Mitchell T. Maki, Ph.D. will be the keynote speaker at the 43rd annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Manzanar Committee, scheduled for noon on Saturday, April 28, at the Manzanar National Historic Site, located on U.S. Highway 395 in California’s Owens Valley, between the towns of Lone Pine and Independence, approximately 230 miles north of Los Angeles.
Each year, over 1,000 people from diverse backgrounds, including students, teachers, clergy and former incarcerates, attend the pilgrimage, which commemorates the unjust imprisonment of over 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry in ten American concentration camps located in the most desolate, isolated regions of the country. Manzanar was the first of these camps to be established.
This year’s pilgrimage will commemorate the 70th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942, authorizing the mass roundup and incarceration of West Coast Japanese Americans during World War II. The event will also commemorate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Manzanar National Historic Site, which was authorized by legislation signed by President George H.W. Bush on March 3, 1992.
The pilgrimage is also significant because of President Barack Obama’s signing of the National Defense Authorization Act into law on Dec. 31, 2011, allowing indefinite detention without charge or trial.
“There is a particular irony and a renewed significance to this year’s Manzanar Pilgrimage,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey. “The question of indefinite detention without due process is once again a real fact of life in this country. For 43 years, we have been demanding that this not happen again, and now, it appears that it is more important than ever to raise our voices in support of our constitutional rights.”
“The fact that those within the halls of Congress and our president would choose to, once again, grant themselves the power to override the fundamental civil rights guaranteed in the Constitution demonstrates why we believe it is so important for us to raise our voices now, and in the future,” added Embrey. “We cannot let the incarceration of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans be forgotten or glossed over. We must use our unique history as a lesson for our country as a whole.
“Apologies and promises to do the right thing are never enough. We must insure that the Bill of Rights be applied to all people, at all times, and that our civil rights are never trampled on like they were during World War II.”
Maki, 50, was the lead author of “Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress,” a detailed case study of the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. The book documents the development of the redress movement from its earliest roots during World War II, the formal introduction of the idea during the 1970s, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, the judicial battles during the 1980s, and the lobbying of the legislative and executive branches in the 1980s and 1990s.
Maki, whose topic will be “Why Remember?,” is the vice provost of academic affairs at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), and has held numerous other administrative positions at the campus. He was also assistant professor in the Department of Social Welfare at UCLA.
“I hope to make the case that the Japanese American incarceration experience, and the subsequent redress movement, are not just a great Japanese American story, but they are a great American story,” he said. “The story is one that is full of lessons for all Americans.”
“These lessons remind us that the strength of our constitutional rights is based only on our willingness to be vigilant in protecting and upholding them, especially in times of crisis,” he added.
The afternoon program, held at the Manzanar cemetery site, will begin with a performance by UCLA Kyodo Taiko, the first collegiate taiko group in North America. It will conclude with the traditional interfaith service, and the traditional onto dancing.
In addition to the daytime program, the popular Manzanar At Dusk (MAD) program follows that same evening, from 5 to 8 p.m., at the Lone Pine High School gymnasium, located at 538 S. Main St. (Highway 395), in Lone Pine, nine miles south of the Manzanar National Historic Site, across the street from McDonald’s.
MAD is co-sponsored by the Lone Pine Unified School District, Lone Pine High School, Cal Poly Pomona Nikkei Student Union, UCLA Nikkei Student Union, and UC San Diego Nikkei Student Union.
Through a creative presentation, small group discussions and an open mic session, MAD participants will have the opportunity to learn about the experiences of those incarcerated in the camps. Participants will also be able to interact with former incarcerees in attendance to hear their personal stories, share their own experiences, and discuss the relevance of the concentration camp experience to present-day events and issues.
The Manzanar Committee has also announced that seats are going fast on its bus to the pilgrimage from Downtown Los Angeles.
The bus will depart at 7 a.m., arriving at Manzanar at approximately 11:30 a.m., and will also take participants to the Interpretive Center at the Manzanar National Historic Site following the afternoon program. The bus should arrive back in Los Angeles at approximately 8:30 p.m.
Bus reservations are still being accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. For further information or to make a reservation, call (323) 662-5102, or email [email protected] The non-refundable fare is $40 per seat.
Those wishing to attend Manzanar At Dusk should make other transportation arrangements.
Pilgrimage participants are advised bring their own lunch, drinks and snacks as there are no facilities to purchase food at the Manzanar National Historic Site (restaurants and fast food outlets are located in Lone Pine and Independence). Water will be provided at the site.
Both the daytime program and the Manzanar At Dusk event are free and open to the public.
For more information, check the Manzanar Committee’s official blog.