The Orchard

Later that year, the Japanese Empire attacked an American naval base in the Pacific, and many Americans were killed. Before that dark day, Japanese Americans had rarely been trusted or treated fairly, but after the attack, Japanese Americans were suspected to be enemies of the United States. Thus it came to pass that Frankie and all the other kids at the Christian orphanage were bussed to a prison far out on the desert, where neither they nor their caregivers could threaten the security of the United States.

Hakob Hakobyan, “A Turbulent Day” (1972)

It was a long, hot bus ride across the Great Valley, over the Range, and into the desert. The bus was often pushed side-to-side by the desert winds. Finally, they came to a great prison camp in the desert, enclosed by barbed wire fences and guard towers. It sat in the shadow of a mammoth, snow-capped mountain the inmates called “Whitney” and “Fuji.” The prison was named Manzanar, Spanish for “Apple Orchard”, because it had been placed on the site of an old orchard of various fruit trees. It once stood out on the desert like an oasis, but lately it had become more prominent as a prison.

The high desert was hot and windy, and as summer and autumn passed, it became cold and windy. It was always windy. The wind blew and blew through the camp so that the dust never settled out of the air. The land, once a fertile valley, had been dying from thirst since the aqueduct began to suck the water away.

Frankie was placed in an orphanage on the prison grounds called the Children’s Village. As before, he was treated as an outsider by the other orphans. Each morning, the orphans would race to the laundry to get the best pickings of clothing for the day. Frankie waited outside the mayhem, and settled for whatever clothes remained.

The prison was not a bad place so far as the orphans were concerned. They were accustomed to incarceration and isolation, but Frankie didn’t have it so good. When the other inmates looked at Frankie, it was easy for them to see the white folk who had kicked them out of their homes, closed their shops, and locked them up. Fortunately, most of the prisoners didn’t hold Frankie’s white blood against him.

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