HomeCommunityManzanar Archaeology Project Open to Volunteers THIS Weekend

Manzanar Archaeology Project Open to Volunteers THIS Weekend

Manzanar Archaelogy Project
(L-R) Former Incarcaree Hank Umemoto excavating a garden pond and Hank as a teenager in Manzanar.
Photos by Jeff Burton, Manzanar NHS & Hank Umemoto Collection, Manzanar NHS

By Brittney Le
AsAmNews Staff Writer

You can get your Indiana Jones on this weekend.

The National Park Service is looking for volunteers to help preserve Manzanar. The historic site in California’s Sierra Nevada was where 10,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II because of their race.

The National Park Service (NPS) is hosting a public archaeology project at the Manzanar National Historic Site beginning tomorrow through September 5.

These volunteers will learn about the different experiences of incarcerees and camp staff. Volunteers will also get to compare and contrast Japanese landscaping styles with “western” military-style landscaping.

Several miles south of Independence, California, in the Owens Valley, rests Manzanar- a reminder to the world of the dark mark on American history that cannot be forgotten. 2017 marks the 75th year since the issuance of Executive Order 9066, the presidential order that resulted in the incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans in 10 incarceration camps, Manzanar War Relocation Center being one of them.

These projects are a way people can come together and openly discuss these difficult historical events.

Manzanar’s Cultural Resources Manager Jeff Burton believes public and community archaeology addresses two very important questions: “First, what sites and landscapes from the event should be protected, and second, what themes and ideas should be interpreted?” wrote Burton in his 2017 published paper on community archaeology. “These two questions are at the heart of heritage and community. They hold implications for public policy and the allocation of resources, as well as for understanding history, collaborating within communities, and affirming national ideals.”

This project has been so successful that it’s been expanded to the nine other incarceration camps.  Burton has identified dozens of U.S. sites with historical connection to the incarceration. “One woman wrote to tell me that she did not realize her mother had been incarcerated, until the archaeological overview was published,” wrote Burton. “Her mother did not tell her children about the Relocation, for fear they would become resentful and unpatriotic. Once her mother saw that the government itself was documenting it, she could talk about it openly.”

Manzanar Archaelogy
Volunteers excavating at the Shepherd Ranch. Photo by Jeff Burton/Manzanar NHS

The archaeological work at these sites allows the documentation of the daily lives of those who had been incarcerated, preserving their important stories for posterity. “In my experience, a former incarceree might be bitter and quiet when considering the relocation’s economic and social consequences, but will open up and tell me dozens of stories when asked what their family did to improve life while incarcerated in camp,” wrote Burton. “One visitor, whose parents had been incarcerated, visited Manzanar with her Korean American husband. Possibly reflecting decades of animosity between Korea and Japan, her husband indicated that he considered the ‘Relocation’ justified. But, when he found a child’s toy on site, he had second thoughts.”

Volunteers over the age of 15 who are physically capable of moderately strenuous activities outdoors are invited to sign up for this public archaeology project. Volunteers will be using shovels and small hand tools, using wheelbarrows, collecting rocks, painting rock alignments, and screening sediments. Various tasks are available to suit different energy levels and interests. The only qualification other than age is an interest and a willingness to get yourself/your clothes dirty.

Volunteers are asked to bring water, lunch, work gloves and any needed medications, and are to wear sunscreen, a hat, and sturdy boots. Work will be from 7:15 AM to 3:15 PM daily from September 1-5. Volunteers are allowed to choose how many days and how many hours they work. Volunteers must sign up in advance. To join the public project as a volunteer and/or to to get more information, contact Manzanar’s Cultural Resources Manager Jeff Burton at (760) 878-2194, extension 3305, or at [email protected].


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