More than 2,000 gather at former Japanese American concentration camp.
By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor
Concern over the decisions coming out of the newly elected Trump Administration dominated this year’s Manzanar Pilgrimage program, where more than 2,000 people turned out. The annual pilgrimage was held on April 29 at the Manzanar National Historic Site in Inyo County.
Warren Furutani, keynote speaker and co-founder of the Manzanar Committee, pointed to the number of executive orders coming out of the White House.
“Do you know that President Trump has put forth more executive orders in his first 100 days than any other president in United States history?” said Furutani. “And the reason you use an executive order is because then, you don’t have to go through the legislative branch.”
In fact, on April 26, three days before the pilgrimage, Trump signed another executive order directing the secretary of the interior, who oversees the National Park Service, to review the designation of national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906.
Manzanar Superintendent Bernadette Johnson, however, assured The Rafu that Manzanar would not be affected.
“Manzanar won’t be re-examined because we were congressionally delegated,” she said.
However, if a government shutdown is not averted later this week, Manzanar will be impacted.
“If there’s a lapse of appropriations, no government agency can operate, but for now, we have the stopgap measure so we’re continuing to operate as normal,” said Johnson.
Furutani further discussed the work of his mother-in-law Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, who found the only existing copy of the final report written by Gen. John DeWitt that proved that there had been no “military necessity” to imprison people of Japanese descent living on the West Coast. Herzig Yoshinaga’s discovery at the National Archives during the early 1980s helped to vacate the wartime conviction of Fred Korematsu, who had been arrested for refusing to comply with the government’s order to enter a U.S.-style concentration camp in 1942.
Because Korematsu’s conviction was vacated and not nullified by a constitutional amendment, new legislation introduced by Congress, or a Supreme Court ruling on a different case, Korematsu’s case can still be utilized to decide future cases, noted Furutani.
“The Korematsu decision is still on the books,” said Furutani. “It sits around like a loaded gun, a loaded gun aimed that whoever is being scapegoated at that particular time for whatever political problem may exist, so sisters and brothers, the works not done. Sisters and brothers, the checks and balances that is the most important in a democratic society is the check that the people put on its government.
“And that’s what we have today — people not only resisting, people standing up, people making sure their voices are heard. People are putting their bodies on the line, and we’re putting them online for everybody, so this doesn’t happen again, to anyone. Power to the people.”
Herzig Yoshinaga, who is in her 90s, was able to make the pilgrimage with Furutani and her daughter, Lisa.
“I hope we can continue to get the word out so this kind of thing will not occur again,” said Herzig Yoshinaga, who had lived in Manzanar, Block 12 during the war and had her first child at the Manzanar Hospital. “This looks like a good turnout, and if they’re mostly new and younger people, hopefully, they’ll learn something new that they can take it with them.”
Alan Nishio, another former Manzanar prisoner who was born at Manzanar, was awarded the Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award, informally known as the “Baka Guts” award, referring to the incredible amount of courage, verging on stupidity, that is put forth.
Nishio noted the hard-won battles that were fought to win redress for Japanese Americans imprisoned in the U.S. concentration camps during the war.
“But it would be a travesty if we won that apology and compensation and said thank you and went home,” said Nishio. “When we accepted that apology and that compensation, we accepted that responsibility to continue to ensure that this does not happen again. I say that because this is the time that requires baka guts.”
Like Furutani, Nishio urged attendees to take action.
“We need to move from remembrance to resistance,” said Nishio. “We need to understand that we need to move towards action today because we are at a critical time in history of our nation. And we’re going to see 10 years from now what happened at this time, at a critical turning point where either we reaffirm democracy and civil liberties and the rights of all or we turn our backs to that and turn to fascism and demagoguery.”
Ironically, the Japanese American community has had a long history of suppressing the experiences of those who had challenged the government’s discriminatory policies during World War II.
While this is the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, Asmaa Ahmed, policy and advocacy coordinator for the Council of American-Islamic Relations, noted that another executive order was affecting their community.
