Manzanar At Dusk



Manzanar At Dusk is an annual event since 1997 where the generations
come together to break it down with spoken word and intergenerational chats.


History


Inspired by his experiences at the 1996 Tule Lake Pilgrimage, Tony Osumi, husband of Manzanar Committee member Jenni Kuida, came up with a brilliant idea...


...why not add inter-generational discussions, similar to those that were part of the Tule Lake Pilgrimage, as a component of the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage?


Osumi's thought became reality in 1997, when Kuida, along with fellow Manzanar Committee member Ayako Hagihara, created the Manzanar After Dark (MAD-ness!) program, in conjunction with students from EducationInAction at City College of San Francisco.


The first two years, the Manzanar After Dark program was a two-night affair, held at Lower Gray Meadows campground, just west of Independence, California, about six miles north of the Manzanar National Historic Site.


In ensuing years, the Manzanar After Dark program moved to the Veterans Of Foreign Wars (VFW) Hall in Independence, drawing up to 140 participants. Like the program around the campfire in the first two years, the program centered around the small group discussions where participants could hear the stories from the former concentration camp prisoners first-hand, share their own experiences, and talk about how the issues raised by the concentration camp experience are still relevant.


The program also featured an open mic session, where creative performances—music, song, poetry, rap, and more, inspired by that day's Manzanar Pilgrimage and the small group discussions that same evening, were performed.


Other Manzanar After Dark performers included Kiki Inomata from Asian Persuasian, world-renowned taiko master Kenny Endo <http://www.kennyendo.com>, and spoken word artists Traci Kato-Kiriyama and Kennedy Kabasares from Zero 3. Poetry from the Manzanar After Dark program has also been published by the Manzanar Committee in the booklet, Keep It Going, Pass It On.


Following the 2004 grand opening of the Interpretive Center at the Manzanar National Historic Site, the popularity of the Manzanar Pilgrimage grew tremendously, with 1,000 to 2,000 people attending the traditional daytime program each year. With that, attendance at the evening program, which has become known as the "Manzanar At Dusk" (MAD) program in recent years, skyrocketed, outgrowing the VFW Hall in Independence.


In 2007, the program was held in the Interpretive Center at the Manzanar National Historic Site. But even that venue was too small, with an overflow crowd of 260 participants.


Since 2008, MAD has been held at Lone Pine High School, about eight miles south of the Manzanar National Historic Site, attracting crowds nearing 400 participants. Although larger crowds have forced changes in the format of the program since its VFW Hall days, the main part of the program continues to be the small group discussions where participants can listen first-hand to the stories of the former prisoners and share their own experiences.


“I think that giving young folks a chance to have intimate conversations with former internees is an incredible way to understand what they went through,” said Kuida. “Something you can’t get it from reading it in a book. These days, more and more of the attendees have no direct family members who were in camp, so these exchange are even more crucial.”


Indeed, the MAD program, and the Manzanar After Dark program, were created as a means to engage young people, primarily college-age youth, though learning from inter-generational group discussions and cultural performances.


But with the program growing in size in recent years, primarily due to logistical issues, college students were no longer involved in organizing it, and, as a result, MAD lost some of its original character.


But that changed in 2011, with students from the UCLA Nikkei Student Union, UCSD Nikkei Student Union, and Cal Poly Pomona Nikkei Student Union co-sponsoring the event, bringing their ideas, energy and enthusiasm. They also took the program into uncharted waters, recognizing that they have a responsibility to keep the stories of the former concentration camp prisoners alive, as their numbers are, sadly, dwindling as the years pass.


With the leadership of college students a big part of the MAD program once again, the program has regained much of its original character. But, more importantly, the stories of the former prisoners will live on through the hearts and minds of these dedicated young people, ensuring that the MAD program will be able to remain true to form for many years to come.