Every year during this weekend, Japanese Americans lead a day trip to the high desert. KPCC’s Cheryl Devall says the focus of this not-so-sentimental journey is the former Manzanar internment camp about 230 miles north of Los Angeles.
Shortly after the United States’ entry into World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order that required people of Japanese descent to enter “relocation camps.” Most of these were in remote areas like the windy stretch of Eastern Sierra land that housed the Manzanar camp.
These days, its barracks are gone, but a graveyard remains. That’s where people who emerged from camp life after the war return every year to share songs, stories and emotions. The youngest of them are in their sixties now — and elders who remember their childhood and teen years make the pilgrimage too.
As the observance has grown during the last 41 years, increasing numbers of their descendants and friends accompany them on the journey to learn about an indelible, painful chapter in American history. Groups of Muslim Americans — who felt the harsh end of profiling after September 11th, 2001 — are among the newest pilgrims.