As a boy, around 10, I would travel with my brother to Mammoth in the summertime to fish for trout, hike the Sierras, and just screw around. We had a saying when we drove around the county: “There’s water; let’s fish it.” And we did.
While driving along the 395, we saw George Creek and we said, “There’s water; let’s fish it.” So, we pulled onto this little dirt road. There was a wooden tower and a huge construction supply warehouse (I think they were selling rocks or sand) to the north-east and a dusty old pagoda in the road. We stopped and read this plaque on the pagoda which identified this as the location of Manzanar Japanese Internment Camp. We drove along this maze of roads where there were dilapidated stone buildings, trails, old shoes, broken up and empty ponds, shattered glass, sun-bleached beer cans, desiccated apple trees (I ate an apple off one and had the shits for hours!), abandoned cement foundations, and a graveyard with the only real maintained structure…a monument in front of the graveyard that I would later find out was called “The Soul Consoling Tower.”
This ghost town left to the dustbin of history meant seemingly nothing to my ten-year-old self, but it did inform my entire life.
As an adult, I would travel several times every year to visit the site while on my way to backpack or camp in the High Sierras. I would bring everybody I knew to this place. Year after year I would learn a little bit more about the tragedy that was the interment of over 110,000 Japanese in 10 such sites, two-thirds of these people were American citizens. I read books like “A Farewell to Manzanar” and “Snow Falling on Cedars”. I learned about how President Roosevelt signed into law Executive Order 9066 which legalized the arrest and relocation of American citizens of Japanese descent to ten different sites, just like Manzanar. These people were loyal Americans, most of whom had been in the U.S. for generations. They had built lives, but their property was confiscated, and they were put into the barracks of Manzanar and other places. If they tried to escape, the soldiers guarding them had orders to shoot. But the resilience of these Japanese-Americans proved too much. They built lives here too. Some died. Many lives were ruined. But they did overcome, and they are truly an American story.
Today I read a news story about the rise of racist violence against Asian and Pacific Islanders. I’ve heard Covid-19 referred to as “the China disease” by some of our top leadership and morons on social media. I’ve seen the ugliness that seems to keep arising in this country repeatedly; I’ve watched the rise of “White Nationalism” to become an acceptable thing again; I’ve experienced the extraordinary ignorance and cruelty that has been fomented by recent political discussions. But this is nothing new, it is a stain on our national conscience. And we are all to blame.
What does this have to do with yoga? That question crossed my mind before I sat down because I wanted to write an article about yoga. Then I realized that we, as practitioners of this most ancient practice, have responsibility, that, at the core of our yoga practice is the eight limbs of yoga as put forth in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The first of those eight limbs are the Yamas. This is the attitude we attempt to take in our environment. The Yamas are this:
• Ahimsa (Non-violence) ...
• Satya (Truthfulness) ...
• Asteya (Non-stealing) ...
• Brahmacharya (Moderation) ...
• Aparigraha (Non-hoarding) ...
Now look at what we are talking about here. Every one of these is relevant to the tragedy of the Japanese relocations in 1942; but the blasphemy is happening today as well, and we have a responsibility to uphold these ideals with courage and grace. And, although I try to be a good yogi, I feel pushed to defy my dedication, because I am pissed off at the treatment of my fellow citizens. I am tired of restraint. I have an urge towards defying my Ahimsa when I hear of racism in all forms. So, I am here to practice Satya as best I can. And the truth is, it is all our Dharma (duty) to destroy this cancer of racism or nationalism of dogmatism and of cowardice that runs so deep in hearts of many of our fellow citizens.
This is what the little boy that I was is trying to communicate. I wonder if he can?