April 25, 2007

Manzanar

Manzanar Relocation Camp, California

Reconstructed sentry station, Manzanar "Relocation Center", Owens Valley: one of the better-known concentration camps used to forcibly house "relocated" US citizens and resident of Japanese descent from the West Coast during WWII. When I first drove past here nearly twenty years ago, there really wasn't anything marking the place — maybe just a plaque a little down US 395 from the old county maintenance shed, and no one I asked was entirely sure where it was (there were no signs on the highway). No one really ever mentioned it; the idea of it being a concentration camp was deeply controversial. Nowadays it's being slowly recreated (there's a new old guard tower as well as the sentry and guard stations), and it's at least a little on the locals' minds, if only as a potential tourist attraction, and the term "concentration camp" gets used a little more freely. And it's got its own rather nice National Parks Service website.

The thing that's always struck me, though, is just how physically beautiful the location is: the High Sierra to the west, the Inyos to the east, the desert floor… hell to live in, though, especially in forced camps.

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