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.
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