Sharing stories and experiences from the unjust incarceration of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II and connecting this history to present-day issues will be the focus of the 2017 Manzanar At Dusk program, sponsored by the Manzanar Committee, from 5 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 29, at the Lone Pine High School gymnasium, located at 538 S. Main St. (U.S. Highway 395) in Lone Pine (across the street from McDonald’s).
Manzanar At Dusk follows the 48th annual Manzanar Pilgrimage that same day at the Manzanar National Historic Site, between the towns of Lone Pine and Independence, approximately 230 miles north of Los Angeles.
A performance by UCLA Kyodo Taiko will open the pilgrimage at 11:30 a.m., while the main portion of the program starts at 12 p.m.
Now in its 20th year, Manzanar At Dusk is co-sponsored by the Nikkei Student Unions at CSU Long Beach, Cal Poly Pomona, UCLA, and UC San Diego.
Through a creative presentation, small group discussions, and an open mic session, participants will have the opportunity to interact with former incarcerees in attendance and others to hear their personal stories. Participants will also be able to share their own experiences and discuss the relevance of the Japanese American Incarceration experience to present-day issues.
“Manzanar At Dusk is important because Japanese American Incarceration is something that not a lot of people know a lot about,” said Riana Seto, UCSD Nikkei Student Union president. “Books only talk about the camps in one small paragraph, history lectures don’t cover Executive Order 9066, and it’s not a common topic that’s talked about outside the Japanese American community. Even I didn’t know much about it until three years ago, and I’m Japanese American.
“Instead of educating people about the mistakes the U.S. government made, schools and textbooks try to brush it off and now we’re seeing the same thing happening today to Muslims in this country.
“This year is significant, not only because it’s the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 and the 25th anniversary of Manzanar being designated as a National Historic Site, but also because of the issues today with racial profiling and exclusion of a group of people. We see many parallels between Executive Order 9066 and the recent executive order to stop citizens from six Muslim countries from entering the United States.
“In 1942, we had a fear of a certain race. Today, we have fear of a certain religion, both leading to the persecution of an entire group of people. We always say never let this history repeat itself and to never forget. But now, history is repeating itself and it’s up to us to stand up for those facing what many of our ancestors faced 75 years ago and educate those around us.”
As Seto alluded, Manzanar At Dusk is also an opportunity to raise awareness of this dark chapter in American History among young Japanese Americans, who are now at least one or two generations removed from the incarceration experience.
“My grandma passed away a little bit after I was born and so I did not personally know her that well,” said Lauren Matsumoto of the UCSD Nikkei Student Union. “So I leaned towards my grandpa to help understand the injustices that occurred for him. He was willing to discuss his memories whenever I would ask him for a research paper or because of my interest, yet his answers were always short. There was this shame that I could see my grandpa felt for having to face such a situation.
“At the end of last year, he passed away. Even though his death saddens me when I think about it, it has pushed me to be more outspoken about the injustices he faced in order to never let his stories fade and never let this dark part of history fade. I believe once we forget this happened, it will happen again.”
Engaging and educating youth and empowering them to take responsibility for passing on what they’ve learned are key components of the program.
“Manzanar At Dusk is an integral component of the Manzanar Pilgrimage program,” said Wendi Yamashita, co-coordinator of the program. “For the Manzanar Committee, it’s important for us to collaborate with Japanese American college students to not only provide opportunities for mentorship, but also to learn what is important to them. Strengthening these bonds between our organization and students is an important part of the pilgrimage’s legacy.”
“While working in Japan for three years, I watched the political climate in the United States drastically change and seemingly become closer to a society that I had always thought was in the past,” said Carly Lindley, co-coordinator of Manzanar At Dusk. “I knew that if I went back home I would have to participate in this social discussion. This is when I became determined to work with the Manzanar Committee upon my return and hopefully, have a positive impact on my community, no longer as a college student, but as an adult.
“As a college student, I worked alongside my peers and the Manzanar Committee to organize the Manzanar At Dusk program for two years. I gained a lot of insight and knowledge about why it’s important for people, not just Japanese Americans, to remember and be exposed to Manzanar and the experiences of those who suffered during that time.”
Both the daytime pilgrimage and Manzanar At Dusk are free and open to the public. As buses to the pilgrimage will return to the Los Angeles area that evening, Manzanar At Dusk participants must provide their own transportation.
For more information, call (323) 662-5102 or email [email protected]