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Renowned Playwright/Director Headlines 5th Anniversary Heart Mountain Pilgrimage

POWELL, Wyo. — Luis Valdez, a renowned playwright and director best known for the films “La Bamba” and “Zoot Suit,” is one of several powerful speakers at this year’s Heart Mountain Pilgrimage.

Valdez’s most recent stage production, “Valley of the Heart,” has played to sold-out audiences on the West Coast. The play is set during World War II, and features Heart Mountain, Wyo. The plot weaves together a story of Mexican Americans and Japanese Americans living in California at the time.

Luis Valdez

Luis Valdez

Valdez will be the keynote speaker at the 2016 Heart Mountain Pilgrimage, taking place July 29-30. This historic event marks five years since the opening of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, 10 years since the designation of the confinement site as a National Historic Landmark, and twenty years since the founding of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation.

Each year hundreds of visitors make a “pilgrimage” to Heart Mountain, where 14,025 Japanese Americans – two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens – were unjustly incarcerated during World War II. The journey is taken by former incarcerees, their descendants, friends, and members of the public who seek to understand this dark and poignant history and its impact on us today.

“The annual pilgrimage has become known for its powerful speakers, innovative programming, and experiential opportunities which connect former incarcerees with the public,” says Brian Liesinger, executive director of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation. “This year will be particularly poignant with programs representing a diversity of knowledge and experience.”

The pilgrimage will begin on Friday, July 29. Events in Cody will include the first-ever Heart Mountain silent auction. The sale of items such as Japanese pottery, 19th-century woodblock prints, and other artwork, will benefit the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. An online preview of the items can be found at

Coinciding with the auction, the evening banquet at the Holiday Inn will include presentations from high school students who received a scholarship through the Japanese American National Memorial Foundation to work with L.A.-based filmmakers David Ono and Jeff MacIntyre creating digital stories about the Japanese American incarceration experience.

Also on Friday, at the Interpretive Center, there will be a multi-generational forum that will explore the experiences of families through the generations.

The events on Saturday, July 30, at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center will kick off with opening ceremonies followed by guest speakers Alan K. Simpson, former U.S. senator, and Norman Y. Mineta, former U.S. secretary of transportation. The two met at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center when they were just 10 years old.

Simpson’s Boy Scout troop visited Heart Mountain, where he met Mineta, who was confined there with his parents after being removed from San Jose. Their story of friendship in the midst of war, fear, and injustice is a powerful one. Both men will speak about their experiences at this year’s pilgrimage.

Following Simpson and Mineta, Valdez will give his much-anticipated keynote address and field questions from the audience.

After lunch at the center, participants will have the opportunity to view a presentation by 15 year-old Gabriel Tajima-Peña, creator of the Minecraft world “Heart Mountain 3.0.” The young descendant of incarcerees will discuss how he connected to Heart Mountain through modern technology.

Pilgrimage attendees will have access to two special exhibitions – one showcasing artwork inspired by Heart Mountain, and the other exploring rarely seen artifacts from the Heart Mountain collection. In addition, visitors will be able tour the newly returned barracks as well as view the Honor Roll and stroll the interpretive walking path on the site.

“The variety of programming available at this year’s pilgrimage provides dynamic and engaging experiences for visitors of all backgrounds and ages. It will be a coming together of old friends who endured a great injustice, but it also the perfect opportunity for a first introduction to the powerful history of Heart Mountain for newcomers,” Liesinger said. “We encourage everyone to come experience this moving event.”

Registration is still open. The cost for participation in all the events, including the dinner banquet, dessert reception, opening ceremony, special presentations and exhibits, is $140 for non-members and $115 for members 12 and older, $50 for children aged 6-11, and free for children 5 and under. Attendees can register online at or by calling (307) 754-8000.

The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center is located between Cody and Powell on Highway 14A. It is open in the winter Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and daily in the summer with the same hours. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, members and children under 12 are free. For more information, call (307) 754-8000 or visit

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