Manzanar 39th Pilgrimage

It was a very diverse group of about 500 people, pilgrims of varying ages, ethnicities and backgrounds who visited the Manzanar National Historic site, many of whom were participating for the first time.  Former internees were joined by their children and grandchildren, curious high school students, and seven busloads of various secular, academic and religious groups.

“I think we’re all here for a good reason, said Hussan Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), speaking on behalf of the gathered crowd, which included over 100 Muslim Americans.  The Muslim-American contingent has been growing steadily within the last few years, was the largest in the pilgrimage’s history.  Their community has joined the pilgrimage in solidarity after the Japanese American community reached out to them following the September 11th attacks.

There was a Manzanar At Dusk program at the Lone Pine High School where there were “break-out” group discussions which included former Manzanar internees, bringing the greater political and sociological themes of internment into focus while making the experience more accessible to younger generations and other people of different cultures.  It brought together the complexity of the pilgrimage, emotionally and spiritually which explains why so many people come back every year.

Journey to No Man’s Land

(April 2008 - Reflections on a bus tour to Manzanar, the internment camp of the US Government interning its own citizens during WWII)

By Shakeel Syed

Winding roads
Climbing elevation
Air-conditioned bus
Videos playing
Munching on snacks
Laughs and giggles
Stories and gossips

Everything Stops, ‘every-thing” – at least for me
Still Moments – Silence Amidst Clamor

Yes, we reached the grounds …
Holy Grounds … where

Their humanity was stripped
Their dignity was raped, and
Their honor was robbed … AND

Here we were, with our concerns,
Heat, dust, make shift bathrooms … AND

I wished we would remember to remember the –
Mothers, who experienced their motherhood trampled on
Fathers, who saw their children confined to 10x10 cells – AND
Children, who watched their parents tilling the land, devoid of life

Long seventy years of agony for them – “rewinded”
Short four hours of journey for us – “fast forwarded”
The video of life keeps playing …
Too slow for them, and
Much too fast for us

Barely a moment to pause, reflect … and try,
Just a bit harder … and
Feel their pain,
Suffer their anguish, and
Embrace their sorrow …

Are we?