2019 Katari Project: Learning About Manzanar’s Orphanage Hit One Student “Really Hard”

Many people are unaware that even orphans were among the more than 120,000 Japanese/Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated in American concentration camps, and other confinement sites, during World War II. Indeed, 101 orphans were rounded up and incarcerated, all of them at Manzanar’s Children’s Village. For one of the students who participated in the 2019 edition of Katari: Keeping Japanese American Stories Alive, learning about Children’s Village turned out to be, not only an emotional experience, but a deeply personal one, as well.

The Katari trip to the Manzanar National Historic Site in November was something I never could have planned or prepared myself for. I learned so many new things, hearing amazing stories from wonderful and inspiring people, and gaining so much information and perspective from others. That made this particular trip to Manzanar emotional and eye-opening. It really made me think about my culture and where I (and my mom) came from.

Being someone who has family who were incarcerated during World War II gave me a deeper connection with Manzanar and what Japanese Americans had to go through. My mother’s parents (and their siblings) were incarcerated at the Minidoka and Tule Lake concentration camps, so knowing that my family were there made it more personal.

I decided to draw (see above) what spoke to me the most. I am someone who would rather express how I feel through art, so I drew the mountains and the cemetery monument at Manzanar. I drew the mountains because I feel they are a significant part of how the incarcerees lived and what they could do. The Eastern Sierras made it colder at times, or windy, and secluded. These are obstacles the incarcerees overcame and grew from. In the sky (which is a light sunset color), I wrote, One Camp, 10,000 Lives, One Camp, 10,000 Stories. This quote (which is from the Manzanar Visitor Center) spoke to me in so many ways and it makes us realize how many people were affected and that we can learn from each and every one.

Lastly, I drew the cemetery monument because it is a symbol of hope to me, a symbol that reminds us that we should forgive, but not forget. We must remember the bad so we can move on, improve and better ourselves. On the monument is the same kanji (Japanese characters) as on the actual one. I wrote it in my handwriting to show that this is a part of our culture and past, but also that it affects me, as an individual. The CSULB Nikkei Student Union folds 1,000 origami cranes each year to place at this monument, during our trip to the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, and it is so we can show respect to all those who struggled.

During the Katari trip, we learned about so much more than what we learned at the Manzanar Pilgrimage, and I think that this is something everyone should also know about. What stuck out for me the most was the gardens and orphanage. The gardens showed me that even though things can be bad and dull, you can make beauty out of anything and anywhere. It was their symbol of hope in a dark place. I also feel like the gardens were a way for them to remember who they were. Being Japanese, I feel as though gardens are a big part of our culture. How they were maintained, and seeing that the incarcerees created gardens in a place so dull, gave me a lot of inspiration.

The orphanage (Children’s Village) made me very emotional. Being adopted, I feel like I can relate to them and their feelings. During the Katari trip, we each read aloud oral history excerpts from people about this and the quote I read had to do with being adopted. That hit me really hard because I knew how they felt and what it is like to be abandoned.

The gardens and Children’s Village gave me two different feelings, both deep and connecting to my history and culture, that would not have been possible if it weren’t for this trip. I was able to look at a place through the eyes of those who experienced it. Hearing stories from people who experienced it made it more real. From the funny and entertaining ones to the sad and personal ones, Katari gave us a chance to see different sides of Manzanar and how the incarcerees were able to make a bad situation better.

Katari is an experience that I would choose to do over and over again. Learning about the different parts of Manzanar that we do not usually see gave me an even deeper understanding of the incarcerees and what they went through. I believe that it is important for us to stay connected with our past, learn about the struggles the incarcerees went through and how this history shaped how we live our lives today.

A 21-year-old native of Nagano, Japan, Emily Wong is in her third year at California State University, Long Beach, where she is studying Business Marketing. As she noted, Emily is an adoptee, raised in Long Beach by Chinese and Japanese parents. She currently serves as the Intercollegiate Nikkei Council representative for the CSULB 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: Emily Wong (right) is shown here after reading an excerpt from an oral history at the site of Children’s Village. November 2, 2019, Manzanar National Historic Site. Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.

The drawing above is ©2019 by Emily Wong. All rights reserved. Duplication is prohibited without permission.

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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