaded through government institutions and media conglomerates that racism is the single most prevalent problem in America.

Lessons from Manzanar

For what they “might do”

A road trip north of Los Angeles on Highway 395 went past a monument to one of the ugly chapters in Twentieth Century history: the Manzanar War Relocation Camp where eleven thousand Americans were imprisoned during World War II for what they ‘might do’. It was one of ten such concentration camps in the American West incarcerating 110,000 men, women and children. Here, in the Owens Valley of California, the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains present a stark contrast of geologic beauty and human shamefulness. The United States Government, abetted by local politicians and the media, unconstitutionally deprived Americans of their rights without due process. With racist laws in western states, particularly in California, people of Asian ancestry were prohibited from owning real estate or businesses.  While incarcerated in these camps, these men, women and children were publicly humiliated, lost property (through unpaid leases and property taxes), and forced to live in dusty, cheaply constructed conditions.  During the war, these people were subjected to “loyalty interviews” and eligible men were expected to accept being enlisted in the military to prove themselves. Once FDR realized that the Supreme Court was going to hear a case that would publicly shame him and the policy of internment, the Government initiated a plan to release the internees, comprising $25 payment and a bus ticket to another inner part of the country.

To be continued