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.
Through Katari, I have greatly enriched my knowledge of Japanese American history. During this program, we were able to connect with former incarcerees from the different camps. By hearing many oral histories, we gained a better understanding of the range of experiences the Japanese Americans went through during World War II.
Being able to speak directly with former incarcerees was an immense privilege. With the future generations of Japanese Americans becoming further and further removed from this dark period of history, I want to do my best to help preserve and pass on these stories to the next generation.
Growing up, the history of Japanese American incarceration was largely left out of my primary education. The American population is mainly unaware of the extent of the injustices the United States Government has committed against various marginalized groups. Sadly, history repeats itself, and without the acknowledgement of past transgressions, our country cannot move forward towards peace, equity, and justice. The challenges that our generation must face are, ultimately, the legacy of other wrongdoings that were never truly dealt with.
Katari also gave me an opportunity to explore my own family’s history. I grew up hearing many stories from my grandfather, John Matsumoto, about his childhood. While my grandfather was very open about his experiences as a child at Tule Lake, and after the war, there were many details that I was not aware of until Katari. Through the help of Manzanar ranger Sarah Bone, I was able to access numerous documents about my paternal grandfather’s and grandmother’s respective camp records. Most surprisingly, I learned that my paternal great-grandfather, John Matsumoto, Sr. and his siblings, all renounced their American citizenship.
After I discovered this information, I was excited to share with my grandfather what I had found. He was impressed by the abundance of information the National Park Service had access to, including his high school yearbook photos. We spent a long time looking over the different documents, and I was able to slowly piece together the rest of my family’s story. He told me that his father, aunts, and uncles did in fact renounce their citizenships and considered returning to Kumamoto, Japan. He then remarked that a lawyer helped get their citizenship back. When he mentioned that, I recalled Hiroshi Shimizu’s story, and asked him if that lawyer was Wayne Collins. My grandfather confirmed my guess and was very surprised that I knew that name. He mentioned that growing up, his father regularly donated to the ACLU after the war.
My grandfather’s family was angered at the United States Government’s mistreatment of their own citizens and, as such, answered the loyalty questionnaire “no-no,” and renounced their citizenship in protest. This revelation about my family’s choices explained a lot about my family’s values. While my grandfather told me about his life at Tule Lake, more of his stories detailed his youth after the war. When it was time for my grandfather to return to school, his father made sure to tell him that what they went through in the camps was nothing to be ashamed about. Growing up, I was instilled with similar values of always standing up for yourself and having pride in my heritage. The Issei and Nisei were extremely resilient when faced with oppression during and after the war. As a Gosei, I feel extremely lucky to be able to work alongside other members of our community and participate in programs like Katari and Manzanar At Dusk to help keep these stories alive.
19-year-old Ashley Matsumoto, a native of Sacramento, California, is in her second year at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she is studying Business Economics. She is a member of the Nikkei Student Union at UCLA, serving as the currently as Co-Chair, Cultural Awareness and Community Service. She also serves on the 2021 Manzanar At Dusk organizing committee.
LEAD PHOTO: Ashley Matsumoto. Photo courtesy Ashley Matsumoto.
The views expressed in this story are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.
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