40th Manzanar Pilgrimage – A Personal Reflection

LOS ANGELES — Members of the Manzanar Committee have returned to Southern California after a long, hard weekend in the Owens Valley for the 40th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage and Manzanar At Dusk programs on Saturday, April 25.

We are all very tired and relieved that the events are over. But at the same time, at least in my case, I feel energized and inspired by the people who participated, the stories I heard, the new relationships I made and the ones I was able to renew.

Our time in the Owens Valley started on Friday afternoon at the Eastern California Museum where the Independence Chamber of Commerce hosted their annual Manzanar Pilgrimage Reception where some of us took the opportunity to renew friendships with Manzanar supporters in Independence.

That evening, two films by critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns were screened at the Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History in Lone Pine.

The first film was The National Parks: This Is America, a 45-minute film based on the upcoming six-part, twelve-hour series, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, which will air on PBS in September 2009.

The second was Manzanar – Never Again, a documentary short that looked at the interconnected stories of Japanese American internment during World War II, the community’s efforts to commemorate Manzanar, and the ongoing work of the Manzanar National Historic Site and the Manzanar Committee to educate visitors about civil rights.

I will go into more about the documentary short later, but the film museum theatre was packed to overflowing and many of those in attendance appeared to be from the local area, likely because of the “Community Reads” program in Independence and Lone Pine where Farewell to Manzanar is being read.

Whatever the reason for the local interest, it was not all that long ago when such interest and support from the local residents would have been unheard of. More on that later.

Saturday’s Pilgrimage opened with Dan Sprague’s always stirring piece on the bagpipes and a powerful, energetic and high-spirited performance by UCLA Kyodo Taiko.

New Superintendent of the Manzanar National Historic Site Les Inafuku made his Pilgrimage debut; former Superintendent Tom Leatherman and Reverend Paul Nakamura were honored for their special and important contributions to Manzanar and the Manzanar Committee; long-time Manzanar Committee member emeritus Tak Yamamoto was honored by the Committee as the first recipient of the Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy (“Baka Guts”) Award; Ron Wakabayshi, who participated in the first organized Pilgrimage in 1969, was our keynote speaker; UCLA Kyodo Taiko performed another upbeat piece; and of course, we ended the program with the traditional interfaith service and the Ondo dancing.

The Pilgrimage drew an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people, with many coming on at least 14 buses, which might be a record. To be sure, the Pilgrimage was a success.

That evening, the scene moved from the Manzanar National Historic Site to Lone Pine High School for the Manzanar At Dusk program where somewhere between 360 and 400 people from diverse backgrounds, ages, ethnic groups and locations gathered to share their experiences.

The evening began with the Manzanar – Never Again video. That was followed by a panel discussion featuring three former internees and then we went into what is usually the most important part of the evening—small group discussions where people get to share their own experiences and hear the stories of former internees in attendance.

We wrapped up the evening with George Abe playing the shakuhachi and a rather impromptu Ondo dance to Tanko Bushi…an exciting first for the MAD program.

When the event was over, after the last participant had left, after the rest of the Committee members had packed up and returned to our hotel, after we broke down the audio equipment and after we locked up the school, I finally had time to reflect on the day’s events…

I was so pleased to see UCLA Kyodo Taiko perform once again at the Pilgrimage. Having been a member of the UCLA Nikkei Student Union when Kyodo Taiko was established and having played a part in helping them find the money needed to build their own drums so they could make their debut in 1992, it is both inspiring and gratifying to see them going so strong 17 years later.

Along the same lines, I started the UCLA Nikkei Student Union’s tradition of attending the Pilgrimage back in 1987 and they have kept on coming each year since. More inspiration and gratification.

It is clear that the local residents in Lone Pine, Independence and going as far north as Bishop are coming to the Pilgrimage and MAD in ever-increasing numbers. As I wrote above, it was not so long ago that local interest in the Owens Valley was very weak. In fact, there was a small, but very vocal and quite racist opposition to the development of Manzanar as a National Historic Site. But now, schools in Independence and Lone Pine are sending their students to Manzanar on field trips and schools throughout Inyo and Mono counties (Mono County is just north of Inyo) are reading Farewell to Manzanar; there is a “Community Reads” program which also uses that book and the “Pilgrimage Weekend” events were all over the radio in Lone Pine, Independence and Bishop.

In short, it has become apparent that local interest and support in the Owens Valley is on the rise, which bodes very, very well for the future of Manzanar.

It was exciting to talk to new people and renew relationships with others, especially those with whom we can collaborate to expand our education and outreach efforts. We were able to potentially build on existing relationships with Susan Shumaker, who works with Ken Burns, with Barbara Takei of the Tule Lake Committee, and we discussed new collaborative possibilities with the Manzanar National Historic Site.

Along those lines, keep an eye on our web site, as we will be publishing stories, interviews, photos, video and more from the 40th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage and the Manzanar At Dusk program. There will be news about developments at the Manzanar National Historic Site and there are likely to be some surprises in the coming months as our collaborative efforts develop further and are refined.

Gann Matsuda is the co-coordinator of the Manzanar At Dusk program and is the editor of the Manzanar Committee’s official web site..

The views expressed in this story are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.

LEAD PHOTO: Crowd shot of the interfaith service during the 40th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, April 25, 2009. Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.

Select Photographs from the 40th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage/2009 Manzanar At Dusk

Creative Commons License The Manzanar Committee’s Official web site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Manzanar Committee Official web site – Licensing and Copyright Information.

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7 thoughts on “40th Manzanar Pilgrimage – A Personal Reflection

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  1. This was my first pilgrimage ever and I was inspired, humbled, rejuvenated and enthused. I have made it my mission to go to all the camps in the next two years. I visited the Poston site in December, and I am going to the Minidoka Pilgrimage in June.

    The Manzanar Committee did a fantastic job in organizing the event. The range of emotions one feels is exhilarating in an odd way – from the energetic Taiko performance by such youthful exuberant players, the somber but moving interfaith prayers at the shrine, the community Ondo dance. It truly brings back memories, and I believe I caught a glimpse of my Jichan somewhere up in the sky.

    The Manzanar at Dusk event was also a nice way to conclude the day. as a deaf person I was uncertain as to how I could be involved but the small group discussion was enjoyable. I was able to feel comfortable speaking up.

    As an artist I am truly inspired to continue my projects, “The Tag Project” and “E.O. 9066”. Thank you for a job well-done. If I can be of any help down here in San Diego for your next pilgrimage, please let me know.

    Wendy Maruyama

    1. Wendy: I know I can speak for the Manzanar Committee in saying that we’re happy to hear that you got a lot out of the experience of attending the 40th Manzanar Pilgrimage and the Manzanar At Dusk program. We also appreciate your kind words.

      You bring up the fact that you are deaf…it makes me wonder how we can make the experience work for those who have trouble with their hearing. I wonder if we can find volunteers to do sign language translation on the spot…I know we couldn’t afford to hire anyone…

      If you have any suggestions in that regard, or for anything else, please don’t hesitate.

      You can help us spread the word down in the San Diego area…the 41st Manzanar Pilgrimage will be held on Saturday, April 24, 2010. Same place. :-)

  2. Hi Gann: I am sorry I did not meet you while at Manzanar, I kept scanning faces but there were so many people there (which was fantastic). Anyway yes I do have a suggestion that all film screenings be closed captioned. With the use of DVDs and computers this should be available anyway. This would be helpful to anyone who does not hear well, and as our population ages it will be a big help. (Although I am deaf from birth). yes sign language and captioning services are expensive (I don’t know sign language myself) but I am sure you might find some volunteers who are interested in the camp experience. But you really should take a poll, I doubt that many attendees would use that service, but I could be wrong. I would definitely use the captioning services but its the most expensive service of the two.

    1. Not all DVD’s are encoded with captioning and the one we screened (which was a preview version) was not. But this is something we’ll need to take into consideration for future events.

  3. Enjoyed watching “Manzanar Never Again”. During our MAD discussion, a point was made that the Native American community was not represented. Since Manzanar was bulit on Paiute land, perhaps a tribe representative can come and participate in the interfaith service or as a speaker.

    1. You bring up a great point. I will say that the Manzanar Committee has always recognized that the Owens Valley Paiute were unjustly removed from the site and after the legislation that created the Manzanar National Historic Site was passed, we worked to ensure that their story at Manzanar would be covered in the exhibit at the Interpretive Center, even though it would not be the primary focus, per the legislation. We also worked to ensure that important Paiute locations within the site would be interpreted.

      We only have one hour for the speakers portion of the program, so it isn’t possible to cover everything. Nevertheless, you are correct and I will bring this up with the Committee for something we could do for next year. Thanks for your comment!

  4. My son and I took the 7 hour one way road trip from the SF Bay Area to our first Manzanar Pilgrimage. It was a good trip. It was a busy 3-day weekend. I am still recovering. This old bird doesn’t bounce back like she used to but it was well worth it.

    There were about ~2000 people attending this year, they said approx up 25% from the previous year. It really surprised me the number of people and busses from mostly Southern California that brought people up. My son saw a friend there from UCSD. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. I love this side of the Sierras. Such a sad site surrounded by such natural beauty. They have really taken care of this site by way of marking/labeling sites of buildings, excavating block gardens, erecting the monument in the cemetery, rebuilding a guard tower and the great interpretive center. I cried when I first got to the lonely cemetery. There was another ojiisan who was wiping tears away looking at the unmarked graves. So sad to be left there in that mournful, oppressive-laden site. But, with the pilgrimages…not forgotten. It makes me wonder how many other graves at other sites are left unmarked and forgotten. The service was well organized. The UCLA taiko opened the ceremony and speakers came up. You could hear the emotion and catch in their voices when speaking of their experiences. The trauma burns deep. They had religious services from many denominations in the cemetery at the end culminating with a Buddhist ceremony. I thought it wonderful for those still buried there to honor them in that way. It felt empowering to hear and be with all these other people who feel similar feelings. That feeling of empowerment was surprising for me. The ondo dancing at the end was joyous. My son and I danced to Tanko bushi and two other dances in the “LA” style. Different and more expressive in a vibrant way than the San Jose Obon dances. We had fun. He says he will dance in this year’s Obon with his older brother and his friends. I look forward to July.

    The sadness, anger, frustrations and gaman vibrations I felt from this place made me even more sure of the necessity of my expression through my art. Even though my Mom was interned at Gila River, Dad at Heart Mountain before being shipped off with the 442nd to Europe, my Auntie Chuck at Tule Lake and Topaz, this place resonates with the same sadness I felt at the Gila River site and when standing in front of the Heart Mountain barrack in the Japanese American National Museum in LA. But with this pilgrimage, I also felt hope for the future that this type of injustice will never happen again. We will return to the pilgrimage next year.

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