National Park Service
Civic Engagement - Manzanar National Historic Site, Independence, California
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Examination of the NPS Policy on Reconstruction of Historic Sites - Manzanar National Historic Site

Civic Engagement can be instrumental in determining treatment for resources. At Manzanar National Historic Site, conversations with the Japanese American community resulted in a close examination of NPS policy towards reconstruction, and the eventual decision to reconstruct key elements of the camp at the site.

Manzanar National Historic Site, located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in eastern California, tells the story of Japanese Americans who were denied constitutional rights and were interned in one of ten War Relocation Centers because of their ethnicity. How the National Park Service (NPS) tells the story of the internment is an issue currently being addressed at the site. Some people advocate an active role for NPS in informing social conscience through its interpretations of the internment of Japanese Americans at Manzanar. However, others have suggested that NPS has succumbed to the "Japanese American propaganda machine" and neglects and even refuses to tell the truth about War Relocation Centers. There are strong and varied points of view.

Internees when they arrived at Manzanar, carrying belonging's walking into the camp. (Historic photo) Internees when they arrived at Manzanar, carrying belonging's walking into the camp.
(Historic photo)

The first challenge at Manzanar is to provide an adequate context through which the public can be engaged in a discussion of social issues related to the internment of Japanese Americans. Manzanar National Historic Site is characterized by an abundance of sagebrush and dust; only a few remnants of the camp are visible. Without physical reminders it is difficult to explain to visitors that this was indeed an internment camp.

When you visit Manzanar today, you can be so inspired by the location's beauty that you miss the important story told there. Manzanar is located in one of the primary recreation areas for millions of southern Californians. The park is surrounded by recreational opportunities such as fishing in countless alpine lakes and streams, hiking in the Sierra Nevada, and climbing Mount Whitney. In fact, some visitors have mentioned that, with its location near such beautiful mountains, the camp experience couldn't have been so bad. The camp has been likened to a summer camp in the mountains rather than an important site in the history of the struggle for civil rights.

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