March 19, 2014

The Minidoka Pilgrimage and Continuing the Legacy

Posted in Bainbridge Island, Japanese American Incarceration, Manzanar Pilgrimage, Minidoka, Minidoka Pilgrimage, News tagged , , , , , , , at 9:52 am by minidokapilgrimage

This piece was contributed by Chanda Ishisaka, co-chair of the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee

The Minidoka Pilgrimage and Continuing the Legacy

March 16, 2014 

minidoka pilgrimage committee 2011

Today I received the news that my friend and fellow Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee member passed away. Frank was a baby during World War II when his family was told to leave Bainbridge Island and go to the War Relocation camp in Manzanar, California and later sent to the camp called Minidoka in Idaho. To me, Frank was my elder, a man I respected and looked for guidance and wisdom. With his passing, I can’t help but reflect what the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee has meant to me over the years.

I joined the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee in 2009 whenI was a graduate student and received a scholarship to attend the pilgrimage. I am a yonsei, fourth generation Japanese American where my great grandparents were the first to immigrate to this country in the late 1800′s. My  family was incarcerated at several camps during WWII: Tule Lake in California, Gila River in Arizona, and Heart Mountain in Wyoming. My grandfather enlisted in the U.S. Military Intelligence Service. But like most other Japanese Americans, my family did not talk about the incarceration experience although it has impacted us and our communities during World War II and continues to this day.

As a kid I spent a lot of time at my auntie’s house where also lived my grandfather and his sister, my great aunt, who I consider my obachan (grandma). If I could characterize my interactions with my grandparents I would say we were always polite, obedient, and with very few words exchanged. This is where I mastered indirect communication. I could tell my grandparents wanted to know about my parents, about us children, and our upbringing but didn’t know how to talk to us. One day my obachan waved a can of soup and said to me, “Is this what your mother makes you?” I nodded and then she started to shake her head and mutter to my grandpa in Japanese. I know they thought we lived like barbarians back at home with my two working parents.

When my parents were going through hard times I spent the summer with my grandparents. My grandpa wouldn’t say anything but once a week he would plan an outing for us. He would just walk out of his room and tell my brother, sister and I to get in the car. He took us to his favorite lake, the mall, the movies, the zoo, and the beach and fishing pier. One of the funniest moments was when he turned on the car and started playing the Mexican radio station. Then after awhile on the road he looked at me and said, “Is this what your mother plays to you?” I looked over to my brother and started smiling. My mother is Mexican and I think that’s what brought a lot of confusion and speculation from my grandparents. I told my grandpa I don’t listen to that kind of music and reminded him we don’t know Spanish. He nodded his head and changed the station.

Fast forward to 2009 and attending the Minidoka Pilgrimage. I was a transplant to Seattle from Los Angeles and thought going to this pilgrimage would help me connect to my roots and also to learn about the Japanese community from the Pacific  Northwest. The Minidoka Pilgrimage is a four-day trip in Twin Falls, Idaho where we visit the former Minidoka incarceration camp which was one of ten incarceration camps in the United States for people of Japanese ancestry. We offer an option to take a coach bus for twelve hours from Seattle, Washington to Idaho. What happens on this bus ride to and back from Minidoka is transformational and hard to explain. Yes, it’s exhausting, but allows a moment to bond with a group of strangers where we share stories, watch war related films, and be together through the entire journey.

On the Minidoka Pilgrimage I was able to understand and find solace of the issues that have impacted the Japanese American community for generations. I was able to have the inter-generational dialogue and the tough conversations I didn’t realize I was craving. When I walked on the grounds of the Minidoka camp I found myself gravitate to a woman that looked like myobachan. I asked her how she was feeling being back at Minidoka. I expected her to say she was fine or having a good time but instead she looked at me and said, “I’m angry. Why did they have to send us here?”

After talking to her I thought of my own grandma who was my age in camp, and in this crappy, desolate location. Angry and sad tears came down my face as I closed my eyes and sent a prayer to my grandma. I could now see the trauma and racism my ancestors experienced in this country, and being on that land made me feel closer to my ancestors.

