Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Manzanar & Mammoth

(Ansel Adams photo of the Manzanaar Monument)

So we had a great weekend skiing in Mammoth. Conditions were great, a little cold and breezy, but the snow was fantastic. Going up the weekend after MLK Holiday meant that the town wasn't sold out and only a few times was there a lift line of any consequence.

Manzanar, the Japanese internment camp, is on US 395 on the way to Mammoth between Lone Pine and Independence. When I first visited there in 2002, it was just a barren National Historical Landmark. There were no NPS buildings and the tour through the camp was a dirt road with markers pointing out the various points of interest. There is a small monument that is erected at the back of the site and a few small graves are there.

Manzanar is the only internment camp that has been developed for visitors and it's quite amazing that it has only been in recent years that facilites have been built there. For the thousands of self absorbed Southern Californians who whiz by there every year on their way up and down the Owens Valley, it should be a required stopover to educate one's self about this fascinating and important part of American history.

Last year, I stopped by to visit the new visitor's center which does a tremendous job of summarizing the Japanese American experience. This year, they've constructed a "guard tower" just off of 395 which looks rather ominous to those driving by. My comic friend Kevin Kataoka had relatives interred there, I believe, and does some of very funny bits about it - he also wrote a satire "Shogun's Heroes" that unfortunately I didn't get a chance to see. Poker Girl (AKA Lary Kennedy) has a friend whose father was interred at Heart Mountain in Wyoming which I believe is somewhere near Brokeback Mountain. George Takei was interred in Arkansas - now that he's come out, maybe they sent him to the wrong place. And comedian Jack Soo was interred at Camp Topaz in Utah.

I am very interested in the Japanese internment because it is in complete contrast to the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the change in attitude towards Chinese America. I picked up a book at Manzanaar that was probably someone's dissertation about the Chinese & Japanese in America and I hope to plow through it sometime soon.

Manzanar is both beautiful and tragic. The majestic Sierras rise above this encampment. LA used to own the site (for its water rights of course - see "Chinatown" with Jack Nicholson for the best explanation of how Los Angeles "acquired" all the water it needs). And for some, it's that damn part of 395 where you can't pass someone.


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