2019 Katari Trip Was An “Irreplaceable Experience” For One Student

We continue here with our series of reflection pieces written by our students who participated in our project, Katari: Keeping Japanese American Stories Alive, November 2-3, 2019, at the Manzanar National Historic Site.


When I first came into my position as President of the UCSD Nikkei Student Union, I really did not know what to expect on the cultural side of things. I had heard about the Manzanar At Dusk program before, but was unaware that I would take a part in planning this trip, and to be honest, I was not excited about it, at first. I felt that being on the Manzanar At Dusk organizing committee was an obligation that I would rather not have, and I did not have a great attitude about the monthly videoconference meetings.

When the Katari trip came around, I was again disappointed because it coincided with two important events for my NSU. It took a four-hour train ride and subsequent four-hour car ride to get to the motel that we would stay in, and in my cold, tired, sleep-deprived state, I kept wondering why I was there in the first place and thinking about all of the other things that I would rather be doing. But 48 hours later, by the time the program finished, and I was headed back to San Diego, the Katari trip had become an irreplaceable experience that taught me many things that applied, both to my awareness about social activism, and my own personal life.

My first realization: I am Japanese, not Japanese American. As we learned in painful detail about the physical and pathological suffering that the incarcerees endured, I empathized with these people very deeply, but only to the extent that I would feel for any other group of people being wronged in the same way. The incarcerees are not my ancestors, and I could feel a significant difference in the way I was impacted by Manzanar, as compared to my peers who were direct descendants of those who were in internment camps. However, I was also moved by the rangers, many of whom were not Japanese, let alone Japanese American, but still chose to dedicate themselves to understanding the Japanese American Incarceration and educating others. While feeling disconnected from the incarcerated Japanese Americans, I was strongly influenced to support the cause.

My second realization: There is very little social activism among students at UCSD, and this needs to change. People seem to have the mindset that their individual voice will not make any difference in the overall scheme of things, so there is no purpose to fighting for what they believe in. This is the kind of thinking that allows injustices like the incarceration to occur. Since going to Manzanar, I have taken a more active part in supporting the human rights groups at UCSD.

My third realization: Oral histories are an undervalued resource that need to be utilized more. It was indescribably powerful to hear people from black and white, low-quality photographs speaking to us through an interview. This transformed the speaker from a historical figure into a three-dimensional person who had the same joys and sorrows as I. I carried this realization with me in the weeks after the Katari trip. I brought up the importance of oral histories with my family members, and have made plans to interview each of them in order to preserve the stories of the people that I love.

Manzanar is a powerful place, with so many more hidden messages that I hope to someday uncover. But for now, I will do my best to pass on what I learned to the people who come to Manzanar At Dusk in April. I would like to end by thanking the rangers at Manzanar who contributed so much to this cause. They are wonderful people who have taken on such an important role of making sure the experiences of Manzanar are not forgotten. Thank you for everything that you do.

20-year-old Sophia McDaniel hails from San Jose, California and is in her third year of study at the University of California, San Diego, where she is majoring in Biochemistry/Cellular Biology. As she wrote, Sophia currently serves as President of the UCSD Nikkei Student Union and on the 2020 Manzanar At Dusk organizing committee.

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

LEAD PHOTO: Sophia McDaniel (right), is shown here reading an oral history excerpt at the site of Manzanar’s Children’s Village, where 101 orphans were incarcerated during World War II. Photo from the 2019 Katari trip, November 2, 2019, at the Manzanar National Historic Site by 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.

5 thoughts on “2019 Katari Trip Was An “Irreplaceable Experience” For One Student

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  1. This is a classic case of brainwashing perpetrated by the National Park Service employees upon a naive emotional college student

    Yes, the first generation Issei were not incarcerated but rather relocated for their own protection in the face of a violently racist retribution that would have been visited upon the poor defenceless Japanese Nationals and their Nisei children who were American citizens by virtue of their birth

    Imagine, as the war continues and the Caucasian sons, brothers and uncle’s come back in coffins piled high on the docks along the West Coast, exactly what would be the reaction?

    Mass bloodshed will befall the ethnic Japanese by shotgun and fire of their homes and businesses, indeed a true race war would have ensued which no law enforcement could, or would, tamp down

    While the relocation was not the most pleasant experience for the ethnic Japanese West Coast population, 119, 993 survived the test and, except for the 6,000 who returned to Japan to face rampant hunger and, of whom 5,700 returned to the American shore, and the unfortunate deaths of 7 male ethnic Japanese at the hands of probably racist Caucasian guards in the 10 camps.

    Young people should read extensively the history of the life in the unpleasant assembly centers and then the improving conditions in the relocation camps and think about the racist tendencies of the West Coast populations of whom my mother saw with her own eyes and enlightened me after I came home from a high school history class in anger at America’s treatment of the ethnic Japanese

    I doubt seriously that my input on the issue will ever be seen due to the moderater’s control over it’s presence on this page but you never know

    Think for yourself people

    1. It’s quite sad that this chapter in our nation’s history gets scant attention. It’s usually completely ignored in K-12 schools, and if it is covered at all it’s one paragraph in a textbook. With all due respect, that’s what you’ve fallen victim to. Your “protection” claim has been disproven time and time again by scholarly research, oral histories and other well-documented facts for decades. It doesn’t take much research to find the truth and we hope you do.

  2. The imprisonment did not end there. Even though I served under General MacArthur’s MIS/ATTIS in Tokyo, Japan, I could not find a place to rent or to even buy a home several years after Manzanar.
    Read my book, “Imprisoned without due Process” that I donated to the Manzanar Committee.I could not bear my soul in an oral interview so I submitted instead.
    I was the first Physics teacher at Manzanar and my picture a[[[ears in the high school annual, “My World.”

  3. I stand self-corrected, I misspoke when I said that the Issei were not incarcerated, a small percentage of first generation ethnic Japanese were indeed temporarily placed in prisons without freedom to leave voluntarily either because they had monetarily or in spirit supported the mother country
    The vast majority were successful in explaining away their support and then they were quickly reunited with their families in one of the Relocation Camps, humanely run by the WRA, War Relocation Authority, not by some evil axis of human torture as you may have been erroneously taught
    Within a very few months, a plan was put in place to allow any ethnic Japanese American to voluntarily leave the camp and move to anywhere else in the United States except for the West Coast where those individuals would have been subjected to a far worse treatment than they experienced in the Relocation Camps
    If, on the other hand, an ethnic Japanese spoke out in support of the Imperial Japanese Forces attaining victory over Allied Forces, they might well find themselves under much less favorable conditions at the infamous Tile Lake Relocation Camp, or worse yet, at the penal institution in Dante Fe, New Mexico, as did my friends father, Mr Omoto, find himself in both circumstances owing to his loyalty to the mother country and utter disgust for America for the rampant racism that he had been shown as a self made Long Beach CA farmer

    In any event, I have now corrected my former slip of the tongue and would be happy to engage anyone with an un mind in the historical, not the political, discussion about the factual record

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