Manzanar At Dusk

Inspired by his experiences at the 1996 Tule Lake Pilgrimage, Tony Osumi, husband of former Manzanar Committee member Jenni Kuida, came up with a brilliant idea…

…why not add inter-generational discussions, similar to those that were part of the Tule Lake Pilgrimage, as a component of the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage?

As a result, in 1997, Kuida, along with then-fellow Manzanar Committee member Ayako Hagihara, created Manzanar After Dark (MAD-ness!), an evening program that would engage young people and make the connection between the injustices of the camp experience and present-day issues, such as immigration, racial profiling, and to provide a program for sharing, educating and learning from intergenerational group discussions and cultural performances.

The first two years, the Manzanar After Dark program was a two-night affair, held at Lower Gray Meadows campground, just west of Independence, California, about six miles north of the Manzanar National Historic Site

“We wanted to camp out so we could experience the bitter cold that our families might have experienced at Manzanar,” said Kuida. “Waking up to snow flurries that first morning helped us to envision just that.”

In ensuing years, the Manzanar After Dark program moved to the American Legion Hall in Independence, drawing up to 140 participants. Like the program around the campfire in the first two years, the event centered around the small group discussions where participants could hear the stories from the former concentration camp prisoners first-hand, share their own experiences, and talk about how the issues raised by the concentration camp experience are still relevant.

For the first eight years, a multi-ethnic mix of students from EducationInAction at the City College of San Francisco served as emcees, performed spoken word, and facilitated small group discussions.

The program also featured an open mic session, where creative performances—music, song, poetry, rap, and more, inspired by that day’s Manzanar Pilgrimage, and the small group discussions that same evening, were performed.

Other Manzanar After Dark performers included Kiki Inomata from Asian Persuasian, world renowned taiko master Kenny Endo, and spoken word artists Traci Kato-Kiriyama and Kennedy Kabasares from Zero 3. Poetry from the Manzanar After Dark program has also been published by the Manzanar Committee in the booklet, Keep It Going, Pass It On.

Despite the growth of the event, like the program around the campfire in the first two years, today’s edition, now known as Manzanar At Dusk, remains centered around the small group discussions where participants can hear the stories from the former incarcerees first-hand, share their own experiences, and talk about how the issues raised by the concentration camp experience are still relevant today.

The program has continued to grow in recent years, expanding to an overflow crowd of 260 participants at the Manzanar Visitors Center in 2007, and since 2008, the event has been held at Lone Pine High School attracting crowds as large as 400 participants.

Although larger crowds have forced changes in the format of the program, the focus continues to be the small group discussions where participants can listen first-hand to the stories of the former prisoners and share their own experiences.

“I think that giving young folks a chance to have intimate conversations with former internees is an incredible way to understand what they went through,” said Kuida. “Something you can’t get from reading it in a book. These days, more and more of the attendees have no direct family members who were in camp, so these exchanges are even more crucial.”

Indeed, the Manzanar At Dusk program, and its predecessor, were created as a means to engage young people, primarily college-age youth, though learning from inter-generational group discussions, and cultural performances. But with the program growing in size starting in 2007, primarily due to logistical issues, college students were no longer involved in organizing it, and, as a result, the program lost some of its original character.

Small group discussions, such as this one at the 2012 Manzanar At Dusk program, are very diverse, in terms of age, gender,
ethnicity, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation.
(click to view larger image)
Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee

But that changed in 2011, with students from the Nikkei Student Unions at Cal Poly Pomona, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, San Diego co-sponsoring the event, bringing their ideas, energy and enthusiasm to the program. They also took Manzanar At Dusk into uncharted waters, recognizing that they have a responsibility to keep the stories of the former concentration camp prisoners alive, as their numbers are, sadly, dwindling.

In 2013, the Cal State Long Beach Nikkei Student Union signed on as a co-sponsor. Over 325 people attended the 2013 Manzanar At Dusk program, held on April 27, 2013, which, by all accounts was a huge success.

“I feel a greater sense of accomplishment,” exclaimed Carly Lindley, President of the UCSD Nikkei Student Union, immediately following the 2013 Manzanar At Dusk program, as she compared her experience as one of the event’s organizers to her work on the 2012 event.

With college students taking the lead once again, Manzanar At Dusk has regained much of its original character. But, more importantly, the stories of the former incarcerees will live on through the hearts and minds of these dedicated young people, ensuring that the program will be able to remain true to form for many years to come.

LEAD PHOTO CAPTION: Manzanar Committee co-founder Sue Kunitomi Embrey (center) is shown here during a small group discussion during the 2004 Manzanar After Dark program. Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.

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