2020-21 Katari Program: Connecting to Stories of Our Families and the Japanese American Community

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.

Despite the hurdle we know as the COVID-19 pandemic, Katari has opened my eyes further on the history of the people I call my own.

As a descendant of a former incarcerated person, I was well-aware of my grandfather’s experience. Visiting Manzanar was a staple on family road trips, so I’m familiar with many of the accounts that have shaped the Manzanar National Historic Site. I thought I knew all that I needed to know when it comes to the scars of my predecessors, but Katari proved that there is much more that I must learn to fully understand the past of my people.

My grandfather and my great-grandparents were incarcerated at Tule Lake, California. A couple years ago, we took my grandfather to Manzanar, which is where his parents were originally incarcerated. My grandfather started to recall memories and stories the more we walked around the camps. My grandfather is my sole link to learning about the camps, as my great-grandparents have both passed. Outside of my grandfather, I only had myself to rely on for more information regarding the camp. To my dissatisfaction, however, I couldn’t find very much information on my own. Katari truly helped me learn more about the camps by providing so much information. Not only did I learn more about my own family, but I learned more about the camps as a whole. There were so many things I hadn’t learned, and I truly felt like I had a closer look at the history of the Japanese American incarceration.

To me, the most impact came from the people who were present with me. It was truly amazing and awe-inspiring. During Katari, we were given time to talk in small groups about our own stories and perspectives. My peers and I opened up about our own connections to the camps. Some had family members, like mine, who answered the loyalty questionnaire negatively. Others were learning about their families through their documents and having the Manzanar staff teach them how to read the rosters and other documents. It was eye-opening to hear so many stories that were similar to mine, yet they had details that made them unique, at the same time.

Katari provided us with the connections to really dive deep into, not just the stories of our families, but stories of the Japanese American community as a whole. During Katari, we had the opportunity to talk with peers, Manzanar staff, survivors, and other descendants of incarcerated people. Everyone had their own experiences, and Katari became a melting pot of those experiences. It was very insightful to hear from so many different points of view. We were learning from each other, while learning together. It was truly something special. From first accounts of descendants like me to video documentaries of formerly incarcerated people, every story resonated within me. I felt closer to my community, closer to my past.

My grandfather always told me, as a child, to never be ashamed of my culture. I never understood what he meant, but after hearing the stories of those damaged by the war’s hatred, I understood why. I never knew that there were individuals who wished that they weren’t Japanese, solely because of the hate directed towards them. I was taught the Japanese were proud and resilient people, so it came as a shock to me when I heard the perspectives of those who were resentful of their heritage. Some were even unaware of their Japanese ancestry, such as the hapa children from Children’s Village. My heart was in pain when hearing first accounts of individuals who were forced to experience that. I can only imagine how confused and afraid a child with no exposure to their culture would be during the time of the war. Discrimination was a huge barrier during and after the war, and I never realized how detrimental it was to one’s identity. I knew that there was a lot of pain and suffering during the time in the camps, but I didn’t know the amount of that pain and suffering that followed them post-war.

It is because of those people who endured that pain and suffering that I’m able to stand where I am today. I am proud to be a Japanese American, and I am proud of my community for their resilience and their determination. Katari has inspired me to dig even deeper in my past, and I am very grateful for the experience Katari has provided me. Many survivors are no longer alive, so it is up to us, the future generations, to carry on their stories.

A 19-year-old native of Seal Beach, California, where she currently resides, Maya Shimizu is in her second year at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), where she is studying Molecular Cell Biology and Physiology. She is currently serving as the Culture Night Producer for the CSULB Nikkei Student Union, and as a member of the 2021 Manzanar At Dusk organizing committee.

LEAD PHOTO: Maya Shimizu. Photo courtesy Maya Shimizu..

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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