On April 21, the Manzanar Committee announced that, in lieu of the traditional Manzanar Pilgrimage, held annually at the Manzanar National Historic Site, this year’s program will be a “Virtual Manzanar Pilgrimage,” to be released on the committee’s website on Saturday, April 25.
“We are compelled to have something this year,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey. “Even without the power of place, we can be there in spirit, at least. We felt the need to continue our tradition of honoring our families while raising our voices to demand that our nation learn the lessons of Executive Order 9066 so that we never forget
“Clearly, with all that is happening today with the despicable anti-immigrant, anti-Asian hysteria and the whipping up of racism and xenophobia by so many elected officials, it made it impossible for us to not raise our voices, joining many others who have been speaking out against hatred, persecution, and the calls for rolling back our civil and constitutional rights.
“This year, while we cannot walk the same ground our families did, while deprived of their rights and behind barbed wire, we must continue to tell their and our story, to remember how our families endured camp.”
“We should remember that our community came together to demand justice and today, stands with other communities as they face persecution because they seek refuge and better lives for their families. We must continue to raise our voices louder than ever to remind our country that democratic and civil rights for all people must always be what this country is about.”
This year’s Virtual Manzanar Pilgrimage video will mostly follow the format of past Manzanar Pilgrimages, as well as its traditional spirit.
“Historically our pilgrimage has tried to honor our families and our community, and to respect their sacrifices to thrive under the most difficult conditions,” Embrey noted. “Not just in camp, but before and after, facing so many legal and societal obstacles, our elders still built vibrant Japantowns. We try to convey that in each pilgrimage, and it’s no different with our 51st annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, even though we won’t actually be at Manzanar.”
The Virtual Manzanar Pilgrimage will feature long-time community leader and mentor Alan Nishio, a pivotal figure in the successful fight for redress, who helped found the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (NCRR; now known as Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress), serving as its Southern California co-chair from 1980 to 1990.
Nishio, who has also played an important role with the Little Tokyo Service Center since its earliest years, having served on its board since 1984, received the Manzanar Committee’s Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award in 2017. He has also worked directly with Japanese American college students, helping nurture their growth as future community leaders, work that continues today.
The Virtual Manzanar Pilgrimage will be dedicated to former Manzanar incarceree, former Manzanar Committee member, and author of the book “Manzanar to Mount Whitney: The Life and Times of a Lost Hiker,” Hank Umemoto, who passed away on Dec. 22, 2019, at the age of 91.
“We decided to dedicate this year’s pilgrimage to the memory of Hank Umemoto, an amazing example of the strength and character of our Nisei elders,” said Embrey. “Hank, always dignified and smiling, endured his teen-age years at Manzanar. He returned decades later to lead tours as a docent at the Manzanar National Historic Site. His attitude towards life and dedication to our community is an example for us all.”
Also featured in the Virtual Manzanar Pilgrimage are student/poet Sara Omura, who will recite her award-winning poem, “Has Anything Really Changed,” accompanied on the guitar by her father, Glenn Suravech; Jason Muljadi of the Nikkei Student Union at UCLA; and more.
The Virtual Manzanar Pilgrimage will be available online at https://manzanarcommittee.org in the afternoon hours on April 25.
For more information, call (323) 662-5102 or go to https://manzanarcommittee.org/contact-us.