Watashi wa Manzanar! Continuing Our Civil Rights Legacy

The following is the keynote speech by Dr. Satsuki Ina at the 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, held on April 25, 2015, at the Manzanar National Historic Site.


Satsuki Ina, Ph.D, shown here delivering the keynote address at the 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, April 25, 2015,
Manzanar National Historic Site.
(click above to view larger image)
Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee

What an amazing theme for this 46th Manzanar Pilgrimage that began in 1969.

“Watashi wa Manzanar! I am Manzanar! Continuing our Civil Rights Legacy.”

1942 – Manzanar was the first of the ten concentration camps to open. The beginning of a terrible injustice with the incarceration of 120,000 innocent people of Japanese ancestry.

1969 – The first pilgrimage to Manzanar—young people came here seeking answers to their history, to their identity as Japanese Americans.

1973 – Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s amazing book, Farewell to Manzanar, was one of the first publications to share our story with the rest of the world.

2015 – Today, it is 70 years since the ending of the war and the closing of Manzanar concentration camp.

Watashi wa Manzanar: Continuing our Civil Rights Legacy.”

We are here today on a healing journey “to remember and tell the truth” of our experience. We are here today to claim our history, “Watashi wa Manzanar!”

Forced removal from our homes under armed guard, to an unknown destination.

Imprisonment behind barbed wire, for an indefinite period of time, with thousands of other innocent people is an “atrocity.”

What we suffered was “trauma”—loss of control, that is so profound it is outside the range of normal human experience, and alters a person’s sense of self and view of the world.

“Captivity” is a degrading, powerless experience. We were imprisoned victims, assumed guilty by reason of race, Our perpetrator was our own government, the President we respected signed the Executive Order that held us as people without civil rights, without human rights.

Trauma is rife with loss. Not only did we lose our land, our property, our friends, our education, our homes, our farms, our pets, our careers, but more profoundly, trauma is the invisible losses that tend to remain in the hearts and souls of survivors of trauma. We suffered the loss of dignity, self–determination, of power, hope, faith, of possibility, of pride in being Japanese.

And even after the war when were given a train ticket, meal vouchers, and maybe $25.00 and told we were free, We continued to lose our language, our traditions, our connection with our families and ancestors, our ethnic pride, our sense of belonging, our opportunities, our sense of safety and trust, as we struggled to find our place in post–war America as ex–prisoners incarcerated for being a “risk to national security.”

It’s difficult to speak of such things. Experts on collective/community trauma say that the human response to such humiliation is to be silent, distort and diminish the suffering, and even to wipe the memory away—in an effort to preserve some sense of human dignity.

And so it has been that for many years, our community, our families, our parents, our leaders struggled to survive by saying “Farewell to Manzanar.”

It is the way individuals and communities needed to begin the healing of the searing wound of racism and oppression. It had been necessary to be silent, to focus on the “silver lining,” and remember our friendships, ballgames, and gatherings.

It often takes generations for this healing to move beyond staunching the pain, anger and powerlessness.

There was a time we could only say, “Farewell to Manzanar” and in doing so we often gave up our place as true Americans, silenced our voices so as not to cause trouble, merged our story with that of the perpetrator using language such as “relocation center, evacuation, assembly center in order to do what all trauma victims do—struggle to survive.

Many shaped their lives and those of their children to prove that they were 110% true Americans, unconsciously sacrificing what was unique, daring, creative, for fear that their freedom always stood on tenuous grounds.

The intergenerational transmission of the trauma is evident today: When we hear people say, “I didn’t know. They never said anything except about the good times.”

So this silence, this minimizing of the trauma—IS the trauma itself. It’s the missing piece of our identity, our sense of belonging, our connection with our ancestors – our confusion about embracing our history with knowledge and confidence.

It’s Not Your Fault! that you didn’t know that you too were a victim of secondary trauma—internalizing the unspoken and accepting the government narrative was imposed on you as well.

70 years have passed since the last prisoner walked out of Manzanar…and during these past 70 years, slowly but surely signs of healing have been evident. The slowly gathering storm of shared voices of the Nisei and Sansei demanding that the injustice of our incarceration be acknowledged and redressed.

Slowly the language of our experience has been challenged and the narrative of our incarceration has changed. Slowly our words are landing on the true experience of our family’s struggles. “The Evacuation to Assembly Centers and transfer to Relocation Centers of Alien and Non–Alien Japanese from the west coast”—is now recognized as deliberate euphemisms, that made it possible to compromise our most fundamental rights as citizens and as human beings.

We are reclaiming our history, sharing our stories—preserving our artifacts, and in doing so we are shedding our shame, our fear, and giving voice to what was once silenced in our communities.

More and more we are saying “no–no” to the language imposed upon us, we are saying “no–no” to demonizing those who were dissidents, we are saying “no–no” to educational systems that fail to teach about the unjust incarceration, and most recently, we are saying “no–no” to people who seek financial gain from auctioning off precious artifacts created in the camps.

Today’s Manzanar Pilgrimage: “Watashi wa Manzanar: Continuing our Civil Rights Legacy,” signifies a watershed moment in our Japanese American history. It clearly represents the growing movement over the years, the shifting of our community consciousness from “Farewell to Manzanar” to “I am Manzanar! Watashi wa Manzanar!”

It means WE write our narrative, tell our story, using the language of our truth. We claim our loss, suffering, grief, anger, sorrow. And we claim our strength, resilience, endurance, giri, gaman, gambatte, we are claiming our Japanese heritage as we go forward in our healing.

Watashi wa Manzanar! means giving dignity to our history of righteous protest, of dissidence as a legitimate entitlement of our American constitution.

This journey to Manzanar, is the journey to our community healing. As we shed the necessary defenses that have kept our trauma shrouded in silence and acquiescence and fear. With Manzanar’s historic legacy of protest, we are reminded to continue forward with our protest against any group targeted and abused, stigmatized and bullied.

We will challenge the myth that we are the model minority to be held up to other oppressed people in our society. Instead we will stand in unity as allies, proudly knowing, “I am Manzanar! Watashi wa Manzanar!” “WE are Manzanar!” “Watashi–tachi wa Manzanar!

I’d like us all to recognize the organizers of this event, the National Park Service, the inspired legacy of Sue Kunitomi Embrey, the former prisoners and their families, our friends and compassionate witnesses. All of you have traveled far to be together on this profound healing journey.

Let us carry the inspiration of this message forward. Let’s hear it from your hearts and souls. PLEASE REPEAT AFTER ME:

Watashi wa Manzanar!

Watashi wa Manzanar!

Watashi wa Manzanar!

For more about Dr. Satsuki Ina, you can read our press release announcing her as the keynote speaker for the 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage: Educator, Filmmaker Dr. Satsuki Ina To Keynote 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage.

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

Dr. Satsuki Ina’s Keynote Address at the 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage

News, Speeches, Reflections and Photos From The 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage/2015 Manzanar At Dusk


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12 Responses to Watashi wa Manzanar! Continuing Our Civil Rights Legacy

  1. Nancy Oda says:

    Satsuki Ina was the right person at the right time as we emerge from the traumas and make our voices heard, She is a healer and leader of today’s minority populations.

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