Dancing for the sake of change

CROSSING CULTURES — AkaMya culture group and Florin Manzanar pilgrimage enjoy Japanese folk dancing together. photo by Brandon Miyasaki

CROSSING CULTURES — AkaMya culture group and Florin Manzanar pilgrimage enjoy Japanese folk dancing together. photo by Brandon Miyasaki

BISHOP, Calif. — Each year, for the past 11 years, a group of about 60 people from the Florin chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Council on American Islamic Relations- Sacramento Valley has made a pilgrimage to the  Manzanar National Historic Site, one of 10 former incarceration camps where Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II.

At Manzanar, the Florin Manzanar travelers join more than a thousand other individuals from all walks of life at a program hosted by the Manzanar Committee, a nonprofit based in Los Angeles. The pilgrimage has given college students from around California, including myself, the opportunity to come together and learn — about the atrocities that happened to Japanese Americans during their incarceration — from people who actually experienced it. It was on this pilgrimage that I learned the true meaning of solidarity.

Straddling the border of Nevada and California, outside the local La Quinta Inn of Bishop, history was being made. This wasn’t the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but a small act that made me change the way I viewed culture. The AkaMya Cultural Dance group, made up of the local Paiute-Shoshone Native American tribes, put on an artful display of culture and lineage through their traditional dance.  As I watched the swirl of colors and the indescribable chants of the music, it almost brought tears to my eyes; it was like stepping into a time machine. The backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains blanketed by the eerie clouds, the hooting and hollering of the music, it was beautiful, as many eyes looked on with earnest.

Through many acts of dancing, the leader of the AkaMya cultural group, Sage Romero, took us through the history and stories of their past, narrating each dance and in that moment I knew how solidarity begins. It starts with a simple get-together, a date on the calendar when two groups come together to show each other dances. Then they start to talk, and soon they realize that the similarities between them far outweigh the differences.

In today’s hostile political climate, we are quick to judge, we make biased assumptions on people’s appearances, beliefs, or even age, and do not stop to get to know them. After I talked to the many people I met on this trip, it opened my eyes to what the root of what the problem was. We start to get caught up on the differences that we forget about the similarities.

During this trip, I met many different types of people from so many different walks of life that it was startling that they had all wanted to come on this trip. People of different religions and occupations were represented. The things that usually tear humans apart were suddenly bringing them together. The personal struggles were now something that could be sympathized and shared.

The weekend was filled with laughs, tears, but most of all connections. At the end, the Native Americans had a fun dance where you stuck a potato between two people’s foreheads and had to hold it there with no hands. This felt like a symbol for the weekend. Together two groups could hold a thing called culture between them by working together. History can sometimes be a difficult thing to share but by being informed and learning through past mistakes we can make sure that the events of World War II will never happen again.

Madison Tamichi is a second year student at UC Davis studying Asian American Studies and Psychology.  She serves as one of this year’s Florin JACL Manzanar Ambassadors. Like Florin JACL on Facebook to learn more about the Manzanar Ambassador Program.

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