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From Manzanar to May Day
by Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida
Rafu Column May 3, 2006

This weekend, my husband Tony and I took our 15-month old daughter Maiya on her first trip to Manzanar. Last year, she was barely 3 months old, so we missed the annual pilgrimage. In the past 9 years, I have been involved in helping to organize the Manzanar Pilgrimage and the Manzanar After Dark (MAD-ness!) program, so this year it was nice to go as a participant and enjoy the day, along with maybe 500 other pilgrims.

It was a hot and sunny day, so I was busy chasing Maiya around with sunscreen, trying to keep her hat on her head, and feeding her apples and water all day. She didn’t sleep much on the drive up, so she was a little cranky until she fell asleep in the sling. After a short nap, she woke up refreshed and ready to socialize. During the interfaith program, Maiya sat on the ground and handed rocks to her Grandpa.

Even though Manzanar is 200 miles away from Los Angeles, in some ways, it felt like coming home. Co-workers from Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) were there. Tony saw two of his high school students who completed the week-long 250-mile run to Manzanar with Mo, Misako and the 50/500 Committee. I saw friends from Bombu Taiko, from my brief stint as a beginning taiko player. We visited with Steve and Mike, two friends who come up for the weekend each year and camp out. Koo, a Nisei, was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Shikata ganai, yes it can!”

It was nice to see members of The Manzanar Committee who worked so hard to organize the 37th annual pilgrimage. Sue Embrey, the Chair wasn’t able to attend as she is in the hospital, but her grandchildren Monica and Michael, gave an amazing speech about fighting oppression and racism. I have seen them grow up from children to the amazing young adults they are and it was great to see them up on the flatbed truck speaking out with such passion. The pilgrimage ended with Maiya doing the traditional Tanko Bushi dance while being carried by her daddy.

Then, yesterday, we took Maiya to the May Day immigrant rights march in Los Angeles. Since the LTSC infant/toddler center was closed in support of immigrant workers, Maiya and I drove to my office and met Tony, along with 15 other of my co-workers in Little Tokyo. The freeway was wide open, and every shop I passed in the Garment District and Toy Town was closed.
We left the office at 2:30 pm, getting caught in the wall-to-wall masses estimated at 250,000 people marching towards City Hall, and then taking the Metro subway to MacArthur Park and walking several miles down Wilshire Boulevard, through Koreatown, where online reports estimated the crowd at 400,000. The streets were packed with people.

A day without immigrants? From where I was, immigrants were everywhere... entire families filling the streets waving American flags, chanting, singing, celebrating. Maiya was wearing her "Activist" t-shirt and her stroller had a sign, "Another Baby for Immigrant Rights." We marched until almost 6 pm turning around at Wilton Place, after running into one of Tony's former 4th grade students who is now an 11th grader. So we didn’t make it all the way to the rally at the end, but we got to be part of the parade of immigrants. We walked back to Western and Wilshire and then took the Metro back downtown.

Some people might wonder why Tony and I would take Maiya to Manzanar and on a march for immigrant rights. For us, activism doesn’t stop once you become a parent. If anything, it becomes even more important. Right now, we are just laying the groundwork for her to learn about her family’s history and her role in shaping the future.

Even though she won’t remember her first trip to Manzanar or her first May Day March, we have lots of photos and we can explain to her when she gets a little older about how her grandparents and great grandparents and 100,000 other Japanese American immigrants and citizens were put in concentration camps 60 something years before she was born. How when she was a baby the political climate had people saying things like “immigrants should go back to where they came from” prompting such legislation as H.R. 4437.

While it may have seemed far-fetched when the first May Day immigrants struggled for an 8-hour day, or when Japanese Americans thought they should get redress and an apology from the government, but with a million immigrants carrying signs across the country saying, “today we march, tomorrow we vote,” I am hopeful that in Maiya’s lifetime we will be able to see some real positive immigration reform.

And maybe one day in the future, I’ll see my daughter on a flatbed truck at Manzanar or speaking out somewhere saying, “Shikata ganai… Si se puede!”

Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida is a working parent and community activist living in Los Angeles. (shikata ganai means “it cannot be helped” and si se puede means “yes, we can.”) Opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo. © 2006

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Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, May 3, 2006
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Updated: 5/23/06