For the two returning students who participated in the 2019 edition of Katari: Keeping Japanese American Stories Alive at the Manzanar National Historic Site, they weren’t just tagging along with the rest of the group, going through the motions after having been through the same experience the previous year. Rather, their challenge was to gain additional knowledge and deepen their understanding of what they had previously learned. Both of the returning students were quite successful at meeting that challenge and one of them tells us how he did it in this reflection.
Thanks to the Manzanar Committee and the National Park Service staff at the Manzanar National Historic Site, I was one of 14 college students who were given an unforgettable experience, learning in-depth about life at Manzanar, November 2-3, 2019. While this is my second year going on the Katari trip, I found it to be just as impactful as the first. No matter how many times I visit the Manzanar, I always find myself gaining new insight on another life and story that came out of the unjust imprisonment of more than 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans during World War II.
Going into this trip, I had a good idea of what general topics were going to be discussed. Knowing this, I wanted to challenge myself and really try to see the Manzanar experience through new lenses. I knew that, with what Manzanar and the Katari trip had to offer, I would be walking away from the trip with more knowledge than I could process in just a weekend. However, my second time around, I tried to strive for more. I wanted to try and experience the life of someone living within the barbed wire fence. I felt like this was going to be the most effective way for me to truly take the most away from this year’s Katari trip.
The most impactful experience for me, one in which I really felt like I was achieving my personal goal for the trip, was our time at Children’s Village, where 101 orphans were incarcerated. It still seems a little odd to me that it hit me at this point, but we were passing around some marbles that were uncovered during a recent archeological dig, and there was one that particularly caught my eye.
I ended up holding onto that marble a little longer than the other ones and I found myself just staring at it. At that moment, I saw myself as a child at Manzanar, holding the same marble. I imagined myself as one of these children, stuck in a camp with no idea of how they got there or what to expect for the future, and as we walked away from Children’s Village, I could not help but think about that marble.
Even after the trip, I would catch myself thinking about the moment I had with the marble at the Children’s Village, and it still hit me, emotionally. While I am not an orphan, I think what really caught me in that mindset was thinking about, not just the orphans at Children’s Village, but children living throughout the entire camp.
Being raised by a teacher, my mother has been my biggest inspiration and role model in my life. The single, biggest characteristic that I feel like I got from my mom was her passion for the youth and what educating them means to the future of our community. This emphasis on community and youth that she instilled in me and this single moment really put the rest of the trip into perspective and made it all worth it. I hope to really take this experience and incorporate this feeling I had into the 2020 Manzanar At Dusk program.
I am excited to be working with the rest of the students who went on the Katari trip this year, as I feel like we really made the most out of the trip, as a whole. I would also like to give a huge shout out to the staff and park rangers at the Manzanar National Historic Site. It is hard to truly express in words how much I respect these individuals who dedicate much of their lives to uncovering the truths at Manzanar for the public to learn about. Thank you again, Manzanar Committee, for giving me the opportunity to experience this trip, and I truly am looking forward to creating the 2020 Manzanar At Dusk program with the rest of my fellow students.
Justin Fujii currently serves as President of the Nikkei Student Union at California State University, Fullerton, where he is a senior, majoring in Sociology. The 22-year-old native of La Palma, California is also in his second year as a member of the 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: Justin Fujii (foreground, third from left) is shown here with fellow students during a presentation just outside the Manzanar National Historic Site cemetery, November 3, 2019. Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.
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