The Los Angeles-based Manzanar Committee announced Monday that Rose Ochi, a key figure in the establishment of the Manzanar National Historic Site, and long-time pro bono legal counsel for the Manzanar Committee, has been chosen as the 2012 recipient of the Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award.
The award, named after the late chair of the Manzanar Committee who was one of the founders of the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage and was the driving force behind the creation of the Manzanar National Historic Site, will be presented at the 43rd annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, scheduled for Saturday, April 28, at 12 noon 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.
Ochi, 72, a native of Los Angeles, was three years old when she was shipped off to Rohwer, Ark., one of the ten American concentration camps where over 110,000 West Coast Japanese Americans, along with their immigrant parents, were unjustly incarcerated during World War II.
After the war, Ochi returned to Los Angeles and went on to become an attorney, a civil rights activist, and a shrewd, highly effective political insider at local, state and federal levels. She often used those talents in support of various causes, most notably during the Japanese American community’s fight for redress and her involvement with efforts to preserve and protect Manzanar.
“As a community activist, Sue lent her voice in the fight for social justice in what was viewed to be ‘unpopular causes,’ such as workers’ rights, farm workers, and feminism,” Ochi said in her tribute to Embrey during the 38th annual Manzanar Pilgrimage on April 28, 2007. “For a Nikkei woman of her generation, this took a lot of guts because the negative consequence of her public outcries was that she risked being ostracized by her own community.”
“After Sue was carted off to Manzanar, she could have, understandably, become embittered and defeated,” Ochi continued. “Instead, experiencing this egregious deprivation of her constitutional rights fueled her passion to work ‘to keeping the memory alive.’”
Ochi worked hand-in-hand with Embrey for 35 years, beginning in 1972.
“For more than 30 years, we had a quixotic journey together,” Ochi noted. “In 1972, I was a public interest lawyer [at the Western Center on Law and Poverty]. Sue asked me to serve as legal counsel for the Manzanar Committee. I provided legislative advice and political support for Sue to realize her mission — the establishment of the Manzanar National Historic Site.”
“Honoring Rose Ochi is long overdue,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey, son of Sue Kunitomi Embrey. “Rose is one of a handful of unique Nisei women who played pivotal roles in the struggle for redress.”
“In so many ways, Rose Ochi and my mother were kindred spirits,” he added. “Both overcame the sexism of their time to become teachers, civil rights advocates, and fierce proponents of redress and reparations.”
Ochi went on to serve on the Manzanar National Historic Site Advisory Commission, succeeding Sue Embrey as chair in its later years.
“While Rose was the Manzanar Committee’s legal counsel, she was no passive ‘counselor,’ offering advice from afar,” Bruce Embrey noted. “Rose and my mother worked closely together from the early days of the struggle for redress, navigating that most difficult period together, all the way to the opening of the Manzanar National Historic Site in 2004.”
“Rose has dedicated decades of her life to civil rights, and to preserving Manzanar, a site where those rights were ignored,” said Alisa Lynch, chief of interpretation at Manzanar National Historic Site. “She has been a key advisor to the National Park Service over the past two decades, particularly as part of the Manzanar Advisory Commission, along with Sue Kunitomi Embrey, and other members of the Japanese American and Owens Valley communities.”
“Manzanar would not be what it is today without their vision and guidance,” added Lynch.
Ochi currently serves as executive director of the California Forensic Science Institute at California State University, Los Angeles.
For more information on the pilgrimage, including bus transportation from Los Angeles, and the popular Manzanar At Dusk program scheduled for 5 p.m. that same evening at Lone Pine High School, check the Manzanar Committee’s official blog at http://blog.manzanarcommittee.org, call (323) 662-5102, or email [email protected]
You can also follow the Manzanar Committee on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/ManzanarCommittee) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/manzanarcomm).