Sue Kunitomi Embrey’s Speech 4/24/04

National Park Service Opening of the Manzanar Interpretive Center

Chair, Manzanar Committee

On May the 9th, 1942, my family and I along with about 300 people, all of Japanese ancestry, living in Little Tokyo of Los Angeles, came to Manzanar under orders from the Western Defense Command of the US Army. We walked to the train station, an old one in Los Angeles, to go on the train. It took us about 8 hours to get to the Lone Pine train station. There, we waited on the platform for buses to bring us on our last leg of journey into exile. My brother who had come as a volunteer in March of 1942, met our bus. And my mother was especially happy to see him because we were originally supposed to go to the Santa Anita assembly center, and she was afraid we would never see him again.

We went through a large building, registered, got a cursory medical examination, a tetanus shot, and then out the door. We struggled through the dark and finally got to block 20, our apartment was Apartment 1, Building 5. When we walked in, it was a little 20x25 foot with canvas army cots and mattresses filled with hay. My mother sat down on one of the cots and said, in Japanese, “Ma konnato ko ni?” loosely translated, “Mm, a place like this?”

That’s all I remember of the first night. Our luggage is still on the train. I don’t remember whether we had dinner, whether we were able to wash up, or sleep in our clothes or in our night clothes.

Twenty-seven years later, I came back to Manzanar with a group of young students and community activists who declared that this was their first Manzanar Pilgrimage. But for two Issei ministers, one Christian and one Buddhist, it was their 25th year. It was the coldest day in Inyo County. The national media was there. NBC and CBS brought a young, third-generation reporter named Tricia Toyota.

In the week that followed, people called me to tell me they had seen me on national tv. But the Japanese American community was very disturbed by the publicity. And several people came up to me and said, in no uncertain terms, “Don’t bring up the past and don’t talk about the camps.”

Well, today, 35 years of our pilgrimages, and two weeks to 62nd anniversary since I first arrived in Manzanar, we have lots of voices and this beautifully restored auditorium. The exhibit is stunning. A first-rate Interpretive Center, which is now under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

I would like to tell you a story before I end. About 5 years ago or so, Yaiko Yokoyama flew from Hawaii to a small town in Italy to dedicate a plaque and a statue to her brother, PFC Sadao Munemori, who received posthumously the Congressional Medal of Honor for sacrificing his life for his buddies in the foxhole. She brought back with her some Italian soil, and said she wanted to come to Manzanar when the Grand Opening was held so she could bring the soil to Manzanar. Unfortunately, a year and a half ago, she passed away with leukemia. Several days ago I received a tiny, little vial from her daughter in Connecticut, asking me to bring the soil to Manzanar. So here it is. I would like to give this to the National Park Service, and if possible, put it into the exhibit where Sadao’s photograph is.

People ask me why it’s important to remember and keep Manzanar alive with this Interpretive Center. My answer is that stories like this need to be told, and too many of us have passed away without telling our stories. The Interpretive Center is important because it needs to show to the world that America is strong as it makes amends for the wrongs it has committed, and that we will always remember Manzanar because of that.