We continue with our series of reflection pieces from students who participated in the 2019 edition of Katari: Keeping Japanese American Stories Alive, November 2-3, 2019, at the Manzanar National Historic Site. In this installment, one of our students shared his perspective on the importance of ensuring that the stories of Japanese American incarcerees are not forgotten.
One of the first things I learned during the Katari trip to the Manzanar National Historic Site was a statement I will remember for the rest of my life: One Camp, 10,000 Lives. One Camp, 10,000 Stories.
The Katari trip was an amazing opportunity to learn about the Manzanar concentration camp and Japanese American history. I have participated in the Manzanar Pilgrimage the past two years with the Nikkei Student Union at UCLA, and I expected a similar experience during the Katari trip. I’m very happy to say I was severely wrong.
We were able to learn about the site in great detail, thanks to the park rangers and former incarcerees. Our time spent at Merritt Park was the most memorable part of the trip for me. Merritt Park was a park and pond built by the incarcerees. I had read about such structures before in books, but seeing it in person was a powerful experience. As we looked upon the excavated park and it’s now bone-dry pond, I imagined what the park might have been when the incarcerees were living there.
I saw lush plants growing in the midst of a desolate desert, people walking and talking on the bridges, and children playing at the pond’s edge. The dry, dusty park was still beautiful in my eyes because it made me think about the people who built and used it as people with stories, rather than a fact in a textbook. I looked out across the empty desert and wondered how many more stories were buried in the sand, waiting to be uncovered.
My maternal grandparents, Yonekazu and Daisy Satoda, were incarcerated at the Jerome and Topaz concentration camps, respectively. My grandparents were extremely vocal about their experiences during their incarceration because they saw the importance of preserving that history. Over the course of the Katari trip, I was able to connect with my grandparents stories. Although they were not incarcerated at Manzanar, their stories came to life for me as we walked around the site.
When a cloud of dust was kicked up, I imagined my grandparents walking in my footsteps to school or work as a part of their normal routine. I further realized how stories like those of my grandparents help people connect with the history. The personal experiences and feelings shared in these stories make us remember that there are real people with stories that need to be shared behind this history. One camp, 10,000 people, 10,000 stories to tell. We have a duty to keep these stories alive because they bring the history to life and allow people to understand it. I am truly excited to share everything I have learned and my grandparents stories with anyone who’s willing to listen.
Timothy Takazo Suen is in his third year at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is studying Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. The 20-year-old San Francisco, California native is the Internal Vice President of the Nikkei Student Union at UCLA, and serves 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: Timothy Suen (second from right) is shown here with fellow students during a presentation at the Manzanar Reservoir. November 3, 2019, on Bureau of Land Management land, just to the northwest of the Manzanar National Historic Site. Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.
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