And Then I Stumbled into a Buddhist Ceremony at Manzanar

DSC_7901When I was in 9th or 10th grade, my English teacher had the class read a book about the World War II Japanese internment camp, Farewell to Manzanar. At the time I was mildly surprised (or, as interested as a 15 year old can be in anything having to do with history) to learn that after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese citizens were forced into camps because the government, at the time, didn’t know who was a threat and who wasn’t (of Japanese descent.)

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Later, in my 20s, I knew somewhere in the eastern Sierras there was a memorial of some sort, but it never made sense to me that a memorial for Manzanar would be way out in the middle of Nowhere, California. Turns out that memorial was actually Manzanar, and once I put two-and-two together, I told myself that the next time I was up that way I’d make a point to stop and see the place.

Last week on vacation we were headed up to Tahoe via the 395/Mono Lake and made a point to make that our first stop. Little did we know we’d walk out to the memorial at the exact time a Buddhist ceremony and prayer would begin.
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I didn’t have an overwhelming emotional reaction to the place as an adult, other than a much greater understanding of a vast unjust these people faced in the 40s and 50s (and everything that followed) — it wasn’t until I wrapped my head around that concept that I felt a sort of muted outrage at how unfair it must have felt for the people forced into these camps. But even then, only stumbling on the event, I felt like an observer in the truest sense instead of a witness or participant – and not just because I had my camera.

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I was, however, emotionally punched in the nuts over a blown up photograph of a town market sign from somewhere in the state in the 40’s that said “JAPS NOT WELCOME, THIS IS A WHITE MAN’S TOWN.” Because, well, that’s fucking mean.

At one point, I was reminded of the cartoons I saw as reruns as late as the early 80s with Bugs Bunny and Popeye. (Maybe perhaps because I think they may have had a photo of WWII Bugs.) Though I understand the overwhelming racist mentality  of the time, I  still find mild amusement in these cartoons as more of an “ironic” representation that really demonstrates the propaganda climate and the ignorant view of society as a whole than amusement in the spirit of meanness. Sort of how everyone loves Margaret Cho making fun of her mother, or when SNL used to do their Ambiguously Gay Superhero skits. 

Anyway, the event we had stumbled into was the 44th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, which you can read about and view more photos here: http://blog.manzanarcommittee.org/category/manzanar-pilgrimage/.

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I shot these in midday with a neutral density filter on a 28-300 to try to block out most of the glare/even out the contrast. There wasn’t much here from a technical standpoint I learned or felt that I missed, and really while I was shooting I did my best to try to capture some form of emotion from the shots (something I know I still need to work on getting down quickly and effectively.)

Gallery:

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