Say "No More Manzanars," Loud and Often
by Jenni "Emiko" Kuida


When I was young, I loved to read. My mom used to take us kids to the library and I would check out at least 5 books every week. I would go home and read them all while my brother and sister were outside playing with their friends. But the older I got, the less time I had to read.

Now, every so often, I’ll pick up a book and just drop everything until I finish the book. I was sick over the weekend, so I had some time to sit at home and just read for the love of reading. The book was a new novel called "21st Century Manzanar" written by Perry Miyake and published by Really Great Books.

As a Sansei living in the Culver-Venice area, volunteering with the Manzanar Committee, Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress and the Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California, I am perhaps the perfect target audience for this book. But this book appeals to a much wider audience than just me.

I enjoyed every page of this book. The story is about Executive Order 9066 being reinstated in a post 9/11 world. The economy is horrible, and World War III becomes a war against Japan. In the book, the Sansei and Yonsei generation are forced to go back to Manzanar, where their Nisei grandparents and parents were incarcerated during World War II.

It has become a world when it takes 12 hours just to cross from the Westside to downtown LA on the Santa Monica Freeway, where racism and hate crimes against Japanese Americans is so bad that you literally can’t drive down the street without being attacked.

Don’t laugh. It’s not funny. But the way Miyake writes, there are parts of this book that are hilarious. And for people who miss Kenny’s Café, Mago’s Hamburgers, Aloha Grocery on Centinela, and Ketchie’s Taco Stand on Sawtelle, this book is a nostalgic walk through the Westside, filled with cultural and geographic references that I thoroughly enjoyed.

It reminds me of the speculative fiction novel read by Octavia Butler called, "Parable of the Sower," which has a young African American teenager as the central character. In it, this young family must flee LA because it has become too dangerous to live in. Only in this book, the main character is a regular Sansei guy named David Takeda, who could be your brother, cousin or uncle.

Given the climate of the country as President Bush forces us into a war against Iraq, and as Arab Americans and Muslims are being detained and questioned because of their names, faces and faiths, this book is so timely.

As a volunteer for the Manzanar Committee, this book reminds me that the phrase "no more Manzanars" needs to be repeated LOUD and OFTEN. Not just to protect Japanese Americans, but whoever the "axis of evil" happens to be for the day, whether they are Russians, Cubans, Arabs, Muslims, or North Koreans.

Just the other day, I was introducing myself to a group of arts leaders and mentioned my volunteer work with the Manzanar Committee. Afterwards the facilitator came up to me and said, "I had heard about Japanese Americans being interned, and I’ve heard of Manzanar, but I didn’t know there were ten camps. Tell me more." I did.

These are reasons why the Manzanar Committee continues to do the annual pilgrimage to Manzanar year after year. After 33 years, we have no plans to stop bringing busloads of children and teenagers to the pilgrimage each year and educating teachers about the camp experience.

Some people come every year to commemorate and remember, but more and more, first timers are coming to learn about our experiences. This past year, we had a wonderful speaker from the Muslim Public Affairs Council, who drew parallels between his community and ours.

In fact, this coming year, we are expanding our programming for Manzanar After Dark (MAD-ness!), an evening program that was created to supplement the daytime activities of the Manzanar Pilgrimage by providing a program for sharing, educating and learning from inter-generational group discussions and cultural performances. The highlight has become the sharing of spoken word and poetry, run by a group of diverse young students from City College of San Francisco. Supported by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, we are publishing a booklet of poetry from MAD-ness! programs of the last 6 years.

But none of this happens without the support of the community. This Sunday, November 3, we are having a fundraiser to benefit expanded programming of the MAD-ness program to a full weekend of cultural and educational activities, and to support the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage.

We are so lucky to have Asian Persuasion performing a concert for us at the fundraiser. Asian Persuasion grew up on the streets of southwest LA during the turbulent 50s and 60s and began performing together in 1973. Asian Persuasion performed their WWII internment blues composition "42 West Coast Blues" and their popular swing tune, "Boogie Woogie Sushi Man" at the Pilgrimage in 2000. The audience went wild for them then, and I can’t wait to hear them again this weekend.

Rodney Kageyama will be emceeing the program. You know him from stage, films and TV and veteran of East West Players. We will be treated to actor Darrell Kunitomi’s performance of "Fada Wada Goo," about his 1989 visit to Bruyeres, France to visit his uncle’s grave. His uncle was Ted Fujioka, who died in the 442nd liberation of Bruyeres during WWII.

We will also be serving a bento lunch at Reikai’s Kitchen in Little Tokyo Towers, 455 E. Third Street between San Pedro and Central in Little Tokyo on November 3rd at 2pm. The price is $30 at the door. Call (323) 662-5102 if you would like to reserve a lunch.

Read the book. Protest the war. Support the Manzanar Committee this weekend. Because you want to say loud and often, "no more Manzanars."

---
Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida is the Secretary of the Manzanar Committee who lives in the Venice-Culver area of Los Angeles. Info about "21st Century Manzanar" is available at www.PerryMiyake.com. Info about the November 3rd fundraiser event is at www.ManzanarCommittee.org. ©2002.


Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, October 30, 2002.

Updated: 2/7/03

Jenni/Tony Homepage

Back to Jenni's Writings