Editor’s Note: The following is the fourth 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.
To learn more about this critical educational project targeting college students, please check out: Katari: Keeping Japanese American Stories Alive.
Katari was an experience unlike anything that I expected. I had no idea what to expect coming into the trip as I felt like I had a fairly firm understanding of the camps. Little did I know that I would leave with much more knowledge and perspective of just how hard living in the camps was. Both the Manzanar Committee as well as the National Park Service did an amazing job of educating the next generation of Japanese Americans about the sacrifice that the generations before us had no choice but to endure.
The entire trip was exceptionally designed for myself and the rest of the participants of Katari to see the authentic and complete experience of the camps. The program included many key individuals, such as Nancy Oda, Min Tonai, and Bruce Embrey, each of which whom shared their vast understanding of Japanese American incarceration during World War II. The stories that were shared taught me about the different options that were given to Japanese Americans in the camps, and how each had a lasting effect on social, economic, and spiritual well-being of the community as a whole. Each individual was able to tell such vivid stories of their childhood in their respective camp which allowed me to see a much more realistic picture of the incarceration camps through the eyes of these people. It also spoke volumes about the everlasting impact that the camps had on these victims of war, as it has been over 70 years since their freedom was given back to them.
For me, the best aspect of the entire experience was having the privilege of roaming the remains of the camp because it helped me put everything that was discussed about the camps into perspective. While this is not my first time visiting Manzanar, this trip helped me see just how big the camp was as we visited portions of the camp that I never even knew existed. It was also extremely impactful when park rangers were able to point out to us the exact locations of the barracks and mess hall of one of the former Manzanar incarcerees who was with us while we were strolling the campgrounds.
We also had the opportunity to visit some spots throughout the camp, such as the classrooms, nursery, and mess hall that helped tell the stories of thousands of people from the camp. Many important topics, especially in Japanese American culture, like the camp’s damage to the family dynamic and the loss of cultural identity, were brought up during this time and it allowed the group to really reflect on each.
Another part of the trip that stood out to me was the constant use of oral histories of former incarcerees who were brave enough to share their experiences. The park rangers did an amazing job of tying together every point they wanted to make about life in the camps with an excerpt from an oral history. I feel like every excerpt used during the duration of the trip was effective in making the lives of so many people more personal to our own lives. It seemed as though little moments like this, where the Katari group could stop and reflect on their own lives in relation to the lives of these men and women, is what created the most lasting memories for me.
There was a reason why I wanted the Nikkei Student Union at CSUF to be a part of Manzanar At Dusk. There was a reason why becoming active members of the Manzanar At Dusk committee was so important to me. It was all because of trips like Katari. This trip taught me more about my identity as a Japanese American, the history of my community, and the overall sacrifice from my ancestors, than I could have ever asked for. I was blessed with the opportunity to receive a ton of documents from the National Park Service that included information about both my grandfather and grandmother. While I am still looking through all of it, just having these documents in my possession always sends a chill down my spine. Just for giving me the ability to learn more about my grandparent’s story I will always be extremely grateful for Katari.
A 21-year-old native of La Palma, California, Justin Fujii is in his fourth year at California State University, Fullerson, where he is studying Sociology. He currently serves as the Vice President of the CSUF Nikkei Student Union and is a mamber of 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: Justin Fujii (foreground) and fellow students are shown here, just outside the Manzanar cemetery, on Day 2 of the Phase II Katari trip to Manzanar National Historic Site, November 4, 2018. Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.
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