Fuller Seminary’s Asian American Center participated in a pilgrimage to the Manzanar National Historic Site on Saturday, April 29, to remember the incarceration of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II. Climbing aboard a bus rented for the occasion, a group of students, faculty, and staff went on the five-hour journey to Manzanar together—discussing, debriefing, and processing on the way there and back. At their destination the group participated in events organized by the Manzanar Committee and US National Park Service, which always mark the last Saturday in April as a day of remembrance. This year, however, was particularly noteworthy as the 75th anniversary of the Executive Order 9066 that led to this incarceration.
Fuller Dean of Students Steve Yamaguchi, whose parents were among those incarcerated, was host and guide for the Fuller group taking the pilgrimage. “The trip to Manzanar recounts an important, dark season of US history,” says Yamaguchi. “The American incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII is misunderstood by most Americans and is still unknown to many. The important lessons of what President Reagan in 1988 called ‘a failure of political leadership’ in the context of ‘race prejudice’ and ‘war hysteria’ are relevant today as political leaders have invoked the Japanese American prison camps as an example of how America should handle Muslims today. On this trip we shared many important lessons that inform our faithful witness in society today.”
The Manzanar visit included a program featuring a performance by taiko drumming group UCLA Kyodo Taiko, comments from former California State Assemblyman and longtime community activist Warren Furutani, and an interfaith service. The pilgrimage concluded with a time of reflection at the Manzanar monument.
The forced relocation and incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II remains one of the darkest moments in US history. The 150-year history of the Japanese in America is one of triumph and tragedy. It is the story of an immigrant community that helped to build America and, after suffering the devastation of forced removal and incarceration, rose to recoup their lives and rebuild communities whose social structure had been destroyed during WWII. In the process, they came together and utilized the tools of democracy—the courts, Congress, public hearings, and grassroots campaigning—to win long-delayed justice and mark their place in America. It is a legacy of undaunting courage and the indomitable spirit of Americans that will pave the way so that this tragedy will never be repeated.
Given the current political landscape, the topics of justice and treatment of immigrants have become urgently relevant. “Considered as a ‘national mistake’ and a ‘great injustice’ never to be repeated, two Presidents have apologized for this egregious violation of civil and human rights,” said Daniel Lee, director of Fuller’s Asian American Center. “And yet, in our current political climate, we are again hearing echoes of this kind of racist nativism.” The AAC is using the Manzanar trip as a moment for theological teaching and clarity where the intersection of identity and politics provides a rich context for theological discussions about kingdom ethics and mission. Said Lee: “Asian Americans have over 150 years of history in the United States. Yet, we are continually posed as ‘perpetual foreigners’ or confused with internationals. This foreignizing, lack of media representation, and an evangelical theology that preaches disembodied spiritual identity as our true self all foster Asian American Christians’ ambivalence about their cultural, racial, and ethnic selves for their discipleship and vocation.”
In conjunction with the Manzanar National Historic Site pilgrimage, the AAC has scheduled various events throughout the month of May, Asian American Heritage History Month, to continue the conversation on identity and justice. The AAC is hosting a chapel service at Fuller’s Pasadena campus that will center on Asian American identity, organizing a panel discussion with leaders throughout Los Angeles entitled “Echoes of Manzanar: Panel on Japanese American Incarceration,” and participating in a public discussion with faculty from UCLA, Claremont, and Fuller to discuss “Asian American Leaders on Race, Politics, and Justice.”
About the Asian American Center
Established in 2016, the Asian American Center (AAC) is an expression of Fuller’s devotion to the manifold communities and contexts in which the gospel is shared. The AAC equips students with a contextualized gospel that enables them to more wisely and fruitfully lead as an Asian American or in Asian American contexts. In a seminary environment of unmatched global diversity and academic resources, students learn to integrate biblical truth deeply with the complexities of the Asian American experience, identity, community, and mission.
We all seek God in our world; we ask questions that are pressing to our lives and situations. What are the struggles of Asian American churches and ministries? What are the challenges of Asian American leaders serving in different contexts? What does the good news look and sound like to the broader Asian American community? At Fuller’s Asian American Center, we wrestle with these questions and become equipped to lead others in navigating the future.
For more information on AAC, visit the AAC webpage.
Photos courtesy of Ken Fong.