This piece, written by EPIP Bay Area Steering Committee Member Daniel Lau, was originally published on NCG's blog. We felt it would resonate strongly with EPIP members and share an excerpt here.
Everyone Counts, No Exceptions: What Does Japanese American Internment Have to Do With the Census?
The announcement came as we were pulling into our halfway point: “We’ll be stopping for about 15 minutes. We’ll also be distributing t-shirts, feel free to use this time to change.” Yes, I thought! I had been eyeing the black t-shirts with ‘Solidarity By Any Means Necessary’ in big block letters since we had gathered in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles and gotten on the bus in the wee hours of the morning.
My friend Christine and I were on our way to Manzanar, one of the ten American concentration camps where more than 110,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated between 1942-1945. An annual Manzanar Pilgrimage is held on the last Saturday of April to commemorate the experience of Japanese Americans, reflect and heal from the legacy of racial persecution, and draw parallels to current-day racism and xenophobia. April 27, 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the Manzanar Pilgrimage, and through the organizing efforts of our regional PSO (Philanthropy-Serving Organization) counterpart Southern California Grantmakers; Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation - Los Angeles; and Vigilant Love, I was able to join along. Through the experience, I was not only able to deepen my personal practice of equity and social justice, but also connect it to NCG’s Public Policy efforts and one of the most important democratic activities of our country - the decennial census.
Now wearing my new t-shirt, we continued on our way to Manzanar. We passed beautiful open landscapes and sweeping mountain ranges, but I could already feel the somberness and sacredness of our journey. We reached the Manzanar Historic Site and Landmark just as the program was getting started. A former incarceree shared the terror and confusion that existed around internment, and was honored for their endurance and resilience. Younger Nikkei organizers and activists took the stage, demonstrating their leadership and courage. The annual pilgrimages have thrived through Nikkei (descendants of Japanese emigrants), searching for truth of what happened to their ancestors, why it must never be forgotten, and how to make sure it never happens again.
In the spirit of never again, representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations demonstrated cross-racial solidarity with their moving remarks. Since the events of 9/11, Muslim Americans became aware of the incarceration of Japanese Americans and have participated in the Manzanar Pilgrimages to show up together and promote awareness of civil rights protections in the wake of increased suspicions. One of the speakers reminded us that we are all in the struggle together. If it happens to one of us, it can happen to all of us.