By Connie Masuoka, Mentor for Unite People
(Images by Emily Hanako Momohara, Images from the Camps Above: Four Cots, 2002, Minidoka)
On June 29 five intrepid members of Unite People set out with five elders of the community to experience the Minidoka Pilgrimage. We were able to include in our trip a visit to Ontario to view the Fours Rivers Cultural Center. And travel the along the old highway to see the Minidoka exhibit and archives at Hagerman and we also attended the Civil Rights Symposium which was themed on the issues of the 442nd/100th and MIS. The purpose of our trip was multipronged; it was a chance to experience our history, touch our roots by being in contact with people who are willing to share their life and their insights and gather information and material that will be used in an upcoming project. I would like to take this chance to thank you all for helping make this trip possible through your generous donations and support of the Unite People fundraising projects.
The following are their reflections of the experience.
This trip was an incredible experience. Not only were the lectures and videos full of insight on matters of civil liberties being abused, but the Minidoka campsite was incredibly powerful. It was merely a taste of what camp would’ve been like, but it was overly powerful all the same. I personally enjoyed meeting all of the incredible people who took the time out of their summers and work to come and share in this experience. This is my second pilgrimage and it was more informative than my first due to the group I was with being involved in performances limiting our symposium availability. All in all it was an amazing experience and I would encourage anyone with any interest in Japanese American history to go on this trip and become a sponge and soak up everything that the pilgrimage has to offer.
Schafer Durgan, immediate past president Unite People
Jail within a Jail, 2002, Tule Lake
In the five days we were in Idaho, I learned so much about the Japanese Americans that were put in to the concentration camps. I not only learned about them, but I also learned how much pain and suffering they went through. I always knew about what happened to the Japanese Americans during the world war, but this trip made me actually care for the people that had to go through all of it. I thought that hearing each of the internee’s stories was one of the best parts of the trip. The stories really got to me and educated me about how hard it was to live life back in those days. But what got to me the most were the questions that were asked to the youth that were brought up in front of everyone to answer some questions that the audience had. One person asked, “Do you think that the interning of a certain race could happen again in the near future?”
I have never thought about the possibility of that happening again. The fact that there is actually a possibility really did scare me. But I also realized that thanks to these pilgrimages we are being educated about how hard it was back then, there will be more and more people that’ll prevent anything like this from happening again.
Overall this trip changed the way I thought about the internment in World War II and made me realize how much suffering the internees had to go through. It was very educating and a lot of fun.
, member, Unite People
Potbelly Stove, 2001, Minidoka
Ever since I was a little kid, I was aware of what happened to the Japanese Americans during World War II. But to be honest, I didn’t really care because it was something of the past. And the only way I learned about the internees were from the Nikkei Legacy Center. Don’t get me wrong, that place is wonderful and very educational, but as a kid, I didn’t have the patience or the focus to read the displays, so I wasn’t that interested in learning about the concentration camps. And over the past years I think that learning about Japanese American history through staring at words has made the disinterest in Japanese American history grow within me. So for an opportunity to meet some of the people who were affected by the concentration camps was great for me. I got to learn history through meeting people, which was so much more affective for me. Through meeting these people and going to Minidoka itself, I got to see firsthand the mistakes that this country has made. Because of this experience, I don’t find Japanese American history as dull and boring anymore. Through this experience, I also learned to care about what happened and hopefully my generation and generations to come will prevent a mistake like the concentration camps from
Kristi Fukunaga, member, Unite People
Monument, 2001, Manzanar
Artist Statement, Emily Hanako Momohara
My parents taught me that being Japanese American was a source of pride. I?m sure my grandparents also believed this in 1941, when the United States entered war with Japan. However, painful memories and shame make it difficult for those interned to discuss their experience. The United States Government took away their freedom and put them in war camps for three to five years, based solely on race, essentially, placing a false guilt and conviction on their Japanese heritage.
My visits to seven incarceration camps and one justice department camp enhanced my respect and admiration for my Nikkei community?s patriotism and emotional endurance. In light of current world violence and the resulting fear and anger in our country, I feel it is even more important to remember the past. I make art in hopes to challenge the way war and ethnicity are viewed.