Editor’s Note: The following is a commentary/reflection piece on the 40th Manzanar Pilgrimage and Manzanar At Dusk 2009 written by Yo Miyamoto, President, UCSD Nikkei Student Union.
SAN DIEGO, CA — As the President of the UCSD Nikkei Student Union, I have always marveled at what makes our annual journey to the Manzanar Pilgrimage one of the most anticipated and popular events our organization participates in.
Many of us have relatives who were interned and for them the trip can be a very emotional one. I think Michelle Mitsuda, our Cultural Chair and trip organizer, put it best when she told me that seeing first-hand what her grandparents went through made her feel “…sad but proud” of where she is now after what her grandparents have had to endure.
I used to struggle with the question of why, as a shin-Issei Japanese American, I should care about internment. I have spoken to some of my other Issei and Nisei friends about it, and it is a question that I think a lot of us have some trouble with. No one in my family was interned. I don’t think anybody I am related to was even stateside at the time. By simple dissociation, I am not supposed to feel a kinship with any of the 11,000 some-odd names of the internees found on the canvas in the Interpretive Center.
And yet I do. It is hard to explain why but if the Pilgrimage were simply a tribute to the grandmothers and grandfathers who had endured the ordeal of internment it would be a wonderful event in its own right. The taiko performances, speakers, and the poignant interfaith ceremony against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada are all things that I will remember for a long time. Even if considered just as a ceremony of remembrance, you can see that this has become a Pilgrimage in the truest, spiritual sense of the word.
But it is also so much more than that.
Indeed, for all of the ceremony found in the tradition that the Pilgrimage has become, the importance of our participation is in helping our unifying voice as a racial and cultural minority in America. Our community’s generational spectrum is vast, comprising of five different generations of Americans. But I think we all agree that there is a connection to be found with all of us and I think that the Pilgrimage helps bring that connection out.
I realized that the stories told by the internees at the Manzanar at Dusk program would have been destined to be my stories too if no one cared about remembering internment. Indeed, if not for their willingness to share their experiences with the rest of the community and the new generations, there would be no chance to see the path we have taken to get here and thus few tools to detect when we might be heading down that path again.
The United States is not a country that simply hands any community (ethnic, political or otherwise) unprejudiced, unconditional equality. No country does—our human nature will not allow it. It is seared into our genetic makeup to make these segregations in our heads. It is why internment happened and it is why the Muslim American community faces similar persecution today. It is why each spring, we still read articles about segregated proms in the Deep South and why the biggest moral issue we like to talk about is whether or not gays deserve to marry. Communities are still under attack and to forget the past trials of our own communities leaves us vulnerable as well.
But one thing is true about America. Because of the purity of our ideals and the diversity of our people it is the one nation in the world that gives each and every community a fighting chance and with this chance comes our duty as a community. Because though the activism of past generations may free us from sharing in their trials, it most certainly does not free us from the responsibility of continuing their fight. Because as soon as we forget, history will return to its funny way of repeating itself and this time it will be my generation facing a new wave of the same old challenges.
That is why I attend the Manzanar Pilgrimage.
Miyamoto, 21, is a fourth-year Electrical Engineering major at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Originally from Yamagata, Japan, Miyamoto moved with his family when he was very young to Berkeley, California and later to San Mateo, California.
The views expressed in this story are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.
UCSD NSU members gathered in front of the Manzanar cemetery monument during the 40th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, April 25, 2009. Photo: Yo Miyamoto.
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