Three Reflections on a Weekend at the Manzanar National Historic Site

Editor’s Note: The following is the third installment of 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 three of our students.

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

Through the Pilgrimage and Manzanar At Dusk during my first Manzanar trip with CSULB NSU, I thought I got the gist of the history. The following year, I went back to CSULB NSU as culture chair and encouraged my members to go to the Manzanar trip by telling them about my experiences on that trip. However, the Katari Trip made me realize how little I knew and it reaffirmed how important it is to educate ourselves and others about this history.

From the amount of work and effort rangers have been putting in to maintain the site to the personal experiences told by former incarcerees and their relatives, everything I read, heard, and touched during this trip gave me so many emotions and perspectives that will stick with me forever and hopefully, allow me to pass them on to others.

I want to thank everyone who was involved in this trip, especially to those who shared their personal stories with us college students. We can’t thank you enough for being so open and willing to tell us your stories. I’m looking forward to working with the Manzanar At Dusk Organizing Committee to keep the stories that have been passed down to us alive.

Walking sucks. I hate walking so much that I would drive around the parking lot for ten extra minutes just so I can save a couple steps to the elevator. That feeling didn’t change during my Manzanar trip.

The tour tasked us with trekking across a barren field of dirt, rocks, and dead trees; the roads were cracked and riddled with potholes. Needless to say, I was constantly irked throughout the entirety of the tour. I found walking throughout the camp unbearable, yet the Japanese American people were able to endure that pain and even thrive in that environment. In fact, the community there was able to construct beautiful ponds and parks with little more than sticks and stones. Through my “pain” I have come to appreciate the Japanese American community’s indisputable strength and unbreakable spirit.

I knew, going into this trip, it would be unlike any other visit to Manzanar. I went with an open mind and was ready for all the information that was going to be thrown at me. However, I’ll never forget the feeling that resonated throughout my entire body on that last day in the Visitor Center…

Sadness. Anger. Heaviness. Guilt.

These emotions were so powerful in the way they affected how I carried myself the rest of the day. I was confused and almost frustrated with myself for thinking that I knew relatively what happened and what these people went through. But to actually hear the stories straight from the ones who experienced them was truly an experience I will hold in my heart forever. There are no words to describe how grateful I am to those who were so open and willing to share this part of their lives that clearly still hurts and affects them every day.

I knew that going on this trip as the President of my university’s NSU there was a lot of pressure and expectations as to how I was going to bring this information back to my club members. This trip not only reaffirmed my understanding of the importance of hearing these stories and passing them on, but my understanding of how important organizations like NSU are. As a Japanese American club, it is our job to not only build a bridge between the other NSU’s, but we should be responsible for joining together all generations that make up the Japanese American community. The time spent with all those involved making Katari possible is a clear example of that. Us, the students, along with the volunteers, activists, and members of the Manzanar Committee, are all, in some way shape or form, a part of this community and therefore, play a role in its growth.

To say “this trip changed my life” would be an understatement. But it is the clearest way I can verbalize what my experience was. I would like to thank my fellow NSU representatives for being such a kind and caring group of students to share this journey with. I am looking forward to using all that was touched, seen, and heard on this trip to organize an amazing Manzanar At Dusk as part of this year’s Pilgrimage.

Miku Fujioka is in her third year at California State University, Long Beach, where she is studying Business Accounting. The 20-year-old native of Osaka, Japan who was raised in Torrance, California, is the Vice President of the CSULB Nikkei Student Union and is serving on the 2019 Manzanar At Dusk Organizing Committee.

Brent Lew is an undergraduate at California State University, Fullerton where he is a member of the CSUF Nikkei Student Union. He currently serves on the 2019 Manzanar At Dusk Organizing Committee.

Kylie Castaneda graduated from California State University, Long Beach in December 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre Arts Performance and will walk in CSULB’s graduation ceremony this Spring. The 22-year-old native of Salinas, California currently serves as President of the CSULB Nikkei Student Union and on the 2019 Manzanar At Dusk Organizing Committee.

The views expressed in this story are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.

LEAD PHOTO: Miku Fujioka (left) and Kylie Castaneda (center) are shown here participating in the opening introductions during a two-day, interactive, intensive, place-based learning experience for college students at the Manzanar National Historic Site in November 2018. Not pictured: Brent Lew. 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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