A Tribute to their Grandmother

Editor’s Note: The following is a speech by Monica and Michael Embrey, who paid tribute to their grandmother, Sue Kunitomi Embrey, at the 37th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage on April 29, 2006.


Michael: We’re here today trying to understand our history. Something we young people are struggling to understand—something we never experienced, but something that we must never forget.

Our grandmother, Sue Kunitomi Embrey, has fought to make this place what it is today. For close to forty years, she testified before Congress, wrote letters, spoke, argued, cried and cheered. She chose to do this for many reasons, but she has always said that she took up this fight because so many young people were struggling to understand what their families and their parents had gone through.

Monica: In the early days of the Manzanar Pilgrimage, our grandmother often spoke of how gratifying it was to have so many sansei and young people of all races coming and struggling to understand how and why this happened. And more importantly, she always said how essential it was that so many people came forward pledging to fight against something like this ever happening again. Our grandmother never said shikata ga nai. She says, nidotonaiyouni, let it never happen again.

Unfortunately, it has happened again. Following 9/11, there was an illegal detainment of 1,200 Arab and Muslim Americans. These citizens were denied their constitutional right to due process of law. Race-based crimes against this community persist, with mosques defaced, businesses destroyed, and citizens harassed. This shows that if we don’t know our history, it can and will repeat itself.

Michael: When I was younger, the pilgrimages were just an excuse to get out of school a few days and eat some good spam musubi with family. Most of my friends had never heard of the camps and after explaining it time and time again, I realized that people my age didn’t know our families’ stories. Everything that happened here deserves more than just a paragraph in an American history textbook. While growing up and going to the pilgrimage every year opened my eyes and made me less tolerant to different types of oppression such as racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and ageism.

Monica: In the fighting spirit of my grandmother, I want to say we young people must learn from the commitment of our grandparents, learn from their perseverance, their strength, and their courage in this great injustice. We must learn not only to endure but also learn that through dedication and determination injustices can be made right.

Today our grandmother’s fight is for her health. In her absence we thank you. Here are excerpts from a poem she wrote in 1980 about our Uncle, Gary Embrey, who passed a few months ago:

Just The Way I Hoped by Sue Kunitomi Embrey

You were part of a candlelight protest
Against the draft—
Against nuclear war—and
Against the President.
It was no big thing, they said.
A peaceful demonstration with no violent incidents,
A crowd they estimated at one thousand five hundred.

You were barely six when we drove downtown
To stand in a silent vigil
During the Cuban crisis.
You begged us to take you away, somewhere,
Where we wouldn’t be hurt
By the missiles you knew were coming our way.

And always in the back room of our brain
Was the fear that the War would last—
Beyond your childhood—and soon
You two would go
Like your three uncles had gone before—
Not from the free choice of home in Boyle Heights
But from the high desert barracks along 395
In a place called Manzanar

There was a time when you weren’t sure
Who or what you were
Japanese, Scotch/English or French
David said, “I’m half Irish and Jew,
I’m half my Mom and my Dad, too.
It’s no big thing—you are you.”

Long ago, on a late Saturday
As the sun went down in Griffith Park
Angry teenagers jeered at us
Told us to go back where we came from—

You and your buddies were only ten
You stood beside me with your weapons of defense
A baseball bat and an empty pop can.

How tall you’ve grown,
How brave you stand
Just the way I hoped you would.

The views expressed in this entry are those of the authors, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.


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