I learned a little about Manzanar through the UCLA Nikkei Student Union, and by visiting the Japanese American National Museum. My image of Manzanar is that is a very isolated and harsh environment. However, I do not really know about Manzanar, or the internment camps.
I heard that there would be chances to talk with people who were actually in the camp, during the Manzanar Pilgrimage and Manzanar At Dusk programs, and I really wanted to listen to their stories. I believe that it is very important for me to be able to gain a deeper understanding of history to visit the actual place, and to listen to people who actually experienced it. I hoped that the trip would be a great opportunity for me to think about the history from different perspectives.
“How beautiful,” was my first impression of Manzanar, once we arrived at the site. The weather was very nice, and I actually enjoyed driving to Manzanar from LA. However, once I watched a video at the Interpretive Center, and talked with former internees, my mind had changed. I found, even though it is beautiful at Manzanar, it would be a totally different story if you are forced to move and live there for several years without any other choice.
What I was most impressed was the stories from one of the speakers at the ceremony. He talked about an African American man who saw his Japanese American friend was forced to taken to an incarceration camp. He had never forgotten that day, and he later became a member of the United States Congress (Rep. Ronald Dellums), and helped Japanese American with obtaining redress.
The speaker also talked about a Mexican man who went to Manzanar with his Japanese American friends. These stories made me realize that there is no racial border in friendship.
It also impressed me to see some people from Muslim American community at the Pilgrimage. They told me that they visited Manzanar because the situation they faced after 9/11 in 2001 was similar to the situation that Japanese American faced during World War II, and said Muslim Americans were learning how to overcome such a difficult situation from Japanese Americans community. They appreciated Japanese Americans supporting them after 9/11. I felt this sort of relationship between different communities was wonderful.
The last question in my discussion group at the Manzanar At Dusk program was, “how can we prevent events such as the incarceration camp from repeating in the future?” My answer is to build strong and intimate inter-community relationship between other different communities. If one community faces a desperate situation, like the Japanese American community during World War II, and the Muslim American community after 9/11, people in that community have very limited power to change the situation. In such a time, people who can help and save the community are ones who are outside the community. Thus, it is very important to make strong and intimate bonds with other communities and to establish an environment where each community helps with each other when there is a community struggling from unfair situation.
Kosuke Kudo was born and raised in Japan. He moved to California for college, and just completed his third year as an undergraduate at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), studying Political Science. He served as a staff member of the UCLA Nikkei Student Union, and was part of planning their trip to the 43rd Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage..
The views expressed are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.
LEAD PHOTO: Cyndi Tando (center) and Kosuke Kudo (right), are shown here during one of the small group discussions at the 2012 Manzanar At Dusk program, April 28, 2012, at Lone Pine High School, Lone Pine, California. Photo: Gann Matsuda.
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