Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Japantown: New Dawn J-Town Collective April 1974 MANZANAR



Asian-Americans commemorate concentration camp struggle

“The rising interest to participate in nationwide pilgrimages to the sites of World war II concentration camps repre­sents a significant development among Japanese-Americans today.

" For many Sansei (3rd Generation Japanese Americans) it represents an opportunity to lean about the concrete experience of the camps from those that were imprisoned. For all Japanese Americans, it marks a beginning in summing up an experience that will help in advancing the struggles of today.

'This year we’ve received more inquir­ies about the Manzanar Pilgrimage than ever before.”'As part of the Manzanar Com­mittee in Los Angeles, Sue Kunitomi Embrey commented on the dynamic growth of the Manzanar Pilgrimage from its modest begin­nings in 1969 where 250 people attended commemoration ceremonies in southern Calif­ornia to its present development into a nationwide movement that now includes pilgrimages to the sites of 5 U.S. concentration camps. Throughout California, in Texas, Colorado and Arkansas, broad sec­tions of Japanese-Americans are joining together in commemoration of the camp ex­perience that imprisoned 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry during-World War II.


"The lessons to be learned from the incarceration of Japanese point to the na­ture of racism in the U.S. as a tool for the benefit of the rich, greedy few, and more importantly- the courageous struggle that was waged against the injustices of the camps.

The campaign of violent and rampant ra­cism against Japanese in the U.S. develop­ed with the unfolding of the war between Japan and the U.S. for control of the land and resources of the Pacific and Southeast Asian countries. However, within the U.S. the racism directed against the Japanese took on a deliberate course engineered by farming interests who stood to gain mil­lions of dollars by the removal of Japa­nese farmers, the Hearst Press that gross­ly distorted the struggle between Japanese and U.S. industrial elites for the Pacific empire into a vicious racist attack a­gainst American citizens of Japanese an­cestry and by politicians at all levels of government who stood to gain popularity and fortune by giving their support to the racist campaign against the Japanese in the U.S.

This campaign of terror and racism took a heavy toll on the Japanese. Uprooted from their homes, livelihoods and communi­ties and forced to abandon personal pos­sessions, the Japanese suffered losses es­timated to be $400 million. General cur­few and restricted travel were imposed upon the Japanese population, Japanese com­munities along the West Coast were subjec­ted to frequent raids and roundups by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, and community leaders were quickly separa­ted from their communities.


"However, the Japanese did not accept the unjust conditions imposed on them without a fight. Strikes and mass protest took place in several camps throughout the internment period against living conditions, starvation wages and the indiscriminate treatment against internees who tried to organize for better conditions within camp. During the early months of internment at Manzanar, California, approximately 800 internees went on a 2-day work strike against a government camouflage project in protest against the injustice of their incarceration. Later that year in what became known as the Manzanar riot, 2 Japanese were killed and 10 wounded by military police as the demonstrators demanded the release of a jailed internee who had been in the forefront of organizing for better living conditions within the camp.

Another front of resistance developed against the attempt by military and government officials to form an all-volunteer combat unit of Japanese-Americans among the male population of internees. In the final recruitment effort the government managed only 1,200 volunteers from an anticipated goal of 3,500. At Tule Lake in a related attempt by the government to draft internees, the first eligible draftees refused to accept this added form of injustice and set an example for many other internees who also refused in protest against their imprisonment.

The bitter experience of discrimination and internment and the heroic struggles that ensued against the conditions of imprisonment, serve as a grim reminder of the fragile nature of a democratic system that can trample on the rights of people when it is in the hands of a ruling few who seek their own self interest.


"The struggles that Japanese faced in the past against discrimination and injustice did not end with the concentration camps, but continue today and are deeply interwoven with the broad movement of the American people today. In California, within the Japanese communities of both Los Angeles and San Francisco the fight for low cost housing has mobilized the fighting spirit and broad support of community residents, shopowners, workers and students. On the campuses of Berkeley and Oakland, California, Japanese-Americans are part of the Third World student movement deeply engaged in defending ethnic studies programs from administrative cutbacks.

In Los Angeles and San Francisco, where various teach-ins and community forums are being planned around the camp experience, and throughout the nationwide movement to revisit the camp sites, we must ensure that we link the struggles of the past to those of the present. For it is in the struggles of today that lie the victories of tomorrow.”

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