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.
I joined the Manzanar At Dusk Committee to learn more about my family history, and the history surrounding the Japanese American community. As a gosei (五世), fifth generation Japanese American, and a mixed race individual (half Japanese and half White), I wanted to discover more about my heritage, and the Katari program was an opportunity for me to do so. Taking part in the Katari program gave me ways to reconnect and piece together parts of my own family history I would not have been able to find on my own.
As an educational experience, my eyes were opened to the stories never included in my high school history textbook. Hearing from former incarcerees and learning about their stories left me with an experience I would never forget. The program also gave me the courage to talk with my family openly about their experiences, allowing me to learn new things and reconnect with them on a deeper level.
Remembering the past will help bring change for the future. History does repeat itself. Even today, we can observe the same things happening to other communities. Speaking up and taking action are ways to make those changes. We, as a human race, should stand together to stop the repeats of history and recognize the wrongs committed to the people that make up our communities.
But Wait, There’s More
I wanted to include a little bit about the information I learned after taking part in Katari and talking to my jichan (grandfather in Japanese) about his life in camp.
My jichan’s family was incarcerated in Tule Lake and, discovered through this program, I also had family in Gila River. I called my jichan, George Kubo, over the weekend. When I asked about life in Tule Lake, all he had were relatively good things to say. He was eleven when he was uprooted from Loomis, California. The family lived and rented a house on farmland working for the Leak family. In George’s memories, they were very kind and treated them very well.
When the Executive Order 9066 came out, they had to leave everything behind. Fortunately, the Leak family held on to their possessions as they were about to leave for an indefinite amount of time.
His first stop was the Marysville assembly center, then went straight to Tule Lake, where he stayed until after the war. They were assigned to Block 34, building 3. They were a large family, so they took up both sections, A and B. In the camps, everyone had their own role to fill. My jichan was the youngest of six children. He told me his Dad worked as a police officer, and Mom worked in the kitchen with my jichan’s oldest sister, Mary. His oldest brother, Harry, taught bookkeeping as a teacher. Yasu, his other older brother, worked at the warehouse where they stored vegetables farmed in the camp before they were packaged to ship out to other camp locations. His other two sisters, Flora and May, went to school like him. George went to school in the morning and Japanese school in the afternoon. During the summer he would work in the fields as a vegetable picker to earn money for the family. Most of the time, the kids would play basketball and marbles. My jichan even recalls winning the camp marble tournament.
George really emphasized the fact that he never experienced forms of violence or abuse from the American soldiers stationed at Tule Lake. He even mentioned that there weren’t many restrictions on people being able to make trips outside of the camp. Not until the last year of the war did they restrict people from leaving. After the loyalty questionnaire was sent out, thousands of people transferred in and out of Tule Lake, which is widely-known as being a segregation center where those opposing the government were sent. George’s family chose to remain in Tule Lake because it was the closest to home.
There was an event where George remembered the “radicals” causing some issues that resulted in the entire camp to go without rice as a form of punishment for about a week, but did not recall hearing about other forms of violence or activity that would be necessary for firearms to be used on the people in the camps.
After camp, they all ended up in Sanger, California. Mary got married in camp and moved to Fresno with her husband, Bill Hirata. The rest of the kids went with their parents to find work again as farm pickers. Prejudice against the Japanese still made life difficult. Especially while my jichan continued school. Harry Kubo became a sort of a political figure and was one of the founding members of the Nisei Farmers League. He met with a lot of government officials to discuss reparations for the Japanese Americans who were incarcerated and was even invited by Ronald Raegan to attend his presidential inauguration, mentioned by my jichan during our phone call. After the closure of the camps, Harry tried to persuade the government to move away from providing money as reparations and instead provide rest homes for the elderly Japanese population in all of the west coast states. The ones who suffered the most were the elderly that didn’t have anyone to take care of them. The JACL fought for the money to be given instead, and that’s what ended up happening.
George did eventually serve in the United States Marine Corps as a translator stationed in Japan. He got married to Jean Kakutani and had four children together. My maternal grandmother, Jean, ended up passing away at a young age when my father was 15 years old, so I never got the chance to meet her. I learned that she was interned at Gila River, the same camp as George’s cousins. I hope to find a chance to talk to family and also learn what it was like at Gila River since I’ve only learned about a few of the camps in depth. My jichan talks comfortably about his life in camp, and even mentioned reuniting with Nancy Kurokawa, a girl that knitted him a sweater, twenty years after they got out and reminisced the memories of their childhood together.
Not one experience will be the exact same as another. Thousands of people means thousands of stories. Listen and learn from them before they are lost forever. I’m so glad I had a chance before it was too late to speak with my jichan, who is almost 90 years old now. I hope others find the courage to start asking questions and talk about what happened. I learned so much and will be continuing to learn more as I converse with my family.
A 23-year-old native of Temple City, California, Sara Kubo is a recent graduate of California State University, Fullerton, where she studied International Business, and was a member of the CSUF Nikkei Student Union, serving as a staff member and Culture Night Taiko Coordinator. She is currently working with Japanese American Memorial Pilgrimages (JAMP) on their young adult committee, Nikkei Rising. She is also serving on the 2021 Manzanar At Dusk organizing committee.
LEAD PHOTO: Sara Kubo. Photo courtesy Sara Kubo..
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