Hundreds surround the memorial in the Manzanar cemetery for an interfaith service on Saturday at the 44th annual Manzanar Pilgrimage.

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu English Editor
Photos by MARIO G. REYES

“No more Manzanar, no more waterboarding, no more Abu Ghraib!” declared Rev. Dickson Yagi, invoking past and recent human rights injustices during a solemn interfaith service held at the monument in the Manzanar cemetery on Saturday.

The religious services, encompassing Buddhist, Christian and Shinto faiths, were held during the 44th annual Manzanar Pilgrimage. More than 800 returned once again to the former concentration camp to remember and reflect upon the Japanese Americans who were incarcerated at Manzanar during World War II. The pilgrimage is sponsored annually by the Manzanar Committee.

Nine buses brought visitors from Southern and Northern California. Student groups participating included Scripps College, All Saints Church (Pasadena), Florin JACL, CAIR, L.A. Academy Middle School, United Teachers of Los Angeles and the Nikkei Student Unions of Cal Poly, Pomona, Cal State Long Beach, UCLA and UC San Diego. UCLA Kyodo Taiko kicked off the program with a taiko drum performance.

The Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award was given to City of L.A. Board of Public Works Commissioner Warren Furutani. The honor, also known as the Baka Guts Award, was presented by Bruce Embrey, center, and Kerry Kunitomi Cababa.

“We are so glad to host you here. For us this is our most important day of the year, so we’re glad you are all here,” said Les Inafuku, superintendent of the Manzanar National Historic Site. “Manzanar and the pilgrimage are not just about the incarceration of Japanese Americans; both the pilgrimage and Manzanar have a vibrant relevance to today’s world.”

Manzanar was one of the ten camps that Japanese and Japanese Americans were confined in during World War II and is the best preserved of the sites. Ongoing projects include the development of Block 14, currently featuring Barracks 1 and 8. Friends of Manzanar are raising funds to reconstruct the laundry room, ironing room, and men’s and women’s latrines. Staff and volunteers have also recently excavated William Katsuki’s garden at Block 24, Barracks 5.

On Saturday, National Park Service staff offered free water bottles to visitors and for the first time, erected a large tent for attendees to take refuge from the heat, which climbed into the upper 80s.

Warren Furutani, recently appointed to the Los Angeles City Board of Public Works, was awarded the Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award. As a member of the State Assembly, Furutani coauthored legislation establishing the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution in the state of California on Jan. 30, Korematsu’s birthday.

Furutani, one of the organizers of the first pilgrimage in 1969, recalled those days when he was a leftist anti-war protester, looking for a cause for Japanese Americans to claim as their own. He shared memories of driving with Victor Shibata on an undulating dirt road and seeing the cemetery monument for the first time.

UCLA Kyodo Taiko were among the performers to provide spirit and entertainment throughout the day.

“As we got closer, it was such a dramatic symbol and vision. That you could see the monument with the backdrop of the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. This is the thing about interpretation, I appreciate the fence around the cemetery but I still wish we had the barbed wire because that said it all,” Furutani recalled. “We came back here again, cleaned up the monument. We had this beacon of light that we called upon to interpret the issues … that was Sue Embrey, she was a young Nisei and the editor of the Manzanar Free Press.”

Karen Korematsu, daughter of Fred Korematsu and founder of the Korematsu Institute, noted that this was her first pilgrimage. Touring the barracks in 2011 for the first time, she said she was overcome with emotion.

“My heart just sunk and I cried because I thought of my grandmother, this lovely Issei woman who came to America in hopes of it being a better country and life. And to have it all taken away from her and realizing that the conditions here were deplorable,” said Korematsu.

“I charge you when you go from here today, to tell people what happened here. Tell people what you learned and share your own stories. Please remember my father’s words–when you see something wrong, don’t be afraid to speak up.”

Hank Umemoto, a docent at the Manzanar Visitors Center, read from his recently published book, “Manzanar to Whitney: The Life and Times of a Lost Hiker.” Umemoto first recalled seeing Mt. Whitney as a teenager in Manzanar, and would climb it more than 10 times, the first when he was 71.

“Freedom is not something you should take for granted, it is something to work and fight for in our Nisei way,” said Umemoto.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, 10 banners representing the wartime camps were carried in a procession to the cemetery. Brian Maeda, who was born in Manzanar, carried the Manzanar banner along with Pat Sakamoto. Maeda is currently working on a film on the Tule Lake reunciants called “We Said, ‘No, No!”

“A lot of people don’t know that Manzanar had 10,000 people. There were 2,000 who said no-no who were shipped to Tule Lake. It’s a big part of our history that people don’t know about,” Maeda said.

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  1. The healing of the “no no” Japanese American and the JACL is long overdue.