Manzanar which is located in Owens Valley, California adjacent to the Sierra Nevada is one of ten camps in which over one hundred and twenty thousand Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II including over one hundred children who subsisted in an orphanage that was identified as the Children’s Village (Nadeau 12).
Manzanar was initially the home to Native Americans who generally lived in villages before the beginning of the twentieth century when the area became occupied by miners and ranchers who officially registered the town of Manzanar in 1910.
The City of Los Angeles acquired the water rights to the area in 1929 forcing the miners and ranchers to abandon their activities due to the stringent water levies that were being imposed on them by the City of Los Angeles (Nadeau 15). Japanese Americans are Americans of Japanese descents who were recorded in history to be among the three principal Asian American populations.
Japanese American internment took place in 1942 when the United States government under the orders of President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, forcefully relocated approximately one hundred and ten thousand Japanese Americans and residents of the Pacific coast of the United States with Japanese heritage to camps that were referred to as War Relocation Camps. This was after the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japan (Ewan 78).
The internment process was carried out by the United States military and local military commanders were authorized to allocate military controlled zones so as to form restricted areas where all people of Japanese ancestry were detached from the whole United States’ Pacific coast which encapsulated the whole of California and most parts of Oregon and Washington, with the exception of the Japanese Americans in internment camps (Wehrey 54).
The internment process of the Japanese Americans was irregularly appropriated since most if not all of the Japanese Americans located on the West Coast of the United States were put away (Ewan 80).
On the other hand, States such as Hawaii which harbored more than one hundred and fifty six thousand Japanese Americans who made up virtually a third of that area’s population, only about two thousand two hundred Japanese Americans were incarcerated (Ewan 78). A significant portion of the Japanese Americans who were locked up was composed of United States citizens with over sixty percent being American nationals.
Inside Manzanar 1942-1945
After President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, on February 19, 1942 that authorized the detention of Americans with Japanese ancestry, the then Secretary of War delegated military commanders to set down military areas that would hold the Japanese Americans. A total of ten areas were designated with Manzanar being the first of the ten concentration camps to be set up (Nadeau 14).
The first Japanese Americans arrived at Manzanar on March 21, 1942 as volunteer workers to help build the camp and it was then known as the Owens Valley Reception Center and was under the control of the US Army’s Wartime Civilian Control Administration (WCCA). On May 31, 1942, the Owens Valley Reception Center was officially handed over to the War Relocation Authority (WRA) and hence the name changed to the Manzanar War Relocation Center on June 1, 1942 (Nadeau 19).
By the end of April 1942, the camp held more than one thousand Japanese American prisoners with thousands more arriving daily and by the beginning of September, the camp contained nearly ten thousand Japanese American prisoners. Most of the prisoners were from the Los Angeles area, many of whom were farmers and fishermen (Wehrey 55).
The Manzanar War Relocation Center was located on a six thousand, two hundred acres piece of desert land that was leased to the United States government by the City of Los Angeles. The housing area was approximately one square mile and was made up of thirty six blocks of poorly structured tarpaper barracks where the prisoners shared a single 20-foot by 25-foot room in accordance to the number of family members (Nadeau 21).
The rooms had no demarcation or ceiling hence seclusion was infrequent to the prisoners. The communal latrines and shower rooms were also not partitioned which made the prisoners relatively uncomfortable and agitated. Each residential block had a communal dining hall, a recreation hall and a heating oil storage tank, which includes the additional blocks that housed the staff (Wehrey 57).
There were camp administration offices which handled the records regarding all the prisoners, school facilities, a high school lecture hall, Buddha churches and a catholic church, a cemetery, a post office, warehouses, shops, a camp newspaper and other basic facilities that were common in American townships (Ewan 93).
The camp’s perimeter wall had within it eight watchtowers manned by armed guards with machine guns and searchlights, and the whole fence was made up of five-strand barbed wire as well as sentry posts at the main entrance.
The prisoners were forced to tolerate primitive, sub-standard conditions which were accentuated by the lack of privacy. The prisoners had to queue up in one line and wait for meals, at latrines, and at the shower room (Wehrey 58).
There existed several services such as beauty and barber shops, shoe repair, post office and the prisoners were allowed to farm and raise domestic animals like chickens, hogs, have vegetable gardens while others cultivated the existing orchards for fruit. Meals were usually made up of hot rice and vegetables which was the standard military diet at the time (Ewan 112).
In 1944, the camp opened a chicken and a hog farm which provided the prisoners with meat. The prisoners received $3.60 per month as a clothing allowance and others were employed at Manzanar to ensure the camp was always operational. Employed prisoners earned betweenUS$8 to US$19 per month depending on their level of skill and expertise (Ewan 99).
The prisoners also took part in sports such as baseball, golf, football and martial arts as a means of recreation and they moreover beautified and landscaped the camp by planting highly structured gardens which incorporated pools, waterfalls, and rock ornaments.
On December 5, 1942, there was unrest in Manzanar after it emerged that food supplies were being sold illegally by camp administrators (Wehrey 59). One of the leaders of a group that was vocal against the prevailing food shortage, Fred Tayama, was assaulted by masked men and one of the suspected assailants, Harry Ueno, leader of the Kitchen Workers Union, was expelled from the camp (Nadeau 26).
There was a protest by more than three thousand prisoners denouncing the arrest and Ueno was returned to Manzanar. A crowd later emerged to protest Ueno’s return and military police threw tear gas to disperse them (Ewan 98).
The subsequent confusion drew violent protests compelling the military police to fire into the crowd, killing two and wounding ten including a military police. This was the most violent incident in any of the camps and it became known as the Manzanar Riot (Nadeau 27).
Manzanar was the sixth camp to be closed by the WRA on November 21, 1945(Wehrey 62). Prisoners left the camp at their own discretion and headed out to start new lives since their previous ones had been altered. Each individual received $25, one-way fare, and meals but a significant number of the former prisoners refused to leave because they had no place to go (Ewan 115).
Consequently, these individuals were forcibly ejected from the camp. Manzanar held ten thousand and forty six prisoners at its highest point and a total of eleven thousand and seventy prisoners were held at the camp (Wehrey 64).
Ewan, Rebecca. A Land Between: Owens Valley, California. New York: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. Print.
Nadeau, Remi. The Water Seekers. California: Crest Publishers, 1997. Print.
Wehrey, Jane. Voices from This Long Brown Land: Oral Recollections of Owens Valley Lives and Manzanar Pasts. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Print.