The Pain Of Unjust Incarceration Transcends Generations, Ethnicity

UCSD Nikkei Student Union member Rena Ogino (left) and
Susanne Norton La Faver, shown here during the open mic
portion of the 2015 Manzanar At Dusk program.
(click above to view larger image)
Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee

by Rena Ogino

The 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage on April 25, 2015, was my third Pilgrimage and my first with the UCSD Nikkei Student Union as a second year student. As a shin-Nisei (second generation Japanese American, the children of recent Japanese immigrants), I initially felt like a black sheep amongst Japanese American youth that are mostly Yonsei and Gosei (fourth and fifth generation Japanese Americans, respectively). But at UCSD NSU, I was able to change my perspective on our community, learn to appreciate the differences, and identify with Japanese American youth from a different, unique, and necessary viewpoint.

None of my relatives were sent to the camps in which over 110,000 Japanese Americans and their immigrant parents were unjustly incarcerated during World War II. But I understand the fear of something similar happening again to American citizens who have goals and aspirations they have every right to fulfill. Returning to Manzanar and helping to organize the 2015 Manzanar At Dusk program reminded me of how our community is currently healing and learning from the Japanese American Incarceration. The monument, the terrible weather, and the beautifully daunting Sierra Nevada Mountains have not changed since I last went, but every time I return my experience is different due to my growing involvement with the Japanese American community.

Manzanar At Dusk was unexpectedly emotional for me. I was a small group discussion facilitator for a group ranging from first year college students to grandsons of incarcerees. We went through discussion questions quickly and thoroughly, and with extra time to spare, I asked one more question:

Try to put yourself in the shoes of an incarceree. What might your first thoughts be? How do you think being incarcerated would affect you?

Each group member had a unique scenario to share, but one made me cry in front of many strangers. A young Muslim American woman expressed how frustrated she would’ve been and how it would have upset her to see everything her parents sacrificed their lives for be taken from them; how unfair it was that her parents would not be able see their children succeed more than they would have back in her parents’ home country.

Hearing the frustration in her voice as she shared what she would have felt made me think of myself. I’m a child of immigrant parents who came here to live the life they could not live in Japan. I would have felt upset too if we were incarcerated, and while frustration came naturally for the young woman, I felt pain when I imagined my parents losing their home, my dad losing his travel business, my mom being unable to go to college for free just to learn, and my sister being unable to pursue her dream to go to business school.

Another image that came to mind as she shared her story were the Muslim American teenagers I spent time with in the Bridging Communities program. From her frustrated voice, I saw the Muslim American friends I had made being incarcerated and felt their fear and frustration. From that program, I remembered the racism and hatred they faced from a post 9/11 America: angry, white families waving their American flags in Yorba Linda, California, yelling “go back home!” at Muslim American families rushing their five-year old children to their car.

Muslim Americans could have easily been incarcerated after 9/11, but Japanese Americans were quick to step up and help prevent their incarceration. It almost happened, and seeing a Muslim American share the frustration she would’ve felt from being unjustly incarcerated felt too real and too painful, and when I feel pain, I cry.

When I could not find the words to share, during the open mic portion of the program, how unfair it would be to face what Japanese Americans went through in 1942, I cried, thinking about my family, the incarcerees of Manzanar, and the many Muslim Americans who were almost incarcerated.

A native of Fullerton, California, Rena Ogino, 20, is entering her third year as an undergraduate at the University of California, San Diego, where she is studying Physiology, Neuroscience and Ethnic Studies. She is the 2015-16 President of the UCSD Nikkei Student Union, and she served on the organizing committee for the 2015 Manzanar At Dusk program.

Ogino writes from La Jolla, California.

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

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


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