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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

On The Way To My First Pilgrimage to Manzanar

This Saturday, April 26, 2008, I will be making my own first pilgrimage to Manzanar. It's not the first time I have been to this concentration camp, the first time was five years ago in the summer time on a family trip up to Mammoth. That year my daughter had for her summer reading assignment, "Farewell to Manzanar". So we drove in to the park, which for all but one other car of people there, was empty. My daughter who was only 13 couldn't understand what was there, because in fact, there isn't much there at all. Only a small stone sentry building at the opening , the concrete slabs where the barracks once stood, a white stone obolisque monument, the cemetery, and at the time, the small museum was under construction.
In the background one looks up to majestic Mount Whitney, but to look out and around, it is only desolation. It was blazing hot that August day, with a hot wind blowing. Miles from no where, with the ghosts of memories of people I didn't know hanging in the air.

Now five years later I am going on the annual pilgrimage to Manzanar with my Japanese American friends from NCRR LA, who fought for and won, reparations and and official apology from the US government for the wrongs done to them by interring them in concentration camps during WW11 SOLELY based upon their race (Read: Civil Liberties Act of 1988)

In the two years since I began working with NCRR LA on Ehren Watada's support campaign, I have learned what a lifetime of 51 years prior I had never known. It's not that I didn't know the basic history, but I certainly didn't know the depth and conviction of the Japanese American struggle.

Someone reading here might not understand and wonder why tears are welling in my eyes as I write. The tears are because I didn't know. Because I didn't know any internees personally, and I certainly didn't know what it took to legally overturn what had been done to them by our government. I just simply did not know.

I didn't know that a young Mexican American boy, Frank Lazzo, chose to go to camp with his friends and that when the camp personnel recognized he was not Japanese and told him he could leave, he chose not to. When he graduated from Manzanar high school, he was drafted into the military. Later, he became active in the movement to win reparations for Japanese Americans.

I didn't know this.

And I also didn't know up til getting to know them that their own history has made them come to the forefront of fighting for and protecting the civil rights of Arab/Muslims living in America.

It began a few days after 911, when Kathy Masaoka, co-chair of NCRR (with June Hibino) heard a Muslim woman call in to a radio station. The woman said she was afraid to leave her house, she had heard that the government was planning and implementing mass arrests of Arabs and Muslims here. It was at that point in time, as Kathy stated in February at Day of Remembrance (commemorating the signing of Executive Order 9066), that she realized this was exactly what had occurred to the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, the mortal fear of reprisals against them, and that those fears had become reality. She called other members of NCRR and they set up a new committee, the 911 committee, with the express purpose of reaching out to the Arab and Muslim community. That was five and a half years ago, and their relationship has grown stronger in solidarity since then. Just in October, when the LAPD announced they planned to map Muslims in Los Angeles county, NCRR was there with CAIR, MPAC and the Shura council to fight this unconstitutional plan.

In October of last year, I had the honor and pleasure of attending the annual CAIR banquet with NCRR at which Nobuko Miyomoto read a passage from the memoirs of Yuri Kochiyama, an internment survivor who went on to become a Muslim and actually was at the side of Malcom X when he was assassinated and held him in her arms. (watch the video of the reading that evening HERE)

Sitting next to me at the table that evening was Aiko Yoshinaga-Herzig. born in 1925 in Los Angeles, who was only 17 years old when she was imprisoned at Manzanar. Later, she was incarcerated at Jerome andRowher, Arkansas. Aiko was not trained to be an archives researcher, but through her quest to learn more about her own family's internment, through the Freedom of Information Act, unearthed the government documents which proved that interring the Japanese during WW11 was not a military necessity, and that the government had withheld evidence in Korematsu vs. US, The Court denied that it was reaching the question of whether internment was constitutional. However, the bottom line was that the internment itself passed constitutional muster, since Mr. Korematsu was not allowed to be anywhere on Earth except within a Relocation Center. (See Clinton's intern apology.)