My plan after the pilgrimage was to talk to my grandfather. I was going to tell him all about the trip and for us to talk more about our family experience in camp and after camp. I wanted to ask his permission to request from the United States National Archives our family members war relocation authority files  where I could get all of their documentation during camp. Yet I never got to ask my grandpa. On July 18, 2009 I was volunteering for the Minidoka Pilgrimage Committee at the Seattle Buddhist Temple during their Bon Odori festival when I received the news from my dad that my grandpa passed away.

I had a hard time opening up to others about my grandpa’s death. Again I was reminded by my indirect communication style and how my grandparents and I liked to bury our emotions and be stoic. I lied to my boss and co-workers saying I needed to go home for vacation instead of the reality that I was going  back for my grandpa’s funeral.

In my own healing process with my grandpa’s passing, I decided to stay involved with the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee. Every year I attend the pilgrimage, I cry. I miss my grandpa. But I also laugh and smile. Every year I find community, compassion, and kinship.

At the end of the Minidoka pilgrimage two years ago I was waiting at the airport in Idaho to return to Seattle with a group of the community leaders including Frank. Together we strategized and discussed the importance of the pilgrimage and what we saw for the future. I was in awe of these elders who were the leaders in the community and who included me in this process. Then the elders shared with me how the community is changing. The elder generation who was in camp have been dying off by the minute. They foresaw the pilgrimage having to change with the next generation and they were going to need me to help take over with the leadership. I shrugged and shook my head at their comments. I believed they shouldn’t be talking like that and they would be here for many more years to continue on the pilgrimage.

Not too much later, I was asked by the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee to co-chair the committee. I could hear my grandfather in my ear, encouraging me to do it, and I said yes.  With the support of Frank, the other pilgrimage committee members and my community, I am happy to be part of such a great group of people.

I didn’t know what I was signing up for back in 2009 by going to the Minidoka Pilgrimage, but in the process I was able to learn more about my family, my community, and finding my voice.  It is important for me to continue the legacy of my grandpa and my ancestors, and now also people like Frank and those I have met on the pilgrimage who have passed on.

March 4, 2014

Manzanar Committee Denounces Inyo County Planning Commission Decision That Could Threaten Manzanar

Posted in Japanese American Incarceration, Manzanar Pilgrimage, News tagged , at 9:33 am by minidokapilgrimage

Manzanar Committee Denounces Inyo County Planning Commission Decision That Could Threaten Manzanar

February 28, 2014 by

Looking east from the visitor’s center at Manzanar National Historic Site. The floor of the Owens Valley, along with the Inyo Mountains in the background, are visible. But this view could be destroyed by large-scale renewable energy generating facilties if the County of Inyo opens the door to that kind of development in the Owens Valley.

Photo courtesy National Park Service

LOS ANGELES — The Manzanar Committee denounces the decision by the County of Inyo Planning Commission to approve the 2013 Renewable Energy General Planning Amendment (REGPA) to the County’s General Plan, which would open the door to the construction of large-scale, industrial-grade renewable energy facilities in the County, including an area within the viewshed of the Manzanar National Historic Site.

The 2013 REGPA, which now goes to the County’s Board of Supervisors for final approval, defines Renewable Energy Development Areas (REDA) where large-scale renewable energy generating facilities could be built in Inyo County.

The Manzanar Committee opposes the 2013 REGPA because it would allow the construction of such facilities throughout a huge swath of the Owens Valley, a large portion of which would be visible from the Manzanar NHS. Such facilities within Manzanar’s viewshed would destroy the ability to teach current and future generations about how the desolation of the area was a key factor in the decision to build one of the ten American concentration camps at Manzanar during World War II, not to mention how the desolation of the area was used to control the behavior of the 11,070 Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated there, instilling in them a sense of despair and hopelessness.

The Manzanar Committee also opposes the 2013 REGPA because allowing large-scale renewable energy facilities to be built in the Owens Valley, forever marring its beauty, makes no sense, given that Inyo County’s economy is based on tourism. Furthermore, such facilities would not contribute positively to the local economy because they do not create a significant number of permanent jobs—the economic benefit for the County would be inconsequential.

