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As a historian, US History teacher, and mother of two Asian-American children, I make a point to expose my children to all aspects of America’s history: good, bad, and ugly. Thanks to COVID, we had the opportunity to show the kids one of the country’s ugliest moments - Japanese internment. The desolate desert in the middle of our home state is an area I had never driven through before COVID, despite having lived in CA my entire life and being (supposedly) 8th or 9th generation Californian on my dad’s side. However, there is no way I’m putting my family on an airplane during a pandemic, which limits vacation options. So into the car for an eight hour drive to Tahoe. A drive that goes right past Manzanar, the Japanese American World War II concentration camp. Unlike last year, when we made the same drive for the first time in my life, the exhibits, buildings, and visitor center were open with masks and social distancing. As we stood in the barrack in the 106 degree temperature, I told my kids to never forget how uncomfortable they felt and to consider the fact that they were feeling awful from the heat as tourists. I told them to imagine living in this heat as a prisoner though you committed no crime except having ancestors from Japan. They may be young, but they are old enough to understand human rights. Visiting Manzanar was overwhelming. I am not a very emotional person, but I was taken aback by the fact that this history is so recent. My best friend’s dad was born in Tule Lake, where Japanese-Americans who refused to take the forced loyalty oath were sent. That is only one generation before mine. Seeing and experiencing second hand through family and friends the hatred directed toward Asian-Americans during this pandemic made the experience in Manzanar extra raw. Though I refuse to thank COVID for anything because I think that’s a bit tone deaf for all who have lost and suffered during this pandemic, I am grateful that the circumstances that led us to drive to Tahoe instead of fly led us also to a place of reflection on prejudice and race, especially in the climate of today.

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This item was submitted on July 10, 2021 by Kathryn Jue using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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