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Japanese American internees were honored during a roll call of flags representing all 10 WRA camps. Photos: Charles James

By Charles James, Contributor

Most of the adults incarcerated at Manzanar, one of 10 American concentration camps that opened in 1942 during World War II, are now no longer alive. The same is true for many of the children. Today, more than ever, the Manzanar Committee realizes the importance of honoring and preserving the memory of the injustices visited upon Japanese Americans in the past so that future generations will be vigilant against the dangers of racism and the threats it poses to the civil liberties of all Americans.

“Watashi wa Manzanar: Continuing Our Civil Rights Legacy” was the theme of this year’s 46th Manzanar Pilgrimage, which took place April 25 at the Manzanar National Historic Site located in California’s Owens Valley.

2015-4-25_Manzanar Pilgrimage (2) -Keynote Speaker Dr. Satsuki Ina, a community activist, licensed Marriage and Family therapist, and an award-winning filmmaker.

Keynote Speaker Dr. Satsuki Ina, a community activist, licensed marriage and family therapist and an award-winning filmmaker

“Watashi wa Manzanar” is Japanese for “I am Manzanar.”  An estimated crowd of more than 1,200 attended this year’s pilgrimage to lay claim to that message.

The first Manzanar Pilgrimage began in 1969. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the camp’s closing in 1945, and the Manzanar Committee felt it had an obligation to current and future generations to leave a legacy of remembrance. Why?

2015-4-25_Manzanar Pilgrimage (20) - Bruce Kunitomi Embry, co-chair of the Manzanar Committee, gave the closing remarks

Bruce Embrey, co-chair of the Manzanar Committee, gave the closing remarks.

As explained by Bruce Embrey, co-chair of the Manzanar Committee, everyone needs to be reminded that “xenophobia and anti-immigrant hysteria, persecution of people of color and with different faiths continues to rear its ugly head.” Embrey added that “we must remember so that America does not forget. This is our civil rights legacy.”

In his closing remarks at the end of the ceremony, during which he also honored this year’s recipient of the 2015 Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award, Rev. Paul T. Nakamura, Embrey told the audience:

“You see, remembering is not passive. We must act on our memories. We must stand, today, with all those who face civil rights abuses, stand with those who are unjustly accused or persecuted simply because of their faith, their birthplace or ancestry. We must stand up for others if we are to truly honor the sacrifices of our families of our obasans, ojisans and all the sacrifices they made so that we may pursue our dreams. We must act if we are to be true to our community and true to our country.”

2015-4-25_Manzanar Pilgrimage (9) - Even the Publisher of The Sheet braved the elements with his two daughters in tow.

More than 1,200 attendees took part in the 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage.

This year’s keynote speaker was Dr. Satsuki Ina, a community activist, licensed marriage and family therapist and award-winning filmmaker who has conducted groups for Japanese Americans who, like herself, were children in America’s concentration camps.

“We are here today on a healing journey to remember and tell the truth of our experience,” she told the gathered audience. “We are here today to claim our history, ‘Watashi wa Manzanar!’

“It’s difficult to speak of such things,” Ina continued. “Experts on collective/community trauma say that the human response to such humiliation is to be silent, distort and diminish the suffering, and even to wipe the memory away — in an effort to preserve some sense of human dignity.”

This is what she said explained the silence of many that suffered during their incarceration as seen in the 1973 book “Farewell to Manzanar,” written by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. It is an example, says Ina, ”. . . that internalized the unspoken and accepting the government narrative that was imposed on those incarcerated at the camps.”

Ina continued, “Slowly the language of our experience has been challenged and the narrative of our incarceration has changed. Slowly our words are landing on the true experience of our family’s struggles. The Evacuation to Assembly Centers and transfer to Relocation Centers of alien and non-alien Japanese from the West Coast is now recognized as deliberate euphemisms that made it possible to compromise our most fundamental rights as citizens and as human beings.”

Ina explained that “it means WE write our narrative, tell our story, using the language of our truth. We claim our loss, suffering, grief, anger, sorrow. And we claim our strength, resilience, endurance, giri, gaman, gambatte — we are claiming our Japanese heritage as we go forward in our healing.”

At the end of her speech, Ina said: “We will challenge the myth that we are the model minority to be held up to other oppressed people in our society. Instead, we will stand in unity as allies, proudly knowing, ‘I am Manzanar! Watashi wa Manzanar! WE are Manzanar! Watashi-tachi wa Manzanar!’”

Visit for full transcripts of this year’s pilgrimage speeches.