Editor’s Note: The 2020-21 Katari program, which is usually held in early November at the Manzanar National Historic Site, had to be moved to an online format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the loss of the extremely important placed-based learning component of the program, by all accounts, it seems that we were able to deliver an effective and meaningful educational program for our students, who will be sharing their thoughts about their Katari experience over the next few weeks.
Attending Katari for the first time this year was truly a moving experience. The major facts of Manzanar and the other Japanese incarceration camps was not something new to me, as I had been to several pilgrimages in the years prior. But Katari showed me the fine details, sharing information that the average person with knowledge of the camps wouldn’t know. I learned of the graffiti at the reservoir, and how people would make their marks and messages for different reasons. They would do it out of anger, for identity, or to lift themselves up. Seeing photos of the communal and family gardens in the camp was certainly shocking. Before this, I had only ever seen the barren remnants of the ponds and waterscapes at Manzanar, and the dry and desert scenery surrounding the camp didn’t lend well to the idea that these gardens were once something green and beautiful. But the photos proved that beauty did exist in the camps, that the people here had made an oasis in the desert, a symbol of their resolve and resilience.
What struck me the most were the deeply personal stories and accounts that were shown to us from survivors, as well as hearing some of these stories directly from former incarcerees who were still alive today. No two stories were the same, with each survivors’ experience unique and their own. One person may have had their family torn apart by questions 27 and 28, whereas another may have all repatriated to Japan. One child may have been able to experience a semblance of fun being able to socialize with their peers, while another would grow up traumatized by spotlights and guns, fixed on their position. To hear how the pains of the camps followed these people well after the war was over and the camps closed was heartbreaking. Survivors would face constant and completely unwarranted discrimination and hatred while trying to reassimilate into daily life. Stories of how people were ashamed to be Japanese, wishing they could be another race; these were the stories that showed the impact and evils that the incarceration camps brought upon innocent American citizens.
My time at Katari was truly an enlightening one. While I wish I could have been there in person, I know I had still had the experience of a lifetime. Hearing and seeing the true depth and detail of life in Manzanar and the other camps, and the people who lived through it, is something I will carry and hold for the rest of my life.
Clayton Takamiyashiro is a 21-year-old native of Lakewood, California, where he currently resides. A criminal justice major at California State University, Long Beach, he serves as Cultural Chair of the CSULB Nikkei Student Union. He also serves on the 2021 Manzanar At Dusk organizing committee.
LEAD PHOTO: Clayton Takamiyashiro. Photo courtesy Clayton Takamiyashiro..
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