The incarceration of people of Japanese heritage
in prison camps during World War II,
the plundering of their property,
and shunning of them as possibly traitorous "others"
was a shameful event in American history.
Ansel Adams took photographs memorializing
life at one of the "relocation centers," Manzanar.
It was, like other incarceration sites,
remote from people's homes and inhospitable
in many respects.
Winters could be harsh;
summer heat could be brutal.
This summer view of the site was taken from the guard tower.
I suspect most of the photos of people were staged
to show life in the camps as tolerable and
even beneficial, not because it was true
but rather to assuage the guilt
of government officials.
This photo shows Mrs. Ryie Yoshizawa
teaching a class in dressmaking and tailoring
at Manzanar. A young woman stands
at a dressmaker's form in the foreground,
pretending to do a fitting.
Here, Mrs. Yoshizawa is surrounded
by students Satoka Ota, Chizuko Karnii,
Takako Nakanishi, Kikiyo Yamasuchi,
Masako Kimochita, Mitsugo Fugi, Mie Mio,
Chiye Kawase, and Miyeko Hoshozike.
The round-up and incarceration of people of Japanese descent,
over 2/3 of them American citizens,
was ordered by President Franklin Roosevelt
under the guise of military necessity.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor,
key political leaders claimed --
without evidence --
that all people of Japanese heritage
posed a threat to U.S. security.
In 1983, however,
the Congressional Commission
on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians
reported it had uncovered evidence from the 1940s
proving that there had been no military necessity
for this harsh, humiliating, and racially-biased treatment.
The 1988 Civil Liberties Act
awarded $20,000 to each victim as reparations.
The President issued a written apology
for this systemic wrongdoing.
Yet the effects live on.
Health studies show a two-fold greater incident
heart disease and risk of premature death
of those Japanese -Americans who were incarcerated,
as compared to Japanese-Americans who were not.
(All photos in this piece are by Ansel Adams,
courtesy of the Library of Congress photo collection).
For more information on this tragic time in American history,
The PBS website "Children of the Camps."
For more Sepia Saturday words and images, click here.