Monday, August 22, 2011

Running Heart Mountain

View of Heart Mountain from Japanese Internment Camp
Last week, my family and I made a pilgrimage of sorts to Heart Mountain, Wyoming.  Heart Mountain is near Cody, Wyoming.  It was beneath Heart Mountain that my grandparents on my dad's side spent some years in a prison camp aka internment camp because they happened to be of Japanese descent and living near (meaning within several hundred miles of) the West Coast when Pearl Harbor was bombed.  As a child, I visited Cody, Wyoming and got a sense of where Heart Mountain was.  This time, I took my children to Heart Mountain, and I developed a much keener sense of what Heart Mountain was.

Exhibit at the new Heart Mountain
Interpretive Learning Center
The reason my family chose this time to visit Heart Mountain is because of the opening of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center.  We attended the dedication of this memorial and heard from the likes of Tom Brokaw, Senator Daniel Inouye, Congressman Norman Mineta, and Senator Alan Simpson. Among other things, these men commended the internees of Heart Mountain for their response to the injustice done to them by their fellow citizens and their own government.  They encouraged those present to see that such an injustice never occur, again.

I was heartened to hear the speeches given by these men, but nothing had more of an impact on me than just being there.  Although Cody, Wyoming is one of the gates to Yellowstone, in August, it is sun scorched and burnt yellow.  It's desolate.  I've heard it's that way in the winter too, just whiter and colder.  I imagined what it would have been like to be herded onto a train, and then after a 3 day ride with the shades drawn, walk out onto the platform to see Heart Mountain.  I imagined what it would have been like to be fenced in with Heart Mountain looming in the distance.  I imagined what it would have been like to live in a tar papered barrack with my small children during the fierce Wyoming winter.

I doubt my grandfather or grandmother ever climbed Heart Mountain.  While they were interned, I'm sure they had other things weighing on their mind, like whether a Stanford degree would ever be useful in their world, what might they would do if they were ever released, or whether they really were second-rate citizens. And on top of that, there were the barbed wire fence and machine gun towers.  I suppose those would have impeded a run to Heart Mountain.

So it was with a sense of gratitude that I ran up to the top of Heart Mountain.  Yet, I suppose there was also a sense of confusion.  Why is it that I am able to run free, but others cannot?  And at the same time, I was saddened; sad because my grandfather was unable to express the kind of freedom I feel running, unimpeded to the top of a mountain.

I will never know endurance and suffering like my grandparents knew it.  But I know that without it, I will not be complete.

L to R: me, White Brother Mark, Brother Aaron, Uncle Roman, White Brother Danny
Because of a jam-packed day, our only opportunity to run Heart Mountain did not come until it was dark.