The Manzanar Committee announced on April 12 that long-time religious leader and community activist Rev. Paul T. Nakamura, pastor of Lutheran Oriental Church in Torrance, has been chosen as the 2015 recipient of the Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award.
The award, named after the late chair of the Manzanar Committee who was also 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 46th annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, scheduled for 12 p.m. on Saturday, April 25, at the Manzanar National Historic Site, located on U.S. Highway 395 in Owens Valley, between the towns of Lone Pine and Independence.
Nakamura, 88, a native of Waialua, Oahu, served in the U.S. Army as part of the occupation forces in Japan and Okinawa after World War II. He went on to become a minister in the Los Angeles area and quickly immersed himself in the struggle for civil rights, including the Manzanar Pilgrimage and the fight for redress for Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated in concentration camps during World War II.
Even though one of his brothers, his wife, Kikuno, and her family were forced to endure life behind the barbed wire, Nakamura, who was not incarcerated during the war, knew little about what the Japanese American community had been forced to endure.
“When I came [to the Los Angeles area], I met some of my wife’s family in Upland, Calif.,” Nakamura said during an oral history conducted by the staff at Manzanar National Historic Site. “I heard them talking about Manzanar. I had no clue what Manzanar was. I had no clue about anything regarding Manzanar, or what the camps [were]about. All I knew was that they went to camp. That was about it, so my interest in camp wasn’t that much. I wasn’t even aware of a pilgrimage.”
In the early 1970s, just after the first organized Manzanar Pilgrimage in 1969, all that changed.
“Rev. Grant Kimura, minister of San Fernando Holiness Church (now Crossway Church of the San Fernando Valley), came to me and said that he’s been going to the Manzanar Pilgrimage and he was having a Christian service,” Nakamura recalled. “He asked if I could go this one time, because he had to go to one of the other camps. I said, ‘OK,’ and from then on, it was every year.”
Nakamura quickly became the primary organizer of the interfaith service during the Manzanar Pilgrimage. But he took his involvement one step further by becoming a member of the Manzanar Committee, and remaining actively involved for decades.
Nakamura also immersed himself in the beginnings of the fight for redress in the late 1970s and early 1980s as one of the founding members of the Los Angeles Community Coalition on Redress/Reparations, which became the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (NCRR; now Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress).
“Rev. Paul Nakamura didn’t experience camp directly, but he has this passion, understanding and a complete appreciation for how the forced removal impacted the Japanese American community,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey. “He understood, more than most, the importance of going to Manzanar in order to reclaim and remember what happened there, and not just in passive way. He knew that we had to go back to Manzanar to remember, understand and appreciate its relevance to the struggles for civil rights and social justice that were going on at the time.
“Rev. Paul is an amazing leader of faith who understands and practices his beliefs in the gospel from a justice perspective. His ministry is thoroughly bound with the quest for justice and civil rights for all people, and he sees his ministry as being part and parcel of that. The fact that he was a member of the Manzanar Committee, and played a critical role, is because he saw the Manzanar Pilgrimage and the struggle for redress and reparations and part and parcel of the broader struggle for justice, equality and fairness in our society.
“He brought that to his ministry, and I think he brought his ministry to that broader movement. He is one of those rare, precious faith leaders who did that.
“This year we’re pleased to recognize Rev. Paul for all of his outstanding contributions to the long struggle for redress and reparations, and for his tireless work on the Manzanar Pilgrimage over the years. Rev. Paul is a true, unsung hero in both the Japanese American and religious communities, not to mention the broader movement for civil rights.”
The Manzanar Committee has also announced that a second bus from Downtown Los Angeles to the pilgrimage is now available, but seats are going fast.
The buses will depart at 7 a.m., arriving at Manzanar at approximately 11:30 a.m., and will also take participants to the Visitors’ Center at the Manzanar National Historic Site following the afternoon program. The buses should arrive back in Los Angeles at approximately 8:30 p.m..
Reservations will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. The non-refundable fare is $40 general, $20 for students and seniors. Complimentary fares are available for those who were incarcerated at any of the American concentration camps or other confinement sites during World War II.
Anyone wishing to attend the Manzanar At Dusk program that evening should make other transportation arrangements.
Pilgrimage participants are advised to 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, which are nearby). Water will be provided at the site.
Both the Manzanar Pilgrimage and Manzanar At Dusk are free and open to the public. For more information, or to reserve a seat on the bus, 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).