I have visited the Owens Valley on Vacation a number of times. My first visit was back in 2012. However, it was not until 2017, that I finally visited Manzanar, after driving past it numerous times.
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the U.S. government began making plans for the incarceration of Japanese-Americans. On the 19th of February, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the evacuation of all persons deemed a threat to national security from the West Coast to relocation centers. The order resulted in over 100,000 Japanese-Americans being removed from their homes and placed in internment camps.
The camps were located in isolated areas where the weather could be burning hot in summer and freezing cold in winter. People had to leave behind their businesses and possessions, taking only what they could carry.
After my visit to Manzanar, I seemed to come across lots of information relating to the persecution of Japanese Americans during World War II. I think after visiting Manzanar and the emotional effect that it had on me, things just caught my eye more. For example, I was watching a documentary on art in San Francisco, and I learnt about the photographs that Dorothea Lange captured of Japanese-Americans, in the early 1940s. Then whilst doing some research for a paper that I was writing for my MA on the California Water Wars, I came across a fascinating book by Karen Piper called Left in the Dust: How Race and Politics Created a Human and Environmental Tragedy in L.A. In short, the book tells the story about how the people and environment of the Owens Valley have suffered since the Los Angeles Aqueduct was built to divert the course of the Owens River in 1913. The fugitive dust from the drying of the Owens Lake caused toxic dust storms in the valley where Manzanar is located, meaning Manzanar detainees were subject to this dust. The dust has been known to cause disease and death among the people that inhaled it. Not only were these poor people forcefully removed from their homes, but they were also subject to toxic dust, from which they could not escape (n.b. at the time Manzanar was in operation, no-one knew the dust was toxic).
By November of 1945, Manzanar was deserted, the war had ended and the Japanese-Americans returned home. However, some people had no home to go back to. It took another 44 years for the US government to apologise to those interned at Manzanar. Camp survivors were given $20,000 by president Ronald Reagan.
Prior to the drying of the Owens Lake, the area where Manzanar is located was full of beautiful fruit orchards. The Owens River provided ample irrigation for the growing of produce and the area was named after the Spanish word for apple, ‘manzana’.
After the war ended, Manzanar was razed. However, many of the buildings were sold to local residents of the Owens Valley. When Manzanar was preparing to be opened to the public, the NPS attempted to relocate the original buildings. However, they did not have much luck. They did manage to reclaim a building that was at Bishop airport, but many of the buildings that are there today are replicas.
Thanks for reading :).