54th Manzanar Pilgrimage, 2023

First Pilgrimage to Manzanar since the beginning of the Pandemic. Nearly 1/3 were visiting the Manzanar concentration camp site for the first time.

Transcript of Keynote Speech by Manzanar Committee Chairperson,
Bruce Embrey

We chose our theme: Generational struggles for Democracy because we, like so many others, are concerned about the threats to our democratic way of life. We believe America faces a real threat, an existential threat to our constitutional rights.

We also chose this theme because we know resistance has been a
constant in our nation’s history. We know for generations, long before the founding of our Republic, people have fought for freedom whether it was indigenous people fighting settler colonialism, slave rebellions, the civil rights movement of the 1960s to our decades long struggle for redress and reparations.

As we worry about the future of our country we know we stand on the shoulders of giants, leaders who gave their all for our community. Today we honor two such leaders, Jim Matsuoka, a courageous political activist and Rev. Alfred Tsuyuki, a popular religious leader and Shinto priest, who opened our interfaith ceremony each year with a Shinto purification ceremony. Two men who stood up for and devoted their lives to our community.

While this is our 54th Pilgrimage, we are continuing a tradition dating back to 1946, when the Buddhist minister Rev. Maeda led the first pilgrimage to Manzanar. So, this is, in fact, the 77th annual pilgrimage to Manzanar.

In 1946 they gathered here to pray and reflect on our history, just as we do today, before the Ireito.

Manzanar Committee photo of Ireito

The Ireito has become the most iconic figure of Manzanar and was
dedicated in ‘43 in the aftermath of one of the most troubling times in Manzanar. So, from its inception it was designed to console the souls of our families. It was seen by the Rev. Nagatomi, the Buddhist priest of Manzanar, to be a unifying symbol, and we believe it continues to be.

The Ireito has survived the wind and sands for 80 years. It has survived bullets and shotgun blasts from those filled with hate. Yet, this beautiful cemetery monument, like our community, remains steadfast, unbowed and unbroken.

Manzanar has another iconic feature which we consider a monument. It is the bronze plaque on the walkway leading to the interpretive center. It too has endured the elements and survived the hate that tried to erase its message with bullets, hatchets and chisels.

1973 Plaque at Manzanar

Dedicated at the 1973 Pilgrimage, this plaque, declaring Manzanar a State Historic Landmark, was the first of its kind. The first time any confinement site was recognized by our government. It was the first time the people who had lived behind barbed wire analyzed and debated what happened to them during WWII. The newly formed Manzanar Committee led by survivors of camp including my mother, Jim Matsuoka, and Rex Takahashi crafted the words on the plaque. The words are forceful and honest.

Concentration camp, racism and economic exploitation. They declared America’s concentration camps violated every principle of a democracy. They knew the term “concentration camp” is reserved for sites of the most serious human rights abuses, but they still declared that Manzanar, and all the other camps were not just places where their constitutional rights were stripped away, but were concentration camps where their human rights were violated and abused.

This bronze plaque, set in stone 50 years ago this month by the renowned Catholic stone mason Ryozo Kado, the very same stone mason who crafted the beautiful ireito, calls on us to remember what will happen when racism and economic greed are allowed to override our constitutional rights.

While the words on the plaque are about Manzanar, we know our history is but one part of America’s tortuous path towards democracy.

The survivors of Manzanar knew from direct experience that white supremacy is woven into the fabric of America, but they also knew that we can win justice.

We believe, as Jim Matsuoka did, there is no better place than Manzanar to gather and demonstrate our common bonds. This is why today the Manzanar Committee reaffirms its support for the struggles of indigenous people for land and treaty rights and wholeheartedly endorses reparations for the Black community.

We must embrace the vision and the courage of Jim Matsuoka, Rev.
Tsuyuki, Ryozo Kado and my mother Sue Kunitomi Embrey as we work for social justice. We must for the simple reason that fundamental principles are at stake just as they were in 1942.

This is the legacy of Manzanar, the legacy we have inherited. We must leave this legacy for future generations, so all people of every color and creed, can learn from the past in order to build a more democratic future.


-Bruce Embrey, April 29, 2023

For more information about the Manazanar Piligrimage and work of the Manzanar Committee, visit their website, follow their Instagram account and YouTube Channel

Manzanar Committee