Every time I travel, I always relish the chance to get out of my hostel and just walk through the neighborhood. You always find the best spots when you put the guidebook away and just walk: coffee shops where the locals hang out, the corner bar, a hole in the wall shop. It’s a great way to get the flavor of the place. Some of my favorite travel memories came from ducking into the chocolate factory on a walk home in Australia, or skipping the overpriced tourist trap in favor of the Thai restaurant on our honeymoon in Maui.
So when I had an hour to spare on a recent trip to Washington DC, I grabbed my camera and started walking. I only had a vague goal of aiming for near the National Mall, but not necessarily for the traditional sights.
Not sure what I was looking for, I brushed past a garden outside of an office building. It wasn’t until I was halfway past before it hit me that a park services guy was cleaning it up, meaning it was some kind of national park or monument.
Turns out, it’s a memorial to Japanese-American patriotism during World War II. It acknowledges both those help in internment camps and those who fought for the US during the war. I found the way they upheld both groups – those who were marginalized and those who fought for the US in spite of the marginalization – was incredibly moving. I stood for several minutes taking in the wall listing the prison camps, the crane sculpture in the center, and the quotes.
Amazingly, I stood there by myself. No one else entered the memorial until just as I left.
I’m not going to get too philosophical here, there are far smarter and more eloquent people to do that. But that day, the monument hung in my head as I walked slowly back to my hotel. The pain and messiness of it felt particularly salient given our country’s current struggles with race, marginalization, and fear of those different than ourselves.
May God show us the ways that fear still dictates our actions and attitudes towards others.
The Memorial to Japanese-American Patriotism in World War II can be found at the corner of Louisiana Avenue, New Jersey Avenue and D Street, NW in Washington, D.C.
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