Chapter 10 Pilgrimage to the Japanese American Incarceration Camps: Deploying Collective Memory for Social Justice and Communal Healing

In: Pilgrimage as Transformative Process
Anne M. Blankenship
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During World War II, the United States government incarcerated 120,000 people of Japanese descent, most of whom were U.S. citizens. West Coast residents were taken to one of ten “relocation centers” where many would live until the end of the war. Japanese American families now participate in annual pilgrimages to the largely vacant or transformed geographic sites of their imprisonment. Japanese Americans who lived in the camps, historical societies, scholars, and government agencies cooperate and compete to shape the historical memory of the injustice. This tension is most notable in the negotiations surrounding pilgrimage to the sites of camps and the creation of interpretive centers. Focusing on the Manzanar and Tule Lake pilgrimages, this paper explores how organizers of those events seek to shape the ethnic community’s collective memory of the traumatic experience, as well as national and local perceptions of the injustice. Pilgrimages have become sites of resistance, not only by reshaping the memory of an ethnicity’s disenfranchisement, but by employing it to fight for the civil rights of themselves and others. This work draws on interviews, photographs, video recordings, and archival records and the theoretical works of Paul Ricoeur and Maurice Halbwachs.

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