2020-21 Katari Program Provided So Much More Than A “Two-Sentence Paragraph About Japanese American Incarceration”

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 are sharing their thoughts about their Katari experience over the next few weeks.


I spent the last two weeks of January starting this reflection, getting about one paragraph in and deleting everything. It has been about two weeks since the end of Katari, and I’m still trying to process all the information that was given to me throughout the program. This was my second time participating in Katari, and this year, I did a lot more self-reflection than I did the last time. I keep thinking of all the oral histories we heard throughout the weekend, and it made me wonder how my grandfathers felt when they were in camp. Both my maternal and paternal grandfathers’ families were incarcerated at Heart Mountain, Wyoming. My maternal grandfather was born in camp, so it’s easy to understand that he has no memory of camp because he was too young; my paternal grandfather was 18 years old when he arrived at Heart Mountain, and even when we ask him about camp, he doesn’t say anything specific.

My parents, aunts, and uncles started teaching my cousins and I about camp at a young age. We would have family trips to Mammoth, and, on the way home, we would always stop at Manzanar. We used to swim in the reservoir just outside the barbed wire fence. The first time we talked about U.S. history in elementary school I was so excited because I knew about camp and wanted to talk about what happened to my family. But when we opened our books and started reading about World War II, there was a two-sentence paragraph about Japanese American incarceration. I find myself thinking back on this moment a lot, especially during events like Katari and the Manzanar Pilgrimage, and it brings tears to my eyes every time.

The one thing that has stood out from both Katari programs that I was a part of is the plaque (see above photo). The plaque has three sentences on it along with vandalism like bullet holes, letters cut off of it, and small slash marks in the metal. Every time I look at the plaque, I stare at the words “concentration camp” and feel like a nine-year-old girl again. I find myself thinking about how long I believed the “internment camp” rhetoric that was put into the history books; I think about all the people who still don’t understand the difference between internment camps and concentration camps; and I think about the future generations of Japanese Americans who will continue to read the same two sentences in history books. A “summary” that doesn’t even begin to address the conditions, the hardships, and the trauma that families experienced in camp. Without programs like Katari and the Manzanar Pilgrimage, those two sentences in a U.S. history book are all anyone is going to know.

22-year-old Megan Matsumoto, a native of Brea, California, where she currently resides. She is in her fourth year at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), where she is studying psychology. Matsumoto currently serves as President of the CSUF Nikkei Student Union, and as a member of the 2021 Manzanar At Dusk organizing committee.

LEAD PHOTO: Megan Matsumoto. Photo courtesy Megan Matsumoto..

PLAQUE PHOTO: California State Historic Landmark plaque. Photo by Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.

The views expressed in this story are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.


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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