Note: On Friday, April 26, San Jose JACL embarked on its first ever Manzanar Pilgrimage. Proposed, planned, and executed primarily by three young women who had experienced the Pilgrimage with the Florin JACL, and having recently moved to the San Jose area, they had a passion to share the experience with the San Jose community. Below is an account of the trip by Melanie Shojinaga.
This past weekend, Madison Tamichi, Jenna Yonenaga, Susan Yuen and I, had the honor of leading the first annual San Jose JACL Manzanar Pilgrimage. This trip has left my body exhausted, but my heart filled to the brim with love and hopefulness!
Our group of 44 traveled by bus to Bishop, CA. The 44 people included former incarcerees, members from the Nikkei Resisters, Nihonmachi Outreach Committee members, Kakehashi Project Alumni, community educators, Jun Daiko of the Mountain View Buddhist Temple, and representatives from the Counsel for American Islamic Relations – SFBA.
During our journey, we shared our motivation for attending this trip, what we hoped to learn, and discussed how we can support targeted communities.
The first day of our pilgrimage was jam packed with activities. We played travelers trivia, participated in an Islamic prayer service, and broke into small groups for discussion about the incarceration, redress movement, and how we can strive for social justice today. We watched several documentaries during our bus ride and discussed how euphemisms masked the true impact of the incarceration of Japanese people. Once we arrived in Bishop, we sat around the hotel pool and feasted on halal chili, salad, and musubi. We then invited everyone to don their cultural clothes that they brought and began our cultural exchange, which included songs performed by the Jun Daiko taiko group, obon dancing, and an Islamic prayer and song. We ended the night by eating halal s’mores and folding origami cranes, which we would bring to Manzanar the following day.
On Saturday, we traveled to Manzanar. Our group mingled in the visitor’s center and at the monument with the 2000 odd people who attended the event. We explored the museum and then went on a private tour lead by Roger Myoraku. We viewed the reconstructed barracks, latrines, mess hall, and newly excavated children’s center. The former incarcerees, flooded with memories, shared their experiences from their time at camp. We later ate bentos at the reconstructed mess hall and briefly met up with the Florin JACL’s Manzanar Pilgrimage group. After lunch, we trekked toward the main event where we all stood under the scorching sun as representatives from the first Manzanar Pilgrimage shared their stories and the monument was blessed in a multifaith ceremony. Later that evening we attended Manzanar at Dusk where we discussed what brought us to Manzanar with members from the local community and fellow pilgrims. We ended the day with great food from Bishop restaurants and bowling with the Florin JACL pilgrims at the local alley.
During Sunday’s long bus ride home, we received bystander training led by CAIR-SFBA representative, Ossama Kamel. We broke into small groups and applied techniques that would help diffuse a hostile interaction between an attacker, target, and bystander. Attendees shared their take-aways from the weekend and different ways that we can advocate for social justice in our communities.
Our group started out as strangers but we quickly became a tight knit group due to everyone’s willingness to share their stories and listen to others without judgement. I was completely overwhelmed by everyone’s thoughtful and honest contributions to our group discussion. Their trust and wholehearted investment in the pilgrimage contributed to its success and made it such a powerful experience.
It has been 77 years since Executive Order 9066 incarcerated people of Japanese descent and this year marks the 50th anniversary since the first pilgrimage to Manzanar took place. During our bus ride, we watched the film, Pilgrimage, which documents the first ever pilgrimage to Manzanar. I felt a strong sense of community as I listened to Karen Korematsu (daughter of Fred Korematsu) and Warren Furutani (one of the organizers for the first Manzanar Pilgrimage) with the 2000 other people that traveled to Manzanar. We all came to honor those who were incarcerated and admire the hard work of ordinary people who turned this barbed wire desert into a beautiful place filled with strength and hope. It was powerful to see how far we have come since the first pilgrimage- and yet how far we have to go. While Japanese Americans are no longer the target of hatred, we return to Manzanar to hear the stories of those who were incarcerated and stand by the communities who now face the injustices and prejudices that our Issei and Nisei faced. Never again is now.
Shigata ga nai. Gaman. Kodomo no tame ni. Deru kui wa utareru. The injustice cannot be helped. Be resilient through the suffering. For the sake of the children, we work hard so that they may have a better future. Don’t make waves.
These mantras influenced how the Japanese Americans responded to the hardships they faced during and after WWII. Many of those who experienced incarceration chose not to talk about their suffering and hardships. Instead they did what they thought would be best for their children- suppressing their, our, history and culture.
I think that the phrase kodomo no tame ni can take on a new meaning. For the sake of the next generation of children, we as Nikkei must stand in solidarity with communities that are the target of hatred today. For the sake of the children, we should spread the JA narrative because it empowers us to reclaim our history. For the sake of the children, we must ask targeted communities how we can be allies. The Nikkei Redress Movement is proof that change is possible! The injustice CAN be helped. Kodomo no tame ni, we have a responsibility to control the narrative and make waves of change to improve the lives of the next generation.
This weekend has reinvigorated me to do more to fight injustice and I know that I’m not alone. Please feel free to reach out to me if you want to learn more about the pilgrimage or how you can get involved in our community! We will be sending out information about upcoming events including a Manzanar Pilgrimage reunion and Ramadan celebration with CAIR. I hope to see you all there.
Thank you to the San Jose JACL for trusting us with our crazy idea to start the first SJ JACL Manzanar Pilgrimage! Thank you to CAIR-SFBA for collaborating with us, inviting us to pray together, and educating us about how to be a better ally toward targeted communities. Thank you to the Florin JACL for providing us with the foundation to start a Manzanar Pilgrimage for the Bay Area community.
Most of all, thank you to our fellow pilgrims for traveling to Manzanar with us and for putting up with our bus ride karaoke! You made this trip a truly unique and memorable experience. I cannot tell you how much we appreciate your vulnerability and enthusiasm to share your thoughts with the group.
It was an honor to meet all of you. Thank you for attending the first of many San Jose Manzanar Pilgrimages.
I have never been more proud to be a Nikkei!