August 5, 2014

Memories Revisited on the Minidoka Pilgrimage

Posted in 2014 Minidoka Pilgrimage, Japanese American Incarceration, Minidoka, Minidoka Pilgrimage, News tagged , , , , , , , , at 10:39 am by minidokapilgrimage

Memories Revisited on the Minidoka Pilgrimage
by Dana Mar

DSC_0054 copyPhoto by: Dana Mar

Heartfelt stories and hopes for the future were shared on the annual pilgrimage to the Minidoka incarceration camp from this past June 19 through the 22nd. Over the course of these few days, pilgrims—a vast majority of whom were from Washington and Idaho—traveled to gather in Twin Falls, Idaho to commune with one another over the subject of Minidoka and the current-day application of the consequences of the incarceration of so many Japanese and Japanese Americans.

Still full of energy, many of the Nisei revisited memories during the pilgrimage of their time in camp and imparted stories of life seventy years ago when President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, effectively removing Japanese and Japanese Americans from the majority of the West Coast. Some flew with multiple generations of family, while others braved the long bus ride, incidentally turning out to be more of an adventure than half the Seattle pilgrims expected as one of the buses unexpectedly broke down. Difficulties of the drive aside, yet incomparable to the experience of those bussed to Minidoka in the 1940s, it provided time for pilgrims to get to know each other and seek out old friends.

DSC_0307Tetsuden and Kanako Kashima standing next to the 2014 Pilgrimage Momento at the Closing Ceremony
Photo by: Dana Mar

This year, the Minidoka Pilgrimage held an educational program on the second day rather than a trip to the Civil Liberties Symposium. The session featured several notable speakers and presenters including opening remarks by Yosh Nakagawa, and sessions held three at a time following presented by Rev. Brooks Andrews, Dr. Neil Nakadate, Dr. Lawrence Matsuda, and more. In addition, the Pilgrimage provided genealogy workshops run by Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee members Stephen Kitajo and Bif Brigman, a film screening of Kash, directed by Vince Matsudaira, and the Minidoka Collections Tour held in previous years. The educational sessions turned out as quite a success and allowed a great variety of opportunities to listen, learn, and ask questions on subjects regarding Minidoka and the many aspects varying groups and individuals brought to the Pilgrimage.

As it was when I first attended the pilgrimage last year, the pilgrims bussed to the Minidoka site itself for a tour of the grounds upon which they were allowed to view and experience a number of returned and still standing original structures from the grounds and block 22, as well as, for the very first time, see the newly built historically accurate guard tower, constructed thanks to generous donations to the Friends of Minidoka who managed the project. Where trains and buses dropped families upon families of those defined by their Japanese heritage and “the wind swirled dust clouds,/ghosts of Minidoka wandering the land” as Lawrence Matsuda read aloud during his session on Friday, memories were unstuck from their place behind gaman. The experience of desolation, sadness, wind, heat, and sheer distance one must walk to get from one location to another gave just a small sense of what life was like for all the Issei and Nisei incarcerated there.

DSC_0091Pilgrims walking towards the site of Block 22, where an original mess hall and barrack sit
Photo by: Dana Mar

We remembered the great hardships the Issei had to go through in being imprisoned in a foreign nation and regarded as dangerous enemies despite having shown no indication of the sort. As the few remaining Nisei shared their stories and thoughts in the subsequent talk story session wherein pilgrims were split into smaller discussion groups, I recalled the words repeated to me so many times before, “Nidoto nai yoni.” In the words of Vince Matsudaira just after the showing of Kash,

DSC_0098Pilgrims walking by an original barrack building on Block 22
Photo by: Dana Mar

“people forget, history forgets, so, you know, I think we can all make our marks somewhere. …Each of us know, like, a hundred people so that keeps spreading out and spreading out, but unless it keeps going it’ll die.”

Accounts of fond memories and reminiscences of bitterness and healing from those who were in the camps were passed on from families and pilgrims previously incarcerated to those who needed to know what a grandmother never shared or how precisely did an incident occur or even what it felt like to be in the shoes of the unjustly persecuted generations of the past. It was both a sobering and heartwarming experience that one truly must be present on the pilgrimage to experience. It was an amazing experience one is not likely to forget and, as so much of the memories are being lost as time passes, ought not to for how valuable these first and even second-hand accounts are for younger and future generations to know of.

DSC_0279Presentation of the Colors by American Legion Post #41, Wendell, ID
Photo by: Dana Mar

The Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee and this year’s student scholarship recipients did such outstanding work for this year’s pilgrimage, deemed the “year of the guard tower,” and is in deserving of much thanks and appreciation. The pilgrimage has served for years to As we work to commemorate generations past and educate others about the deeper meaning of the camps and the incarceration, we hold high hopes for future generations to carry on the legacy of the Issei and Nisei.

DSC_0270Pilgrims waiting for the ribbon cutting ceremony of the newly reconstructed guard tower
Photo by: Dana Mar

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