During this year’s Florin JACL and CAIR-SV Manzanar Pilgrimage, Lin traveled with eight former incarcerees, two Buddhist priests, eight Muslim Americans, 20 youth and 12 other teachers, civil rights lawyers, professors and diverse community organizers.
By Kristi Lin, Florin JACL Manzanar Ambassador
This year’s Florin Manzanar Pilgrimage, organized in partnership by the Florin JACL and the Sacramento Valley Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-SV), brought 50 diverse individuals on a three-day journey to the former Japanese incarceration camp of Manzanar. In 2015, the Florin Japanese American Citizen’s League (Florin JACL) and Britt Sumida, the former Student Affairs Officer of the UC Davis Department of Asian American Studies, aspired to conceive a leadership program that would expand knowledge about the Japanese American World War II incarceration camps. The program emerged as the Manzanar Ambassador program, where college students are sponsored to join the Florin Manzanar Pilgrimage and then spend a year of service educating their communities about their experiences. Kristi Lin, a fourth-year Landscape Architecture major at the University of California, Davis, has served as a Manzanar Ambassador since the program started in 2015.
What does multifaith mean? Groundswell, a multifaith social justice organization started by Sikh activist Valarie Kaur, defines “multifaith” as a setting where “people motivated by faith, spirituality or moral commitment stand up, speak out, work together and take action.”
Although many parallels can be drawn between the discrimination against Japanese Americans during WWII and Muslim Americans post-9/11, the circumstances are different because Muslim Americans are a religious group that is very racially diverse.
According to the Pew Research Center’s 2011 Muslim American survey, 30 percent describe themselves as white, 23 percent as black, 21 percent as Asian, 6 percent as Hispanic and 19 percent as other or mixed race. Since the discrimination that Muslim Americans are facing is primarily due to their religion, we must explore the challenges and opportunities of building a multifaith movement where religious diversity is promoted as a source of social good.
Through serving as a Manzanar Ambassador last year, I went on the pilgrimage and became friends with two Muslim American UC Davis students. Inspired to educate our peers after the pilgrimage, we organized a presentation together titled, “Japanese American Incarceration Then, Islamophobia Now — History Is Repeating Itself, What Is Our Role?” at the Multifaith Living Community at UC Davis.
Much to our surprise, over 80 students came. One Asian American Studies professor even offered extra credit to students who wrote an analysis of how the event’s location in a religious space might have informed, influenced or limited the dialogue.
During our presentation, religion came into the discussion multiple times as we talked about the Quakers helping many Nisei get out of camp and attend college, the vandalism of mosques and the ways for all students to help the Muslim Students Assn. at UC Davis raise money for Syrian refugees.
I believe that the Multifaith Living Community was the optimal space for our dialogue. We simply cannot address Islamophobia or its political ramifications without bringing religion to the table.
Talking about religious diversity teaches us to search for our similarities while understanding that we may have profoundly different worldviews. But let’s not only have conversations. Let’s create experiences, like the Florin Manzanar Pilgrimage, to really get to know people from different religious and nonreligious groups.
Let’s not succumb to the standard that multifaith spaces can only be places where people from different religions light candles side by side. Let’s use a multifaith movement to address the issues we face today.
To learn more about Islam and the Council on American Islamic Relations, visit www.cair.com.