“Feb. 19, 1942, Executive Order 9066,” said Ahmed. “Jan. 27, 2017, Executive Order 13769. The former incarcerated approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans. The latter barred refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The two orders are separated by a period of 75 years but both were born out of the same culture of fear and prejudice, a culture that tells us that it’s acceptable for the rights of the minority to be taken away for the quote/unquote greater good.”
Ahmed noted that although Manzanar represented a dark period in American history, she was also encouraged by the history of Manzanar.
“We must also remember that Manzanar is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit,” she said. “Our communities are going to face struggles. They are going to face injustices and pain and heartbreak in the days and years to come, and that is why we are going to have to remember Manzanar and the incredible spirit of the Japanese Americans. We will need to remember that they overcame and so shall we.”
Bruce Embrey, co-chair of the Manzanar Committee, described the parallels between 1942 and 2017 as “stunning.” He also recognized the forced removal of the indigenous people from their lands; the forced deportation of millions of people of Mexican heritage between 1929 and 1936, of whom an estimated 60 percent were U.S-born citizens; and the forced shipping of people from Africa to be used as slaves in the U.S. — all of which “served as a blueprint for what our families were subjected to (during World War II).”
And although Embrey noted that it was a victory to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Manzanar Historic Site, he, like the other speakers, urged the public to stay involved.
“Our celebration of our victory is tempered by the knowledge that we must remind ourselves of the fragility of our democracy,” said Embrey. “We must remember that the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution must be defended at all times, but especially during times of fear-mongering and demagoguery.
“That is why today, we must continue to organize and act. We must choose to act because when we act, we send a message. Your presence here sends a message. It is in many ways the same message that was sent in 1969 (when the first organized Manzanar Pilgrimage occurred). The message is that we are proud and strong people, who have rights, and that we belong here and we will not be silent any longer.”
Embrey also accepted a resolution on behalf of the Manzanar Committee from California Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi.
Muratsuchi shared that this was his second time participating in the pilgrimage but his first time bringing his wife and young daughter.
“On this 48th annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, I want to thank the Manzanar Committee for organizing all of this and bringing us all here on this 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066,” said Muratsuchi.
Over the years, more Japanese nationals have come to attend the Manzanar Pilgrimage.
This year, there was a historic first with Jun Yamada, consul general from the San Francisco office, participating in the pilgrimage, along with Akira Chiba, consul general of the Los Angeles office. Chiba, who assumed his post in July 2016, continues the legacy of his predecessor, Harry Horinouchi, who participated in the Manzanar Pilgrimage.
In addition, there was a contingent from the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California and the Japanese Business Association.
Yamada, who attended last year’s Manzanar Pilgrimage as well as the Tule Lake Pilgrimage, noted that since last year’s Manzanar Pilgrimage several historic events had occurred, including President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reciprocating by traveling to Pearl Harbor.
“The friendship and reconciliation between our two countries have become more complete,” said Yamada. “This is wonderful news to all of us because in this increasingly volatile and unpredictable world, this relationship and friendship between the United States and Japan is very precious.”
Shinya Imai, a JCC of Northern California member, said another member who had attended last year’s pilgrimage had encouraged him to make the trip this year. Growing up, Imai said he learned of the World War II camps, not at school but through a Japanese-language TV series that aired about 38 years ago.
“I saw the show during my childhood and I saw it as just a kind of history but now that I’m here and I’m learning about how the people overcame difficulties, it’s very real and I think it is such a great thing,” said Imai.
Musician Ken Koshio, who moved from Japan to the U.S. in 1998, has become a fixture at the Manzanar Pilgrimage. Even when he moved from Los Angeles to Arizona in 2004, he has been participating in the pilgrimage.
Koshio noted that when he arrived in the U.S., he was looking for a spiritual connection through music but he felt the blues and rock ’n’ roll were not his roots. He finally felt rooted when he met Sue Kunitomi Embrey and met other Nikkei artists such as traci kato kiriyama and was introduced to the Japanese American experience in the U.S.
“When I got here (in Manzanar) in 2001 for the first time with Sue — and again, I’d never been here but I knew I was here,” said Koshio. “It was spiritual. I felt a connection.”
This spiritual connection keeps Koshio returning each year, and this year, he wrote a song, “EO 9066,” in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the signing of the presidential order.
To be continued