The Manzanar Committee has announced that long-time community activist and mentor Alan Nishio will be the keynote speaker for the 51st annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, sponsored by the Manzanar Committee, scheduled for Saturday, April 25, 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.
Manzanar was the first of the American concentration camps in which more than 120,000 Japanese Americans and their immigrant parents were unjustly incarcerated during World War II. Each year, more than 1,000 people from all walks of life attend the Manzanar Pilgrimage, including students, teachers, community members, clergy and former incarcerees.
Planning is under way for the daytime event, as well as for the annual Manzanar At Dusk program, which follows each pilgrimage that same evening.
Cultural performances will begin at 11:30 a.m., while the main portion of the pilgrimage begins at 12 p.m.
Nishio, 74, was born on Aug. 9, 1945, at the Manzanar concentration camp. His activism and leadership work go back to the days of the Free Speech Movement in the late 1960s at UC Berkeley, where he helped form the Asian American Political Alliance.
In the 1970s, Nishio worked with the Japanese American Citizens League, and with Japanese American Community Services-Asian Involvement (JACS-AI), which provided “Serve the People” programs in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. That work eventually led Nishio and fellow activists to form the Little Tokyo People’s Rights Organization (LTPRO), which fought to protect long-time residents and small businesses during the late-1970s redevelopment of Little Tokyo, when large Japanese corporations and local politicians attempted to gobble up a large portion of Little Tokyo without regard to the interests and needs of the community.
A pivotal figure in the successful fight for redress, Nishio helped found the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (now known as Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress), serving as its Southern California co-chair from 1980 to 1990.
Nishio has also played an important role with the Little Tokyo Service Center since its earliest years, having served on its board since 1984.
He also worked in higher education, helping found the UCLA Asian American Studies Center in 1969 and serving as its director for more than two years. In 1972, he became an administrator at CSU Long Beach, where he retired in 2007 as associate vice president, student services.
Nishio, who received the Manzanar Committee’s Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award in 2017, has also worked directly with Japanese American college students, helping nurture their growth as future community leaders — work that continues today.
“Alan’s impact on a wide range of issues, from the redress movement, as one of the principal founders of NCRR, to Asian American studies, and the fight for affordable housing and to preserve Little Tokyo, is indelible,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey. “Even though he has received numerous awards and wide recognition, his impact on issues, organizations, and as a role model for young activists, is remarkable.
“The redress movement was a perfect blend of community organizing and legislative lobbying. The broader civil rights movement was both inspiring and instructive, and Alan always worked to build bridges to, and relationships with, other communities. His perspective and keen understanding of how we, a relatively small community, managed to win redress nearly 32 years ago is particularly relevant today.
“The expanded Muslim ban, the constant assault on our democratic institutions, and the rise of right-wing vigilantes threaten everyone’s rights. Alan’s life experience equips him to help us all understand what’s going on, as well as what we must do to defend and expand our civil rights.
“Although he has always said that the fight for social justice is a marathon, Alan’s activism and fighting spirit have always had the intensity and determination of a sprinter. Alan is uniquely qualified to speak at this year’s pilgrimage, given the political turmoil rocking our country. We are very proud and honored to have him as our keynote speaker.”
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, but participants are asked to bring a refillable water bottle that can be filled on site.
Those who wish to participate in the traditional flower offering during the interfaith service are advised to bring their own flowers.
The Manzanar At Dusk program, which is co-sponsored by the Nikkei Student Unions at CSU Fullerton, CSU Long Beach, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, UCLA, UC Riverside, and UC San Diego, will follow a couple of hours after the Manzanar Pilgrimage at 5 p.m. at Lone Pine High School, 538 S. Main St. (U.S. Highway 395), approximately eight miles south of the Manzanar National Historic Site, across the street from McDonald’s.
Further details about the Pilgrimage and the Manzanar At Dusk program will be announced at a later date.
Bus transportation to the pilgrimage will be available from Little Tokyo. Reservations for the bus will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. The non-refundable donation is $50 per seat. Complimentary seats are available for those who were incarcerated at any of the former American concentration camps or other confinement sites during World War II.
Bento lunches are also available for those traveling on the bus for $15 each.
Anyone wishing to attend the Manzanar At Dusk program should make other transportation arrangements.
For more information, or to reserve a seat on the Little Tokyo bus, go to https://manzanarcommittee.org/51st-bus or call (323) 662-5102.
Those wishing to sponsor a bus seat, or otherwise help defray the rising costs of sponsoring the pilgrimage and Manzanar At Dusk, are encouraged to make a donation by sending a check, payable to the Manzanar Committee, 1566 Curran St., Los Angeles, 90025-2036, or by donating online at https://manzanarcommittee.org/donate.
Both the Manzanar Pilgrimage and Manzanar At Dusk are free and open to the public.