“Kodomo No Tame Ni, For the Sake of the Children” was this year’s theme at the 47th Manzanar Pilgrimage, seeking to bring attention to the families and the children among the 120,000 people of Japanese descent sent to Manzanar some 70 years ago. Among those at Manzanar were 101 American-born orphans. They were housed in an old pear orchard, and ranged in age from newborns to 18-year-olds and called the “Children’s Village.” The orphanage at Manzanar was the only one in all of the ten war relocation centers throughout the country.
The Manzanar Committee presented the 2016 Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award to former Inyo County Fourth District Supervisor Bob Gracey, 87, who was elected in late 1992. Gracey played a key role in getting the hazardous materials removed from the former Manzanar High School Auditorium, now the museum. Gracey was also instrumental in the land exchange that would allow the historic site to expand from its original 500 acres to its current 813 acres. Gracey felt the expansion would “Help ease the pain created by the act of the federal government which ‘created’ the need for the park.”
Throughout the event, speakers told the 1,000 attending that the current political atmosphere in the country is disturbingly similar to that found at the beginning of World War II—only now, the object of fear are Middle Eastern refugees.
The speakers talked about the lessons that should have been learned from what the U.S. government in 1942 called “relocation camps,” created solely to single out a particular group wrongly suspected of possibly harboring “un-American” sentiments.
Most of the orphans sent to the Children’s Village came from two orphanages in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco,” said keynote speaker Dr. Cathy Irwin, an Associate Professor of English at the University of LaVerne and the author of “Twice Orphaned: Voices from the Children’s Village of Manzanar.”
According to Irwin, the average age of the 10,000 internees at Manzanar was only 17.5 years of age and the average at Children’s Village was 8. She questioned “how an 8-year-old orphan be a national security threat.”
“Just being incarcerated behind barbed wire fences and housed in barracks disrupted family life,” said Irwin. Life in the camps took away many of the normal day-to-day types of interactions and activities that a family would normally experience.
Bruce Embrey, co-chair of the Manzanar Committee, and the son of the late Sue Kunitomi, spoke to the renewed significance of what happened at Manzanar and expressed concern about “the (political) climate taking a dangerous turn as voices are daily being heard that we would like to speak against.” He emphasized that “we need to speak to this atrocity to those in power.