Every year, hundreds of people make the four-hour drive from downtown Los Angeles to the desolate, sun-scorched location of Manzanar, California, in order to pay tribute to the over 10,000 Japanese-Americans who were interned there during World War II.
Since 1969, the Manzanar Committee has been organizing these annual pilgrimages, and this year’s program drew people of not only Japanese heritage, but Americans of all different ages and ethnicities.
The ceremony included speeches from community leaders, an interfaith service, and comments from former internees. Organizers encouraged crowd participation through song, prayer and traditional Japanese dancing.
The program, titled ”Continuing the Legacy,” particularly emphasized the striking correlation between historical injustices done to Japanese-Americans and the religious and racial persecution facing Muslim-Americans post-Sept. 11.
Representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations and more than 100 members of the Islamic community came to learn about the Japanese-American experience, show support, and strengthen ties between the two communities.
Rizwan Yusuf, a 19-year-old student, heard about the pilgrimage and wanted to see the gathering firsthand. He came on a bus from Orange County with several of his young friends.
“This part of our history really affected me, especially being Muslim American,” he told Kyodo News. “I’m able to relate to the issue a lot more. I’d like to learn from the Japanese people.”
With the current political climate, many worry that the cycle of history could repeat itself unless there is an active attempt to make friendships and promote understanding among all Americans.
“I think it’s a natural connection when two communities of color are subject to forms of persecution that they form a bond,” said speaker Bruce Embry, son of famous internee Sue Kunitomi Embry, a community activist and one of the first to make the pilgrimage 39 years ago. “It’s really important that we stand with them.”