Humbling, incomparable, and gratifying. Those are the three words I will use to describe the past couple of months here at Manzanar NHS. It was humbling because I had the privilege of meeting and working with people whose stories are tied to the Owens Valley. Whether it was a native American family or relatives of former Manzanar incarcerees (or former incarcerees themselves!), they were all so gracious in sharing their stories that I was floored by their commitment and devotion in their efforts to preserve their families’ stories. I was constantly in the presence of individuals whose passion lies in preserving the many layers of history of Manzanar for future generations. They are hopeful that the memories that this site harbors will not be forgotten, and seeing so many of them hold on to that hope have enhanced my perception of history and the purpose it serves to humankind. I feel honored to have contributed to those efforts by helping present the Button family, from the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation, and their story to the public.
This experience was (and is) unparalleled because it was the first time where I found myself waking up every morning and not dreading the idea of going to work. Every single day—despite technical setbacks, the blistering heat, and disheartening comments by some visitors—was a good one. I learned something new every day, I got to research history that interests me, and I was free to pursue different projects. I also got to work with a great staff that was always encouraging and willing to lend a hand. Not to mention Manzanar also boasts one of the most inspiring, dedicated and powerful Latinas I’ve ever met. Our superintendent, Bernadette Johnson, is the first Latinx Park Ranger I’ve ever met and, despite her calm demeanor, is a total badass. I am so grateful to have had the pleasure of working with such an outstanding and invaluable group of people. And now that my internship has been extended I can only hope to foster stronger working relationships here and learn more from my peers.
Lastly, what has made this internship so gratifying is the fact that I witnessed this historic site serve its intended purpose every single day. Its mission to educate visitors on the experiences of over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry who were incarcerated in 10 different camps and to remind us of how fragile our constitutional rights can be is something that resonates with so many of them. Knowing that I was able to (and will continue to) fulfill this mission every single day has been a rewarding experience.
I look forward to meeting all of my fellow LHIPsters next week in Denver and I can’t wait to hear all of your stories of triumph and learning!