Monday, May 28, 2012

Mooney Column - May 21, 2010

Antelope Valley Press
Edward Mooney, Jr.
May 21, 2012

Title: A man named Tabo. A place called Manzanar

As we headed north on US 395, Carrie wondered how long the drive would take.  It’s only 160 miles, normally about 2 and a half hours, I thought, but in many ways it took decades to get to Manzanar National Historic Site.  My friend from church, Tabo Kono, invited us to the annual Pilgrimage to Manzanar that happens at the end of every April.  After seventy years, it’s now the children from those war years who return.

As some of you know, Tabo and his family spent over three years interned at that camp in the empty desert north of Lone Pine.  His family had settled in Los Angeles, and had done fairly well there.  That changed in 1942, with Executive Order 9066, ordering all people of Japanese ancestry into rough-hewn camps.  Manzanar is the best known of those camps.

You see, it may only take a couple of hours to drive there, but for decades I’ve driven by Manzanar on the way to a favorite spot, Silver Lake, or on the way home from Lassen National Park.  Many times I’ve mentioned wanting to stop, and once we did look around for about 15 minutes, but I’ve never been there with someone who had spent years of his life there.

Take my word for it; Manzanar is a different place when you walk with someone who invested a piece of his life in that dusty piece of real estate.  When we greeted Tabo in front of the restored high school gym that is now a museum, it was if I had been transported back 70 years, into those dark days of 1942.  I saw, felt and heard far more than I expected that bright, windy day in April. 

His voice changed when he mentioned how his father built the roof on the entry building – the guard’s shed.  There was great respect swelling up inside him, and I felt it clearly.  This was a man who still feels the boyhood pride in his dad, in his dad’s accomplishments, and in what his father stood for.

I looked into Tabo’s eyes as he walked around in the restored “shack” representing the housing accommodations he lived in.  I could see his mother reflected in his irises.  His voice dropped as he described how his mom worked hard to make their little ramshackle room into a place they could call home.  He reminded me that they had no idea how long they would live there when they first moved in. 

As a parent, I wondered how his mother and father felt, when they looked into these same eyes, the younger versions.  What would I tell my own children, if it had been me?  How could I explain to a kindergartner that I was loyal to the United States?  What could possibly shake the fear from the face of a five year old child?  The only thing I could say would be that we are together and we will get through all right.

I learned much that day, in that desolate place called Manzanar.  There are far more lessons than what I can describe here.  There were great speakers, and wonderful musicians and dancers.  I learned from them, but for me, Tabo was the real gift.  I saw myself in him.

I learned that Tabo feels the same way about his parents as I feel about mine.  He hurt for them, and he had pride in them.  We’re both Americans.

I learned that when we allow fear to dictate in our lives, other people get hurt, and that hurt can linger long after the fear has dissipated.  I have been hurt, as Tabo has, though not in the same way.  We’re both human.  We’re both Americans.

I learned that hardship, as Tabo saw in Manzanar, can scar a man, but it cannot break him.  I feel pride in knowing Tabo, a man who knows how to survive in spite of tough odds.  He became a successful cabinetmaker.  I have struggled, and continue to do so, so I was encouraged.  I can overcome – if Tabo can overcome Manzanar.  After all, we’re both Americans.

That was the supreme lesson of that day – Tabo and I are both Americans, and all Americans, no matter their color, race, creed or religion, deserve respect under the law. Nothing justifies mistreating human beings, in my opinion - nothing whatsoever.  In 1942, our fear got the best of us.  Let us resolve to never let that happen again.

Thought for the week: “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Edward Mooney, Jr., a Palmdale author, was the 2010 DAR History Teacher of the Year for California.

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