By MO NISHIDA
2011 is the year of the bunny. It is significant for me because it represents a milestone in my life. This year will be the 20th year of the 250-mile “Lil Tokyo to Manzanar Spiritual Unity and Prayer Run.”
Twenty years ago, in 1992, we, the “Iron Circle Nation Sweatlodge Circle,” were going to hold the first-ever Los Angeles Indigenous Elders Gathering. Misako, my wife, and I were part of the circle and we wanted to contribute a Japanese/Asian Pacific perspective to our support.
I have always thought of the nearness of Manzanar as a beacon for the reemergence of a positive Japanese/Asian Pacific ethnic identity. Ever since 1969, when the first Manzanar Pilgrimage took place, I remember “General” Jim Matsuoka (of the B.J.’s) telling us that we not only lost our freedom when they put us in camp, but we had also lost our souls. When I thought about it, I knew he was right, at least for me.
Why else had we picked Manzanar as the focal point for the re-emergence of our positive identity? When no one wanted to even acknowledge its existence? Why else did we pick the color yellow as our status in America when the color was seen as the color of cowards, as in: “yellow-bellied cowards”? Why else did we discard the term “Oriental” and take on “Asian” as our identity?
Those early pilgrimages were solid for my development, being a part of the unification that we were building and the positive identity and image that emerged in that process.
Later on, a change gradually took place and I faded away. When I went back, I knew why I had left, but I still needed Manzanar.
In 1991 to support and put up a positive prayer for the success of the “Elders Gathering,” a committee was formed with veterans who had gone to Wounded Knee in 1973 to support traditional elders at Pine Ridge, South Dakota and some who had gone to Big Mountain, Arizona later on to support traditional Native American elders in their struggle to survive in their traditional ways. We gathered to talk about a project to support the “Traditional Elders Gathering.”
After some discussion, the run to Manzanar was suggested and it was decided to try it. From the beginning, it was felt that our political principles needed to be stated along with the practices that went with them. Our meetings are conducted on the principle that all have the right and freedom to speak their minds and the responsibility to listen and show respect. Our spiritual intent would be shown by the prayers that we would have and that this whole Manzanar run would be our prayer ceremony.
Our principles of unity as I understood them were: Peace with justice 1) in the world, opposing unjust wars; 2) in the community, healing the wounds created by World War II and the mass incarceration; 3) in our families, such as between the generations; 4) in ourselves, such as the denial of our ancestry. And support for traditional peoples to practice their own way of life and to promote their own way of life, such as the “Traditional Elders Gathering.”
I run (walk) because I consider myself a child of America’s concentration camps, being ages 6 through 9, the most formative years of child development. And I do remember much that makes me mad and I can now tell people about what I consciously know. But that’s the problem — there’s a lot that isn’t conscious.
Example: at Santa Anita during the riot when the troops came in, me and my mom were standing there watching them, when this huge truck stopped right in front of us. We could see this young white soldier shaking in his boots. His hands were holding a large machine gun mounted on the truck, pointed directly at us. My mother got sick right after that and couldn’t be with us, my dad told me. Later I found out that she had a nervous breakdown.
I can still see the guard’s face, his shaking hands holding the machine gun. My problem? I see his face, but there’s no emotion, no anger, no fear. I know I must have been scared as hell; my mom was. I see his face and I feel nothing. Do I think there is something there? Damn right!
And that’s one of the reasons that I run (walk now) to Manzanar — to try and dig that monster out. If I could get that out, I might have a chance at 100 years old. My dad lived to 90 and his mom (my Bachan) lived to 99. Of course, I know it isn’t just about living long; your life has to have some meaning and content.
To find out more about the Manzanar run, contact Mo Nishida by email or (323) 371-4502. Vox Populi is a forum for the community. Contributions to Vox Populi may be sent 138 Onizuka St., Los Angeles, CA 90012, Attn: Editor, or emailed. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.