This year’s 45th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage was linked with the 50th Anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a reminder of how easily freedoms and liberties can be threatened when hysteria, racism, and economic exploitation take precedence over the values and guarantees of a citizen’s rights under the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
In 1942, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, ten thousand West Coast Japanese-Americans and legal residents were ordered to the Manzanar Relocation Center located in California’s Owens Valley. People of Japanese ancestry were forced to leave their homes, businesses, jobs, personal vehicles, pets, and belongings behind to face an uncertain future.
It did not matter that over 80 percent of these were second generation Japanese-American citizens, or that they were completely innocent, legal U.S. residents.
Manzanar, and other relocation camps like it, is a wrong that has not and should not be forgotten. Manzanar is a symbol and ongoing reminder of the dangers that face freedom and liberty, even in a country that makes those values a centerpiece of its very identity.
Over 1,000 people from diverse backgrounds attending this year’s Pilgrimage at Manzanar. Many were from Japan and visiting or going to school in the U.S. The event was also held in commemoration of the 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry interned at the ten relocation camps established around the country during World War II. Manzanar was the first camp built.
After a roll call of the ten concentration camps, each represented by a banner and someone who either was incarcerated at that camp or closely affiliated with it, those attending the Pilgrimage were treated to an exuberant performance by UCLA Kyodo Taiko, the nation’s first and oldest collegiate taiko drumming team.
Dr. Arthur A. Hansen, renowned scholar and co-founder of the Japanese American Oral History Program, was awarded the Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award, along with co-awardee Mas Okui, who as a 10-year-old spent more than three years at Manzanar. As a result of that experience, Okui became active in Asian-American issues in the 1960s and has conducted tours of Manzanar since the 1970s. For more than 30 years he has also led seminars with the United Teachers Los Angeles, as well as countless other groups, on how to teach Japanese-American history.
The keynote speaker at the Pilgrimage was History Professor Eileen H. Tamura, an educational historian and director of social studies projects with the University of Hawaii College of Education Curriculum, Research, and Development Group. She is also the author of “In Defense of Justice: Joseph Kurihara and the Japanese American Struggle for Equality” which described how one incarceree fought back against the violation of Japanese-American’s civil rights and loss of feedom.
At the end of the day, the message and lesson of Manzanar and the suffering of those incarcerated there was clear and simple: “Never again …to anyone.”