Manzanar Pilgrimage 2018
Manzanar. It's a word I heard a lot growing up Japanese-American in California. It was one of the prison camps that the American government sent Japanese and Japanese-Americans to during WWII in the name of national security. 120,000 Japanese Americans were told to bring only what they could carry, and were sent to live in prison camps for four years. The conditions they lived in lacked human dignity, safety and were often in places like Manzanar - in the middle of the desert. At the end of the war, not one person was tried for treason or found to be a risk to national security. 120,000,000 lives. Four years.
When I was growing up in Los Angeles, my parents would take us on summer and winter trips to Mammoth Mountain. Manzanar was on the way, so we'd stop and they'd tell us that it was our responsibility to make sure that what happened there never happens again. At the time, there wasn't much at Manzanar. A lot of what happened there had been erased, with the possibility of our dark history being forgotten.
But it wasn't forgotten. Not by my friend whose grandfather went blind in the camps because he didn't get the medical care he needed. Or my other friend, whose father was separated from his father for months, not knowing if he was alive or if he'd ever return to their family. Or a family friend, who I lovingly call my auntie, who still experiences inter-generational trauma, along with her siblings. This auntie writes me letters each month, sending me newspaper clippings and sharing her story of living in Tule Lake as a child. She doesn't have children of her own and I've promised her to keep this legacy alive, and to continue sharing stories so this never happens to any people ever again.
Last month, I visited Manzanar with Bryan and my parents for the annual Manzanar pilgrimage. Because of a group of passionate volunteers (descendants and friends of descendants like me), Manzanar now boasts a theater, museum, and replicas of the barracks that Japanese-Americans lived in. It is not just recognized as a state historic site, but a National Historic Site. Despite my disappointment with the current state of affairs, Manzanar is a reminder that regular people like you and I have the power to make a difference, to support marginalized communities and have our voices heard. The part that I found most uplifting was that a majority of the people who attended the pilgrimage were young, like me, with many years ahead of us to make a difference. Attendees were also from diverse cultural backgrounds, many from marginalized communities today. It told me that our legacy as Japanese-Americans gives people hope; what an incredible honor and responsibility.
Manzanar, located in Lone Pine in the Owens Valley (Southern California), is open Monday - Friday from 9am - 4:30pm, except December 25th. The next pilgrimage
Scroll down to see more from my trip to Manzanar...