The Manzanar Pilgrimage

The memorial located at the rear of the camp.
The memorial located at the rear of the camp. It was constructed by Ryozo Kado in 1943 in honor of those who died while at the camp. It is now viewed as a monument to all who suffered there.
Photo by Osie Turner

Every year, on the last Saturday of April, a multitude of Japanese-Americans make an annual pilgrimage to remember one of America’s darkest hours. In June, 1941, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government rounded up and relocated all Japanese people, including those who were born American citizens, to internment camps. The Manzanar War Relocation Center was the first of ten such camps where upwards of 11,000 people were detained until November, 1945.

A look into the living quarters of the detainees.
A look into the living quarters of the detainees. Two families were assigned to each barrack house, their living areas were separated by using Army blankets as room dividers.
Photo by Osie Turner

Today, survivors, their families, and anyone interested hearing their stories and experiences gather at the Manzanar War Relocation Center this time of year to learn and remember what happened there. The annual pilgrimage began in 1969 and features numerous cultural events, such as poetry and musical performances, as well as interfaith services. Possibly one of the most important parts of the gathering is the intergenerational discussions, where younger attendees can speak with and learn from their elders who lived through the internment years at the camp.

The site of the camp is located in the shadows of the Sierra Nevada Mountains with Mount Williamson looming prominently in the background; however, despite the abundant natural beauty, living in Manzanar was not picturesque. In the winter, it gets very cold and the summers are stifling. Inside the barracks, families were only allowed one small kerosene heater and the thin walls did little, if anything, to keep the cold out. When we visited in late December, it seemed that the insides of the barracks were actually colder than outside during the morning hours. In the summer, temperatures can exceed 100 degrees. Needless to say, the barracks did not have air conditioning.

Outside of the barracks
Outside of the barracks.
Photo by Osie Turner

Barrack life created plenty of challenges for all detainees, most especially for anyone with special needs. Mothers with bottle-fed infants could get formula from the designated kitchens whenever they needed it, but their living quarters did not have a stove or running water, so there was no easy way to prepare it. Only communal showers were available, so privacy was nonexistent and many, if not all, felt humiliated and dehumanized through this process.

The reconstructed guard tower can be seen from US Highway 395
The reconstructed guard tower can be seen from US Highway 395
Photo by Osie Turner
The Manzanar Visitor Center and museum.
The Manzanar Visitor Center and museum.
Photo by Osie Turner

The 47th Annual Pilgrimage will be held on Saturday, April 30, 2016, at the back of the camp near the cemetery monument. Comfortable clothes are recommended, and although the weather is usually mild in springtime, it is best to bring a variety of clothing along for any unexpected spikes or drops in temperature. If you are unable to make it to the official pilgrimage, Manzanar is open year round and hosts a free museum. For up to date information about their hours and operations, visit nps.gov. For more information about the annual pilgrimage or a vast array of information about the history of the relocation camp, go to manzanarcommittee.org.

Manzanar is between Lone Pine and Independence, California, alongside US Highway 395. From Las Vegas, it’s about a four and a half hour to drive to Manzanar, with plenty of desert scenery and unique sights along the way. There are two ways to get there; taking the SR 160 through through Pahrump will take you past the Amargosa Opera House, or the alternate route via the 95 North to Beatty takes you past the ghost town of Rhyolite. Whichever way you take, you will get to drive across Death Valley National Park. There is a historic hotel in Lone Pine, the Dow Villa, if you’d like to stay overnight. Another resource is this page on the RoadTripAmerica.com site.

Comments

3 responses on “The Manzanar Pilgrimage

  1. Mr. Turner – I’ve been enjoying your historical trips throughout Nevada. So many interesting facts and great pictures. Thank You!
    Lois

  2. Speaking of photos, Osie linked larger images to the ones in the article — So, if you click on any one of photos you can see the larger images — Very, very cool!

  3. Thank you very much for your kind comment, Lois! Nothing is more rewarding to me than knowing that my articles are being read and enjoyed.

    Visiting Manzanar was an interesting and thought provoking experience for me. I feel like that chapter of WWII history is glossed over; most have heard that it happened, but not the full extent of what those people went through in the process. Just getting those pictures was difficult due to the freezing cold; I wore polypropylene thermals under my clothes and a heavy overcoat and was still shivering (this was in late December). My dashboard thermometer said it was 20 degrees out when I got there, but there was a windchill dropping it even lower. Definitely somewhere everyone should pay a visit to sometime.

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