Editor’s Note: After the 41st Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, UCLA undergraduate Jaymie Takeshita reflected on her experiences at her first Manzanar Pilgrimage and Manzanar At Dusk program in a piece that has received rave reviews from readers, 41st Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage: A Letter To Obaa-chan. Takeshita’s involvement last year inspired her to become more deeply involved in this year’s events, and, once again, she shared her thoughts about her experiences with us.
I still cannot explain why I was so nervous as I waited for my great-aunt to pick up the phone about five days before the 42nd Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage on April 30, 2011. Maybe it was because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to ask. Maybe it was because I wasn’t sure if she’d be willing to talk. Or maybe it was because I wasn’t sure if she would like my surprise. Her cheerful voice answered the phone with a friendly, “hello?”
“Auntie Pat, this is Jaymie,” I said, trying to cover my nerves with an equally friendly voice.
“Jaymie!” she said, excitedly, “It’s so wonderful to hear your voice.”
That’s exactly the reason why I called my great aunt. We’re alike in that sense—give us the chance to talk, and we’ll enthusiastically take full advantage of it. But I started to feel my nerves coming back again.
“Do you think you can help me out with a project I’m working on with my friends,” I asked.
She kindly agreed to give it a try.
“We want to hear stories about what your life was like…in camp, before and after. Since Grandma wasn’t old enough to remember as much, I felt like you’d be able to tell me more.”
“Well, if my stories would be okay, I’d love to help you with your project,” she replied.
And she did, even though she didn’t know exactly what that project was. For about an hour and a half, she told me as many stories as she could think of—most of them made me laugh, some of them made my eyes tear up.
“Is that enough for you and your friends to finish your project? I hope it is,” she laughed. It was more than enough, so we just started talking about regular stuff—our family, her upcoming Poston III camp reunion.
“I’m going on the Manzanar Pilgrimage again this weekend,” I told her.
She was so excited for me.
“Isn’t that wonderful,” she said. “I’m so glad that there are young people who are interested in things like camp. I wanted to go this year, but I don’t think I could walk out there.”
Although she laughed, I could feel the disappointment in her voice. I think she wished that she could go to tell my friends the stories that she just told me.
“Don’t worry, Auntie Pat,” I wanted to say. “We’ll tell your story for you.”
From walking in my yukata from the Manzanar parking lot to the cemetery (a word of advice: don’t), to the extremely insightful talk we held in my discussion group at the Manzanar At Dusk program that evening, every part of this year’s Manzanar Pilgrimage was extremely memorable for me.
I had the honor of being able to present the Camp Roll Call during the day program. I clearly remember trying to steady my shaking hands as I read the name of each camp, and the number of people who were forced to start a new life in camp. Calling out “Poston” in my high pitched voice felt like a really important moment in my life because that is where my grandparents lived a huge part of their lives. Although it was only a few years, some of their strongest memories, both enjoyable and painful ones, happened at Poston. I thought of my grandparents as I read the number.
My favorite part of the day program was listening to Mary Kageyama Nomura perform. Her voice sounded amazing, and I am sure that she was able to brighten so many people’s lives during camp when they needed it most. I am truly grateful to have had the chance to listen to such a beautiful voice.
Helping to lead this year’s dances, One Plus One and Tanko Bushi, was the most fun I had at the Pilgrimage. Ondo has a special place in my heart because it brings people of all ages together, as it has been doing for so many generations. Whether one has been doing the dances since childhood and knows them all by heart, or has “mined for coal” in their life, it’s impossible not to smile while doing Ondo together. I saw the magic of Ondo, and felt the sense of community it created.
However, the part of the Manzanar Pilgrimage that meant the most to me was the Manzanar at Dusk program that evening (held at Lone Pine High School in Lone Pine, California, about eight miles south of the Manzanar National Historic Site), because that was where we, members of the UCLA Nikkei Student Union, were able to actively participate. We tried to tell the stories of those who could not be there in person by presenting creative, historically accurate narratives of the Issei (first generation Japanese Americans; immigrants from Japan) and Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans, born in the United States, the children of the Issei). That was the project that I asked Auntie Pat to help me on. Manzanar at Dusk was our way of telling her story.
And that’s exactly what happened. One of my closest friends, Katrina Kuraishi, was chosen to read Auntie Pat’s narrative. I remember Katrina telling me that she was nervous about being the presenter, because she teared up every time she practiced it. Yet she was the perfect person for it.
As she read, I could hear Auntie Pat’s voice, not Katrina’s. I had to try my best to hold back the tears as she spoke about the time when her father came back to their family for the first time after being taken away for questioning. Katrina conveyed the same emotions that Auntie Pat did. It was as if Auntie Pat herself were standing up there, telling everyone about how amazing it was that her high school class was able to create a normal campus life, with sports, clubs, and even a yearbook. I felt like crying because I wished Auntie Pat could have sat next to me and listened to it in person. I felt like crying because I was so happy that her story could be heard.
The week after the Manzanar Pilgrimage, after Auntie Pat’s Poston III reunion, I called her. She had given my Grandma a collection of stories she wrote about her teenage camp life to pass on to me. I wanted to thank her for that, and for so much more.
“Auntie Pat? This is Jaymie,” I said, feeling a little bit nervous again for some reason.
“Oh, Jaymie! It’s so wonderful to hear your voice,” she replied, as expected.
She asked me if I had received her book, and said she had a wonderful time at the reunion because she got to see all of her friends. Then she asked me about the Pilgrimage.
“It was really good,” I started. “But, you know, remember how you helped me on a project last week?”
“Yes, did it go okay,” she asked. “Do you need more information for it?”
“No, no, it went great,” I replied. “But actually, it was for the Manzanar Pilgrimage.”
“Oh really?!” she said, excitedly.
“Yeah. I took all of the stories you told me last week, and sorta…reorganized them into one long story,” I explained, excitedly. “And then one of my friends read it at the Manzanar At Dusk program.”
“Oh-my-goodness!” she exclaimed, happily.
As Auntie Pat thanked me over and over again, telling me how important it was for the young people to listen, I couldn’t help but remember what Auntie Pat had told me last time I talked to her on the phone. She had sounded sad when she explained how her and her parent’s generation are referred to as the “Silent Generation.”
“I know that,” she said. “But I don’t want to be a forgotten generation. My story is part of my country’s history…it should be told. Everyone has a story to tell.”
Everyone has a story to tell, but not everyone has the chance to tell their story. Storytelling is more difficult than it seems. Remembering is not only enjoyable and nostalgic, but also painful and difficult. Listening is entertaining, but sometimes we hear things we might not have wanted to know. To be able to get a chance to tell a story, or even just ask to listen to a story, sometimes we need a little bit of help, a little push. I will forever be grateful to the 42nd Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage for giving me the push I needed to ask, and the chance for Auntie Pat’s story to be heard.
Jaymie Takeshita, 20, from Northridge, California, recently completed her third year at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she is an undergraduate studying Psychology. She is a member of the UCLA Nikkei Student Union (NSU), serving as one of the Co-Directors for NSU Odori and on their Community Service committee.
The views expressed in this story are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.
LEAD PHOTO: Jaymie Takeshita. Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.
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