Manzanar Redux

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That the plight of the Syrian refugees remains unresolved is something Americans should be deeply ashamed of. We ourselves are a nation of refugees who have fled war, religious oppression, persecution and famine. In the past decade and a half since September 11, our politicians have used fear as their primary weapon to control and manipulate the population. Xenophobic and nativistic attitudes have taken over the Republican party at an alarming rate, far faster than its establishment figures are able to control. Our own illustrious Governor Snyder, has fallen prey to this fear by advocating for a pause, code for infinite postponement, in admitting Syrian refugees to our state of Michigan. Michigan, which already has a large Middle Eastern population, has not experienced any terrorism from our Muslim brethren, yet we quake in fear that we may be infiltrated by a terrorist hell bent on “destroying us ALL!”. He advocates for one more level of security, added to a process that already involves multiple levels of federal agencies, and takes two to three years to complete, to absolve himself of any political responsibility-cowardice at its finest. Today anyone with “evil intent” can travel to America from Europe as a tourist and totally avoid the scrutiny the refugees are subjected to. (One other forehead slapping irony is that individuals on a terrorist watch list are free to purchase as many weapons as they wish in this country-the result of the NRA’s hold on Republican’s short hairs-fodder for another discussion.)

Now, some politicians are advocating that we set up internment camps, really prisons, to house these “security risks.” Human beings whose only “crime” is fleeing from civil war, homelessness, and the horror visited on them by Daesh. If we were honest we would have to admit that under the same circumstances we would do the same. During World War II, Manzanar – population 10,046; Amanche – population 7,318; Gila River – population 13,348; Heart Mountain – population 10,767; Jerome – population 8,497; Minidoka – population 9,397; Poston – population 17,814; Rohwer – population 8,475; Topaz – population 8,130; and Tule Lake – population 18,789, housed between 110,000-120,000 of our fellow American citizens simply for the color of their skin and their Japanese ancestry. This is a deep stain on our history that reverberates today. We should have learned a lesson from that history, yet the ignorance of our politicians may condemn us to repeat this horrific mistake.

I find it ironic that for a nation, who’s anthem declares that we are “the land of the free and the home of the brave, we are neither. We are not free if we live in fear of the stranger, the women, children, the orphaned, the elderly and infirm, and yes a “combat age” male; nor are we brave if we cannot open our doors to these same desperate human beings,especially the innocent children, who without our charity and compassion, continue to wash up on shores, sleep in the rough, suffer from hunger and exposure, and suffer the hatred we subject them to because they happen to be of another faith tradition. We are no longer the “shining city on a hill’ nor the “New Colossus” who proclaims “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. This is a damn shame.

Here are striking images by Ansel Adams of American-Japanese internment camps, curated by Emily Ann Epstine, The Atlantic Magazine.

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