“When my mother got into the room,” an internee named Sue Kunitomi Embry recalled (her words are part of the exhibit), “she sat down on one of the mattresses and she said, ‘My, what a place,’ and she never talked about that for many, many years afterwards.”
I think what Embry is referring to is her mother’s feeling of shame, although that shame is ours, not hers. This is our legacy, our history, and we have never needed to talk about it, facing it squarely and feeling it viscerally, more than we do now.
Late last month, I took a road trip from Los Angeles to Manzanar. The World War II era concentration camp, which interned more than 10,000 Japanese Americans between 1942 and 1945, sits just 220 miles north of us, in a windswept section of the Owens River Valley – and yet, in all the years that I have lived in Southern California, I had never visited it before.