April 29, 2006 - Manzanar Pilgrimage


Student photo caption:  Students getting involved. L to R: Esumi Fujimoto, Todd Shima, Miyako Abe, Hytham Rashid, Sondra Morishima, Justin Fong, Annie Kim Noguchi, Michelle Fong, Beth Uno, & Kim Mee Staley. (Photo by Stan Umeda).


Florin Manzanar group photo caption: 1st Florin JACL Manzanar Pilgrimage in front of camp monument with the Sierra Nevada Mountains in background.  55 people of diverse backgrounds attended.  (Photo by Mike Namba).


Muslim & Japanese American photo caption: New friends.  L to R: Maren Shawesh, Florin Manzanar internee Carol Hironaka, & Dina El-Nakhal. (Photo by Marion Hironaka Cowee).


Florin JACL Manzanar Pilgrimage - Walking In Their Footsteps

By Andy Noguchi & Twila Tomita


     The 55 sojourners hiked the dusty, parched grounds of the Manzanar Internment Camp on April 29th, walking in the footsteps of the 600 Florin Japanese Americans forced from the ir homes in 1942. 


     Like the Nikkei before the m traveling under the cloud of the December 7th Pearl Harbor attack, this diverse group of Americans of Japanese, Muslim, Chinese, Jewish, Filipino, Korean, and European ancestry journeyed in the shadow of 9/11. 


     This adventuresome crew from the Sacramento area, in this first organized effort, undertook this 350 mile pilgrimage / 8 hour bus ride spanning 3 days to traverse the Sierra Nevadas down Highway 395, past Bishop, and finally arrive at Manzanar. Former internee, Hiroko Saigo, remarked that, “ the ride reminded her of a long trip to a former destination in Gila River camp,” though a lot nicer, of course.


     People on the protracted ride expressed that the y wanted to learn first-hand about the wartime stories of the Issei & Nisei.  Some wondered about what lessons this might hold after 9/11.


     With ages ranging from 7 to mid-80s, the assembly later absorbed the tales of camp hardship told by National Park Ranger Richard Potashin as the y trudged through the barracks foundation, mess hall, and rock garden areas. 


     Who could forget the women’s latrine building with pipes for the toilets placing strangers nearly cheek-to-cheek?  No partitions shielding modesty in the early months.  The walk brought back vivid memories for the dozen Nisei and older Sansei in the group.


     The topnotch museum, housed in the renovated Manzanar gymnasium, impressed all.  Carol Hironaka, a former Manzanar internee, saw her name etched on the expansive plexi-glass wall listing the names of over 10,000 inhabitants. The names of my two uncles, orphans in the Children’s Village, stood out for me.


     The cemetery interfaith ceremony, led by Shinto, Buddhist, and Christian priests, invited people to pay the ir respects by offering carnations.  Some made o the r offerings. Our group, with the planning of Annie Kim Noguchi, had folded origami paper cranes along our journey. Several of our ten students presented the cranes.


     The five Muslim friends in our group, Dina El-Nakhal & Maren Shawesh dressed in traditional hajib scarves, represented Americans of the Islamic faith.  


     The L.A. Manzanar Committee drew over 500 people to its 37th annual day program - a massive & valuable undertaking. 


     The Manzanar After Dusk program in Lone Pine drew several hundred, mostly college students from the San Francisco Bay Area and Sou the rn California .  Camp Dance by the Grateful Crane Ensemble wowed the audience by expertly telling the poignant, moving, and humorous stories through lively song, dance, and dramatic numbers. 


     Small circle group discussions offered students a chance to talk to those who had lived the camp experience first-hand. Mary Yaskukawa, a former Tule Lake internee, said the importance of the se discussions was driven home to her. Most of the students said parents & grandparents never talked about the camps. 


     Walking among the groups, you could see Nisei veterans, draft resisters, and those whose families were No-No Boys generously sharing the ir stories and the impossible choices the government forced upon the m. Most of the discussion facilitators turned out to be our Florin pilgrimage members!


     A young Muslim man in our group, Mike Fauzy, unexpectedly made his way onto the stage during the open mic session.  He courageously shared his fears as a Muslim American when many people ignorantly cast suspicion on his community after 9/11. 


     Karen Kurasaki, Florin Chapter President, expressed the empathy felt by the audience when she called on all to support Mike Fauzy and our Muslim neighbors.  People responded with a moving standing ovation.   Wayne Maeda, Asian American Studies professor at CSU-Sacramento, later publicly thanked Karen saying, “We’ve all made a commitment to stand up for each o the r.”


     As we journeyed back after 3 days toge the r, many people shared the ir thoughts & feelings. Joyce Eng, head of the Chinese American Council (CACS), disclosed that she “had been to two o the r internment camps before, Angel Island and Ellis Island”, where many immigrants had been imprisoned. This was her first chance to hear people share the ir stories.


     The pilgrimage provided a lesson for Dina El-Nakhal of the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR). She “felt the sense of strength and pride from all the internees”  “They had an amazing resilient spirit – of looking forward.”


     One of the youth, Esumi Fujimoto, a Davis student, shared her thoughts. She “valued every single word said on the trip. It’s really important for us young people to get out and be educated.  We’re not learning about people’s personal experiences in school, just what’s in a text book.”


     Temple B’nai Israel member, JoAnn Solov, found a renewed commitment. “With the Muslim community feeling victimization, we really have to have a stronger presence with the m, solidarity.”


      As the pilgrimage ended, we were no longer just 55 individuals or members of the Florin JACL , CAIR, CACS, Temple B’nai Israel , Nikkei Singles Club, Asian American Studies Departments, or o the r groups.  Along the journey’s way, we opened our eyes, listened, and learned from each o the r.


     As Stan Umeda, a former Jerome internee, put it, “What started out as just a trip, by traveling toge the r and sharing with people, it turned into a pilgrimage.”  By the end of our journey, we had walked in the footsteps of the original 600 Florin Manzanar internees, paid our respects, made new friendships, and renewed our commitment to being vigilant today.


     Andy Noguchi & Twila Tomita served as the chairperson and assistant chair of the pilgrimage. For fur the r information on the Florin JACL , please see www.florinjacl.com  



Japanese American Citizens League, Florin Chapter

PO Box 292634, Sacramento, CA  95829-2634