Ever since reading ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ by David Guterson, I’ve had even more of a sense of injustice in the way we treat our citizens. Manzanar War Relocation Center is located about an hour south of Bishop, an easy drive for a Sunday afternoon. The characters in the book would have been dismayed I’m sure when they saw where they were to be interned. After living in the lush Puget Sound area, the Owens Valley would have looked like pure desert. The city of Los Angeles had started buying the water rights to the Owens Valley in 1905 and by 1933 the city owned 85% of all town property and 95% of all ranch and farmland in the Owens Valley, including Manzanar. What had been verdant ranches, orchards and farms was now vacant dirt because of the water drained for use by Los Angeles.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, approximately 10,000 Japanese citizens were incarcerated at Manzanar, which was only one of 10 relocation centers used during WWII. Because of the lack of water and almost constant wind, the conditions were hot and dusty in the summer and cold in the winter. The Sierras are a backdrop to the camp with Mt. Williamson’s snow capped peaks bringing down the cold air into the valley. The barracks housed many families, consisting of 20 X 25’ sections, partitioned without ceilings and covered by material tacked there by the internees.
The cemetery shrine’s inscription reads: “Monument to console the souls of the dead.” Ansel Adams also visited Manzanar by invitation while the camp was occupied. One of his famous photos is of this shrine. Survivors and visitors drape strings of origami near the shrine.
Despite awful conditions (compared to their real homes), the Japanese Americans planted gardens, orchards and erected flowing fountains and pools. They built a nine-hole golf course, and played sports. All able bodied citizens worked at the camp to keep it running and also manufactured camouflage netting for the war effort.
This red cedar stands at the entrance/exit of the camp; the guard tower overlooks the camp. Read more about the camp here: Manzanar