In 1983, with the help of Aiko's research, Japanese Americans successfully sued the United States: From THIS website:

On Jan. 19, 1983, the attorneys filed a writ of coram nobis--the legal term for "fundamental error" committed before the court--in San Francisco federal court. Korematsu's legal team argued that the government committed fraud in prosecuting Korematsu in 1942 because there was no military necessity to place Japanese Americans in internment camps, and this evidence was intentionally altered and suppressed by the Justice Department in the original case to justify convictions. (The Justice Department allowed the Supreme Court to rely on information in the "Final Report, Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast" (1942), prepared by General DeWitt, in deciding the case, although it had reliable evidence from the FCC, Department of the Navy, and Justice that contradicted DeWitt ). Though the petition itself was short, the evidence that Irons had discovered was attached as exhibits.

After lengthy delays, the Justice Department did not respond to the merits of the petition, and instead offered a pardon. Koretmatsu said, "Pardon us? We should be pardoning the government." Korematsu refused.

Judge Marilyn Hall Patel asked the government to either oppose or accept the petition. Internally, the justice department could not come to a decision, and refused to do either.

On November 10, 1983, Judge Patel ruled from the bench: she granted the motion to vacate conviction and overturn indictment of Fred T. Korematsu (more than 40 years after his arrest). The government did not appeal the decision.

In her written decision, Patel wrote:

Korematsu remains on the pages of our legal and political history. As a legal precedent it is now recognized as having very limited application. As historical precedent it stands as a constant caution that in times of war or declared military necessity our instituions must be vigilant in protecting constitutional guarantees. It stands as a caution that in times of distress the shield of military necessity and national security must not be used to protect governmental actions from close scrutiny and accountability. It stands as a caution that in times of international hostility and antagonisms our institutions, legislative, executive and judicial, must be prepared to exercise their authority to protect all citizens from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused.
In her opinion, Patel attached as Appendices the Justice department memoranda from 1944 which note that erroneous information is being provided to the Court. So Patel's ruling damages the Koretmatsu decision, which legal scholars generally see as an anachronism of racial hysteria anyway. The original decision is discussed in law schools across America as a landmark case (can you qualify due process and equal protection in wartime circumstances?). In 1988, Congress formally apologized and offered reparations to the families of internees, in the 1988 Civil Liberties Act. In 1998, President Clinton awards Fred Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Aiko was there at the CAIR benefit, SPUNKY as can be, and wanting all those around her to know, that at 82 she stands in SOLIDARITY with Arabs and Muslims in America.

Now it is time for the 39th annual pilgrimage to Manzanar, which has been taking place since a 150 Japanese Americans in 1969 decided they wanted to and needed to search their heritage, to go back to that time in history so that they could understand where they were some 25 years later. They needed to see for themselves, and they needed to bring it to the surface of their consciences from which it had been submerged.

38 years later, the pilgrimage event is held annually on the last Saturday of April with hundreds of visitors of all ages and backgrounds, including some former prisoners, gathering at the Manzanar cemetery to remember the internment and to learn about it in the hope that what is generally accepted to be a tragic chapter in American history is neither forgotten nor repeated.

This year however, is quite different, because since last year when several members of CAIR made the pilgrimage (read HERE about their trip last year) CAIR and NCRR have been working together in solidarity to make this years pilgrimage a most memorable one. A series of educational talks have been presented by NCRR at Southern California mosques all leading up to 80 members of CAIR making the pilgrimage this year. At the first planning meeting NCRR was told CAIR didn't quite know how many to expect, but had reserved 20 rooms and a bus to carry 50 people up. The response has been so overwhelming, that rooms had to be shuffled and vans added to accomodate all those wanting to go.

Also, two dear friends of mine who are reporters for Washington Report are going up to cover the story for the magazine. (a good reason to get your subscription now:) so you can read the story when it comes out in the next edition)

So this weekend, on my own personal first pilgrimage to Manzanar, words cannot begin to express the feeling in my own heart how I am looking forward to a weekend of solidarity.

These for all of you reading here, are Americans of HONOR and INTEGRITY.

We are all on a pilgrimage in life to learn from each other.

Never again shall anyone in America be targeted or interned solely based upon their race, religion or nationality.

Never again.

"Pilgrimage" trailer:

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