Rev. Paul T. Nakagawa is shown here during the interfaith service at the Manzanar cemetery at the 34th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage on April 24, 2004. Photo courtesy of the Manzanar Committee
By P.C. Staff
LOS ANGELES — The Manzanar Committee announced on April 12 that longtime religious leader and community activist Rev. Paul T. Nakamura, pastor of Lutheran Oriental Church in Torrance, Calif., has been chosen as the 2015 recipient of the Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award.
The award, named after the late chair of the Manzanar Committee who was also one of the founders of the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage and the driving force behind the creation of the Manzanar National Historic Site, will be presented at the 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, scheduled to take place on April 25 at the Manzanar National Historic Site located in California’s Owens Valley.
Nakamura, 88, a native of Waialua, Oahu, Hawaii, served in the U.S. Army as part of the occupation forces in Japan and Okinawa after World War II. HE went on to become a minister in the Los Angeles area and quickly immersed himself in the struggle for civil rights, including the Manzanar Pilgrimage and the fight for redress and reparations for Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated in American concentration camps during World War II.
Even though one of his brothers, his wife, Kikuno, and her family were forced to endure life behind the barbed wire, Nakamura, who was not incarcerated during WWII, knew little about what the Japanese American community had been forced to endure.
“When I came [to the Los Angeles area], I met some of my wife’s family in Upland, Calif.,” Nakamura said during an oral history concluded by the staff at the Manzanar National Historic Site. “I heard them talking about Manzanar. I had no clue what Manzanar was. I had no clue about anything regarding Manzanar or what the camps [were] about. All I knew was that they went to camp. That was about it, so my interest in camp wasn’t that much. I wasn’t even aware of a pilgrimage.”
In the early 1970s, just after the first organized Manzanar Pilgrimage in 1969, all that changed.
“Rev. Grant Kimura, minister of San Fernando Holiness Church (now Crossway Church of the San Fernando Valley), came to me and said that he’s been going to the Manzanar Pilgrimage and he was having a Christian service,” Nakamura recalled. “He asked if I could go this one time because he had to go to one of the other camps. I said, ‘OK,’ and from then on, it was every year.”
Nakamura quickly became the primary organizer of the interfaith service during the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage. But he took his involvement one step further by becoming a member of the Manzanar Committee, remaining actively involved for decades.
Nakamura also immersed himself in the beginnings of the fight for redress and reparations for Japanese American concentration camp survivors in the late 1970s and ’80s. He was one of the founding members of the Los Angeles Community Coalition on Redress/Reparations, which became the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (NCRR; now Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress).
“Rev. Paul Nakamura didn’t experience camp directly, but he has this passion, understanding and a complete appreciation for how the forced removal impacted the Japanese American community,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey. “He understood, more than most, the importance of going to Manzanar in order to reclaim and remember what happened there, and not just in a passive way. He knew that we had to go back to Manzanar to remember, understand and appreciate its relevance to the struggles for civil rights and social justice that were going on at the time.
“This year we’re pleased to recognize Rev. Paul for all of his outstanding contributions to the long struggle for redress and reparations, and for his tireless work on the Manzanar Pilgrimage over the years,” Embrey concluded. “Rev. Paul is a true, unsung hero in both the Japanese American and religious communities, not to mention the broader movement for civil rights.”
The Manzanar Committee has also announced that a second bus from Downtown Los Angeles to the afternoon Pilgrimage program is now available.
The buses will depart at 7 a.m. and arrive at the Pilgrimage at approximately 11:30 a.m. Buses will also take participants to the Visitor’s Center at the Manzanar National Historic Site following the afternoon program. The buses should arrive back in Los Angeles at approximately 8:30 p.m.
Reservations will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. The nonrefundable fare is $40 per seat and $20 for students and seniors. Complimentary fares are available for those who were incarcerated at any of the former American concentration camps or other confinement sites during WWII.