2020-21 Katari Program: “We Should Band Together and Stand in Solidarity With Groups Who Face Similar Discrimination and Harassment”

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.

Prior to the Katari weekend, I had no idea what to expect due to circumstances of transitioning Katari to an online format. Even though two full days of online calls seemed daunting at first, the program coordinators and all the guests during the call really enhanced my experience and allowed me to gain a better understanding of Manzanar in the confines of my home. We went into specific details about the incarceration, bringing in a multitude of people with first-hand experience, which was something special that Katari had offered. Not only that, it allowed me to be given a variety of perspectives that helped to shed light on some of the injustices felt by my own grandparents and many other Japanese Americans.

I had never been on a pilgrimage to one of the historical sites. Most of what I had previously learned came from secondary sources, such as trips to the Japanese American National Museum, from the Go For Broke National Education Center, and various Nikkei Student Union events. My sole connection to the camps came from my grandparents who were incarcerated, one at Manzanar and Tule Lake, and the other at Amache.

When I was young, I never felt the need to ask my grandparents about their stories. It wasn’t until I joined NSU and became more immersed in the Japanese American community that I began to ask these questions about their experiences. Even though they were both young in the camps, the stories that their own parents told were still passed down, such as my grandfather’s Dad burning all their possessions before moving to the camps, or my grandmother being the first-born child in Amache. These stories really motivated me to participate in Katari.

One of the major aspects that stuck with me was going over family documents. A park ranger at the Manzanar National Historic Site, Sarah Bone, helped us with family research and was able to find many documents about my family’s history. Ranging from immigration cards to camp rosters, the information given was really valuable. During the time, I volunteered to have Sarah both interpret and explain these documents with the group. Going into the documents more in-depth allowed me to share things with my family that they had never seen before, and it helped to bring forth information that was lost. I am incredibly grateful to the rangers searching for these documents.

Going over these documents made me question some things about my family’s past. Thankfully, a lot of my questions were answered by the guest speakers throughout the days. First off, former Amache incarceree Min Tonai really helped to paint a picture of what my grandmother’s family had experienced. Things such as the conditions at Santa Anita, the barracks at Amache, and explanations of the weather aided me in understanding what camp life was really like in Colorado. Hearing someone like Min talk gave me a new understanding of the stories that my grandmother told, but she was really too young to remember a lot.

Overall, each topic helped to interpret the experiences my grandfather had in the camps. Going over topics such as the Manzanar Revolt, oral histories, the Manzanar Reservoir, and the Children’s Village helped to give a visual image of Manzanar, while also giving me a chance to understand the perils of living there during the time. The biggest thing that stuck with me were presentations by former incarcerees Pat Sakamoto, Nancy Oda, and Hiroshi Shimizu, who spoke about their experiences with the Loyalty Questionnaire. These stories demonstrated how difficult it was to answer questions 27 and 28, and the reasons for choosing the possible answers. Reasons such as staying together as a family, or disgruntlement with the United States were just some of the influences to answer “no-no.” Similar to my grandfather’s Dad, who had the difficult decision on how to answer the questionnaire, and I felt the decision was heavily influenced by trying to keep the family together. With these stories, I could only imagine how hard it was for him to decide to answer “no-no,” and move the entire family to Tule Lake, especially with the discrimination for those who were incarcerated there.

Everything we heard during the two days of Katari really resonated with me, allowing me to gain a new perspective on the injustices to my family and the entire Japanese American community. It helped me gain an appreciation to keep these stories “alive” and continue to talk to those who faced these injustices. But we can’t stop there. These events should never happen again, and, as a Japanese American community, we should band together and stand in solidarity with groups who face similar discrimination and harassment. Our special Katari group later plans to spread knowledge and create connections at this year’s upcoming Manzanar At Dusk program, hoping to educate everyone on what we learned during the two days at Katari. We want to spread awareness of the stories so they will continue to be passed down for generations to come.

Ethan Gan, a 20-year-old native of Torrance, California, is in his third year at the University of California, Riverside, where he is studying Business Administration. He is the President of the UCR Nikkei Student Union, and he serves on the 2021 Manzanar At Dusk organizing committee.

LEAD PHOTO: Ethan Gan. Photo courtesy Ethan Gan.

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