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Unformatted text preview: Transfigured Patterns: Contesting Memories at the Manzanar National Historic Site Robert T. Hayashi On February 18, 1992 the United States Congress passed legislation establishing the Man- zanar National Historic Site, an act that would turn the neglected site of a former Amer- ican concentration camp for Japanese Americans into a site of national remembrance for all Americans. This article discusses the legislative process involving Manzanar’s designa- tion as a National Historic Site and how it reveals the ongoing tendency to equate Amer- ican Nikkei history with only the World War II period. The creation and subsequent inter- pretation of the site also highlighted the complications of identifying a place with only one layer of its history. The recognition and interpretation of Manzanar threatened the main- tenance of local histories and led to contestations between California residents, Japanese Americans, the National Park Service, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. History may be servitude, History may be freedom. See now they vanish, The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them, To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern. —T. S. Eliot from The Four Quartets 51 The Public Historian, Vol. 25, No. 4, pp. 51–71 (Fall 2003). ISSN: 0272-3433 © 2003 by the Regents of the University of California and the National Council on Public History. All rights reserved. Send requests for permission to reprint to Rights and Permissions, University of California Press, 2000 Center St., Ste. 303, Berkeley, CA 94704-1223. Robert T. Hayashi is assistant professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, where he teaches Asian American literature and environmental history. He has published work on Japanese American literature and history and is particularly interested in the public history of American places. His interdisciplinary work combines both scholarly and creative writing to create accessible scholarship that reaches a wide range of readers. TPH2504 11/6/03 2:14 PM Page 51 Consider this image : an old man, nearly blind, in some windswept and open space, with only sky, maybe a tarpaper wall behind him. He says good- bye to his son. He sits outside. This image—of Tule Lake—comes down to me from the few stories my father has told me. For many like me—children of Japanese Americans interned during during World War II, these names that once defined but dry Western outposts exert a strange power. We are called there. We feel somehow that those places already hold a memory for us, for we know already that they define us, to ourselves and to others. As with Franklin, Sand Creek, and Nauvoo, 1 Americans hope that by memori- alizing sites of national tragedy, they can avoid such events in the future. The transformation of one such place, the Manzanar Relocation Center, into such a memorial was the expressed goal of those involved in the legislative process of H.R. 543, the bill to establish the Manzanar National Historic Site. Rep-of H....
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