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Cultural Exchanges Deepen at Manzanar

Sage Romero performs a War dance for the Florin JACL pilgrims in the City of Bishop on April 26.

By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor

For the fourth year in a row, the Florin JACL’s Manzanar Pilgrimage bus attendees, including CAIR-Sacramento members, and Aka Mya, a local Pauite organization, participated in a cultural exchange program in the parking lot of the hotel where the pilgrims were staying.

Sage Romero, founder and director of Aka Mya, had made the initial gesture four years ago.

“There wasn’t really a relationship established between us,” said Romero. “It was like Manzanar [pilgrimage]happened, and I know some of our elders would go to the event but it was not like a real time for us to visit and connect, so I thought that was something we should do.”

Andy Noguchi, co-chair of the Florin JACL, said the cultural exchange has helped to build bridges between the indigenous people, the Muslim Americans and the Japanese Americans.

The mayor of Bishop, Jim Ellis, joins the Florin dancers swaying to a folk song of the fishermen.

“This is a cultural exchange to celebrate diversity and to celebrate healing,” said Noguchi. “When Sage Romero from Aka Mya reached out to us and wanted to welcome us to this area, we were just kind of overwhelmed with that kind of reception, and it’s grown every year.”

Josh Kaizuka, co-chair of the Florin JACL, felt that this cultural exchange made a difference in the City of Bishop. He noted that there had been some race problems even before members of CAIR on their Florin JACL bus had experienced discrimination at a Bishop bowling alley four years ago. From this issue, Kaizuka noted that the local residents, the Rotary Club, the Bishop City Council and the Inyo County Board of Supervisors had made an effort to ensure more inclusivity.

He wondered how much these cultural exchanges influenced the recent Bishop City Council’s decision to rescind three World War II resolutions in connection with Japanese Americans incarcerated at the Manzanar War Relocation Authority camp.

“The pilgrimage certainly puts a spotlight on these issues,” said Kaizuka. “And we’ve been coming here for 14 years, and especially the problem that occurred four years ago put the plight of Japanese Americans on their mind. It’s on their radar.”

Dancers from the Florin JACL bus with freshly baked peace bread given by Sage Romero and the Paiute Tribe.

It was no surprise, then, that among the dignitaries attending the gathering were Dan Totheroh, Inyo County supervisor; Jim Ellis, mayor of Bishop; and Bernadette Johnson, superintendent of the Manzanar Historic Site.

“I would like to thank you on behalf of the City of Bishop for allowing us to share your journey and the cultural exchange that happens between just every day people,” said Ellis.

Cultural presentations from the Paiute community included a drum performance by the Coyote Confederacy; a flute solo by Moses Davis; a traditional inter-tribe storytelling dance by Jim Kai; and a War Dance and Hoop Dance by Romero, who added that traditionally the War Dance included women since they were a matriarchal society.

Drum performance by the Coyote Confederacy.

Oussama Mokeddem, the programs and outreach representative for CAIR Sacramento, shared a Muslim call to prayer. He first recited the prayer in Arabic and then provided a translation and explanation of the significance of his actions.

Performing on behalf of the Japanese American community was the Tsubaki Ensemble, consisting of Kristy Oshiro on taiko and flute; Kris Marubayashi on shamisen and taiko, and dancer Toshiye Kawamura.

Oshiro performed “Takeda no Komori Uta” on the flute. The song has long been popular among the Burakumin, who have historically been ostracized in Japanese society. They worked in jobs considered impure such as butchering animals or as executioners.

Oshiro noted that as a taiko player, she appreciated the Burakumin for preparing the leather for the taiko drums when that was considered an impure task.

The evening ended with a gathering to fold tsuru for the pilgrimage.

Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo

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