Like many kids of my generation, I spent most of my youth oblivious to the injustice done to Japanese Americans during World War II. And when I did learn of it as a college student, I remember my shock to learn that the US government could detain citizens in remote, isolated, relocation camps. When I moved to California and learned about Manzanar's Visitor's Center and exhibits, I was anxious to take my kids to visit.
Plunked down and fenced in just off a lonely stretch of 395, Manzanar is a bleak place, and it is not hard to imagine the loss and desolation these Americans must have felt on arrival. Almost nothing of the original camp remains, but a committed group of descendants and goverment organizations are working to recreate and restore the camp and museum. Barracks have been rebuilt to paintakingly reanimate the experience of the people interned and the museum includes interactive, immersive, engaging educational activites.
Because this was a fairly large town, though, the grounds are expansive and many areas can be accessed by driving through the camp and stopping occasionally to explore. There are relics of the Japanese's people's everday lives including enchanting gardens that are a testiment to the gracious spirit, competitive drive, and love of beauty they enjoyed.
If you're thinking this sounds like a drag, and not something you want to experience while you're on vacation, you're so wrong. While we were there, my family hiked, explored, imagined, listened, watched, discussed and engaged. And when we left, we were filled with pride and compassion for the resilient, passionate, gracious people we felt we had come to know through their stories.
I'm not usually one for grand speeches, but .... this stop along the 395 gives you a great opportunity to engage your kids about the Constitution, fear, war time decisions, the world as it is now. As terrible as Japanese interment was, my family coud not help but be impressed by the stories of the residents, their gardening competitions, the "fishing club," their many churches and activities, and their weeks long trips into the Sierras fishing for trout. There is a lot to admire about the indomitable spirit of the people who endured internment.