LOS ANGELES — On April 2, the Los Angeles-based Manzanar Committee announced that Rose Ochi, a key figure in the establishment of the Manzanar National Historic Site, and long-time pro bono legal counsel for the Manzanar Committee, has been chosen as the 2012 recipient of the Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award.
The award, named after the late chair of the Manzanar Committee who was one of the founders of the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage and was the driving force behind the creation of the Manzanar National Historic Site, will be presented at the 43rd Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, scheduled for 12:00 PM PDT on Saturday, April 28, 2012, at the Manzanar National Historic Site, located on US Highway 395 in California’s Owens Valley, between the towns of Lone Pine and Independence, approximately 230 miles north of Los Angeles.
Ochi, 72, a native of Los Angeles, was three years old when she was shipped off to Rohwer, Arkansas, one of the ten American concentration camps where over 120,000 West Coast Japanese Americans, along with their immigrant parents, were unjustly incarcerated during World War II.
After the war, Ochi returned to Los Angeles, and went on to become an attorney, a civil rights activist, and a shrewd, highly effective political insider at local, state and federal levels. Ochi often used those talents in support of various causes, most notably, during the Japanese American community’s fight for redress and reparations, and her involvement with efforts to preserve and protect Manzanar.
“As a community activist, Sue lent her voice in the fight for social justice in what was viewed to be ‘unpopular causes,’ such as workers rights, farm workers, and feminism,” Ochi said in her tribute to Sue Kunitomi Embrey during the 38th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, on April 28, 2007. “For a Nikkei woman of her generation, this took a lot of guts because the negative consequence of her public outcries was that she risked being ostracized by her own community.”
“After Sue was carted off to Manzanar, she could have, understandably, become embittered and defeated,” Ochi continued. “Instead, experiencing this egregious deprivation of her constitutional rights fueled her passion to work ‘to keeping the memory alive.’”
Ochi worked hand-in-hand with Sue Kunitomi Embrey for 35 years, beginning in 1972.
“For more the thirty years, we had a quixotic journey together,” Ochi noted. “In 1972, I was a public interest lawyer at [the Western Center on Law and Poverty, and] Sue asked me to serve as legal counsel for the Manzanar Committee. I provided legislative advice and political support for Sue to realize her mission—the establishment of the Manzanar National Historic Site.”
“Honoring Rose Ochi is long overdue,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey, son of Sue Kunitomi Embrey. “Rose is one of a handful of unique Nisei women who played pivotal roles in the struggle for redress.”
“In so many ways, Rose Ochi and my mother were kindred spirits,” he added. “Both overcame the sexism of their time to become teachers, civil rights advocates, and fierce proponents of redress and reparations.”
Ochi went on to serve on the Manzanar National Historic Site Advisory Commission, succeeding Embrey as Chair in its later years.
“While Rose was the Manzanar Committee’s legal counsel, she was no passive ‘counselor,’ offering advice from afar,” Bruce Embrey noted. “Rose and my mother worked closely together from the early days of the struggle for redress, navigating that most difficult period together, all the way to the opening of the Manzanar National Historic Site Interpretive Center in 2004.”
“Rose has dedicated decades of her life to civil rights, and to preserving Manzanar, a site where those rights were ignored,” said Alisa Lynch, Chief of Interpretation, Manzanar National Historic Site. “She has been a key advisor to the National Park Service over the past two decades, particularly as part of the Manzanar Advisory Commission, along with Sue Kunitomi Embrey, and other members of the Japanese American and Owens Valley communities.”
“Manzanar would not be what it is today without their vision and guidance,” added Lynch.
For more information on the Pilgrimage, including bus transportation, and the popular Manzanar At Dusk program scheduled for 5:00 PM that same evening at Lone Pine High School, check the Manzanar Committee’s official blog at https://manzanarcommittee.org, call (323) 662-5102, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow the Manzanar Committee on Facebook and Twitter.
The Manzanar Committee is dedicated to educating and raising public awareness about the incarceration and violation of civil rights of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II and to the continuing struggle of all peoples when Constitutional rights are in danger. A non-profit organization that has sponsored the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage since 1969, along with other educational programs, the Manzanar Committee has also played a key role in the establishment and continued development of the Manzanar National Historic Site.
LEAD PHOTO: Rose Ochi. Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.
Manzanar National Historic Site
Lone Pine High School
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