John Asanuma was 11 years old when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, paving the path for mass imprisonment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. The Los Angeles native, and his parents were sent to Manzanar in 1942–one of the largest camps housing more than 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. The desert weather at the camp, located near Death Valley, brought in scorching summers and chilling winters. When it snowed, John and his friends built makeshift snow slides. During the other seasons, they played softball with sticks and pine cones. Three years later, officials closed the camp, and John and his parents moved to Fresno.
“When I left camp, the first thing I did was kiss the street,” he said. “I felt my sense of freedom again.”
Asanuma revisited the camp on Saturday at the yearly“Manzanar Pilgrimage“, a day-long program dedicated to remembering that dark era in American history and the lessons that came out of it. The annual program draws approximately 1,000 participants; among them was a group of about 50 Muslim Americans, hosted by the Anaheim-based chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).