The 2013 REGPA does not affect large-scale renewable energy development on land owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), as the County has no authority over them in such matters. As such, it has no impact on LADWP’s Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch, a proposed 1,200-acre solar energy generating facility that would be built on LADWP-owned land, adjacent to the Manzanar NHS. However, by including such a large portion of the Owens Valley as a REDA, the 2013 REGPA would open other lands in the area to such development as well, posing an even greater threat to Manzanar.

At their February 26 meeting, attended by an overflow crowd at the County’s Board of Supervisors meeting room in Independence, California, more than thirty people addressed the Planning Commission, with just one supporting the 2013 REGPA. But after more than three hours of public comment, with virtually no deliberation, the Commission voted 4-1, with Commissioner Bill Stoll the lone dissenter.

Along with former incarcerees Kanji Sahara and Hank Umemoto, Gann Matsuda represented the Manzanar Committee at the meeting.

“We are absolutely outraged, not only by the Inyo County Planning Commission’s apparent total lack of understanding of the issue before them, but also by their rubber stamping of this horribly flawed amendment,” said Matsuda. “They were clearly in over their heads. Based on the questions the Commissioners asked, and the comments they made, it was blatantly obvious that they were utterly confused and totally unprepared to consider this matter. They clearly did not understand the amendment at all, yet they ignored overwhelming opposition and approved it.”

“The Planning Commission disregarded and disrespected their constituents, as well as those of us who made the long drive from Southern California to explain how the amendment green lights large-scale renewable energy development that would intrude on the viewshed of the Manzanar National Historic Site, on top of what the LADWP has proposed,” added Matsuda. “Their actions were a gross display of negligence, arrogance, unprofessionalism, and perhaps incompetence,” added Matsuda.

The Manzanar Committee also supports organizations and residents in the Owens Valley who contend that the 2013 REGPA does not reflect earlier community input which heavily opposed the amendment.

“The will of the people of Inyo County is being ignored by their County government,” Matsuda noted. “One Inyo County resident after another who attended the earlier public meetings where input into the amendment was received told the Planning Commission that the 2013 REGPA does not, in any way, reflect the overwhelming opposition that was expressed at those meetings.”

“We stand with the Big Pine Paiute Tribe, the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, the Owens Valley Committee, and others in Inyo County in their demand that the Inyo County Board of Supervisors truly represent their constituents when they consider the 2013 REGPA, and that includes protecting the Manzanar National Historic Site from intrusions into its viewshed,” Matsuda added.

The Inyo County Board of Supervisors is expected to consider the 2013 REGPA on March 18.

“The Inyo County Board of Supervisors must recognize that the 2013 REGPA is horribly flawed,” said Matsuda. “We call on them to protect the County’s economy, its residents, and the Manzanar National Historic Site, by preventing large-scale renewable energy development in the Owens Valley.”

For further details, please refer to our comments to the Inyo County Planning Commission regarding the 2013 REGPA: Manzanar Committee Calls On Inyo County To Shut Door On Large-Scale Renewable Energy Facilities In Owens Valley.

The Manzanar Committee is dedicated to educating and raising public awareness about the incarceration and violation of civil rights of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II and to the continuing struggle of all peoples when Constitutional rights are in danger. A non-profit organization that has sponsored the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage since 1969, along with other educational programs, the Manzanar Committee has also played a key role in the establishment and continued development of the Manzanar National Historic Site. You can also follow the Manzanar Commitee on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest and YouTube.

May 4, 2010

41st Manzanar Pilgrimage

Posted in Manzanar Pilgrimage tagged , at 7:29 pm by minidokapilgrimage

Totally had this slip by but the Manzanar Pilgrimage held their annual pilgrimage on April 24, 2010.  We wanted to support them in their pilgrimage efforts.  So here are a few links of various articles from their blog about their pilgrimage.


A Letter to Obaa-chan:

41st Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage Highlights the Unfinished Business of the Civil Rights Struggle: