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
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