From San Diego to Manzanar: Two Reflections On Experiencing The History

Editor’s Note: We are in the process of publishing reflection pieces written by our students who visited the Manzanar National Historic Site back in November 2018, part of a two-day, interactive, intensive, placed-based learning experience about Japanese American Incarceration.

This installment features thoughts from two of our students.

To learn more about this critical educational project targeting college students, please check out: Katari: Keeping Japanese American Stories Alive.

As someone who is shin-Nisei and half-Japanese American, I never felt a deep connection to the Japanese American Incarceration during World War II. I was aware of Executive Order 9066 and other historical acts, but I didn’t have the personal ties that other Yonsei (fourth generation Japanese American) and Gosei (fifth generation Japanese American) students in the Nikkei Student Union at UCLA had. Their grandparents or great-grandparents had to endure the struggle of living in the camps for years and the impact on them continued to ricochet through the generations.

Going into the Katari trip, I thought I was going to learn more about the history of Manzanar and the events that led up to the incarceration of thousands of Japanese Americans. I was right to expect that—I learned so much about the history of the site—but I didn’t expect to hear the emotional, personal accounts and the first-hand experiences of incarceration from Japanese Americans themselves. It is so true that it is hard to understand what these people went through without traveling to the actual site and hearing from former incarcerees and the extremely knowledgeable rangers. That really opened my eyes to what happened at Manzanar.

Even though I do not have any personal connections to the former incarcerees, I came away from the weekend with a new level of understanding and empathy for what happened. I believe that anyone can benefit from going to Manzanar, regardless of their race or ethnicity. Everyone can learn from the personal stories and larger historical events that surround Manzanar to ensure that something like this will never happen again.

Even though I knew what to expect during this weekend as a returning student participant and as a project organizer this second time around, I still was able learn so much during the Katari trip.

Each time I am at Manzanar, I am hearing a different voice telling their story which is one of many reasons why I trek back. As a granddaughter of former incarcerees who have since passed away, it is especially meaningful for me to hear from the remaining Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans) because they are the last of that generation who are able to speak about their experiences. Their stories are invaluable and I believe they are best way to learn and to understand our history because they bring the personal touch that will make it unforgettable.

Each of us has a different kind of story to tell and it is important to listen to each of them with respect because we can learn from each other. The older generation can listen to the youth to understand what is the best way to pass down their knowledge while the youth can learn the importance of our history so never again can this kind of injustice occur. The discussion that took place during that weekend flowed as we were all able to open up and get personal when talking about our connection to the concentration camps or to explain how experiences similar to those in 1942 have impacted our lives and our identity today.

I want to extend a huge thank you to all of Manzanar National Historic Site rangers, Manzanar Committee members, Manzanar At Dusk college student organizers, and former incarcerees for their time and sharing their stories. Their participation in the discussions is what makes these trips worth organizing and illustrate the importance of continuing to provide these kinds of opportunities to the younger generation.

Emma Boyles is a 19-year-old native of San Diego, California and is in her second year at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she is studying Physiological Sciences. She currently serves as the co-Cultural Awareness and Community Service Chair for the Nikkei Student Union at UCLA along with Megan Yabumoto and is also one of the student organizers for the 2019 Manzanar At Dusk program.

Also a native of San Diego, Lauren Matsumoto, 21, is in her fourth year at the University of California, San Diego, where she is expected to graduate this summer with a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Business with minors in accounting and Japanese Studies. She is co-President of the UCSD Nikkei Student Union and as she mentioned, she served as one of the organizers for the Phase II Katari trip to Manzanar. She is currently serving in her third year as one of the student organizers of the Manzanar At Dusk program.

The views expressed in these stories are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.

LEAD PHOTO: Lauren Matsumoto (second from left) and Emma Boyles (far right) are shown here participating in an exercise about anti-Asian sentiment/racism that set the stage for the unjust incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese/Japanese Americans in American concentration camps during World War II. Part of a two-day, intensive, place-based learning experience for college students at the Manzanar National Historic Site in November 2018. Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.

Creative Commons License The Manzanar Committee’s Official web site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Manzanar Committee Official web site – Licensing and Copyright Information.

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