History Behind the Parks: Manzanar National Historic Site

By Carla Charter

INDEPENDENCE, CA. – Shortly after Pearl Harbor, many Japanese Americans, based solely on their heritage, were moved to the War Relocation Authority (WRA) Sites. People of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed from the west coast in part because of a perceived, though baseless, threat the US government had that Japanese Americans might be loyal to Japan. It also functioned as a way to force people from profitable businesses and properties which other community members wanted access to, said Kenneth Doutt, Park Guide, Manzanar National Historic Site

“In total, ten sites were run by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) that held about 110,000 people, though other sites that were run by the Justice Department and other federal agencies held another 10,000 people which is where the often referred to 120,000 people incarcerated comes from,” Douett continued. The first camp to open was the Manzanar War Relocation Camp in March 1942.  “There were 10,046 people held there at its height but just over 11,000 people went through in total.

Lots of sports were played at the sites. Baseball was perhaps the most popular but there was also basketball, golf, kendo, judo, sumo and a variety of other activities. Artwork of various types was created by people incarcerated as well.

All of the sites had schools with various levels of rigor. “Education was one of the most challenging aspects as there were limited and often times no supplies, especially for more specialized subjects like chemistry. Eventually in most of the sites there were Kindergarten to Grade 12 programs and other courses people could take outside of general education, language classes were popular,” Douett said.

“Most people followed the exclusion order issued by the government but some who did not and others deemed “troublemakers” were sent to federal prisons or other isolated confinement sites. The four big Supreme Court cases from that time relate to people challenging the curfew and exclusion orders. Fred Korematsu v United States, Minoru Yasui v United States, Gordon Hirabayashi V United States and Ex parte Endo all challenged the forced removal,” he continued.

Many of those who were forcibly removed lost their homes if they could not keep up with mortgage payments and often times even when people could keep their homes and properties they were vandalized or destroyed.

People also lost their jobs when they were forcibly removed.  There were some paid jobs people had while incarcerated, though not enough for the people who wanted to work and the pay was minimal, he said.

There were some German and Italian nationals that were incarcerated though not in sites like those Japanese Americans were sent to. Even within the WRA sites there were cases of non-Japanese Americans held there though generally because they wanted to follow friends or family members.

Most people were not allowed to leave the sites until the government required people to answer the so-called “Loyalty Questionnaire” in February of 1943.  “The Loyalty Questionnaire was essentially a flawed series of questions the government used to determine who was “loyal” or “disloyal.  After that, some people could apply for work or study leave. There were also some instances of people going out into the surrounding communities to play sports with local teams or give sermons, Douett continued.

The only compensation people got upon being released was a train or bus ticket to anywhere in the country and $25.  Many Japanese Americans continued to face discrimination after being released as other Americans continued to view them as the enemy.
“Fear of immigrants, legal or otherwise, has been a feeling Americans have had about nearly every incoming group throughout its history. Undoubtedly the idea of “otherness” plays a very similar role today in excluding people as it did in the early 20th century when Japanese immigrants first began to come to the United States.”   Douett said.

More information on Manzanar National Historic Site can be found at: https://www.nps.gov/manz/index.htm


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