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 in the following weeks.
When I was in high school, I became more interested in Japanese American internment during World War II, mostly because of the lack of information there was about it in my tenth grade United States History textbook. I remember my Advanced Placement U.S. History teacher lecturing about this subject during our World War II unit, and all she had in her PowerPoint presentation was a one-bullet point statement “describing” what happened. I was very upset that that was all she taught about Japanese American internment. Although I didn’t speak up to tell her that there was so much more than just that one bullet point, I ended up taking matters into my own hands by doing more research without her.
I have visited Manzanar a few times, but the only time I could actually remember was my most recent trip back in 2017. This visit was a very eye-opening experience because I got a first-hand view of the camp. I got to see what the barracks looked like up close, eat lunch in the mess hall, and even play basketball on the outdoor courts. Even though I was able to see Manzanar, it was very difficult to even imagine what camp must’ve been like. I left Manzanar a little more educated, but still craved more information about what camps were actually like.
Katari was that missing piece. We spent a whole weekend hearing primary accounts of former internees, while also learning about some of the history behind the camps. One thing that never clicked in my mind was that the camps were not just a result of Pearl Harbor, and that there were many racist laws in America and anti-Asian sentiment even before the war began. Another thing I didn’t realize was how important a role archaeology played in the history of Manzanar. I had not known that Manzanar had an orphanage, the Children’s Village, and when we heard about the toy trucks, baby bottles, and marbles that were found buried in the ground years later, it was a bittersweet feeling. I couldn’t even imagine being a kid in Manzanar, let alone a kid without parents, and the fact that they were able to still play and have fun in this horrible situation was something extraordinary.
Another thing we often forget to acknowledge is that many of these camps were built on Native American land. Manzanar shares land with the Paiute and Shoshone of the Owens Valley, and we were privileged enough to be able to hear stories from some of them who live there. I believe that it is important to be conscious of the land that we reside on, and the indigenous people who may have lived there in the past or still live there today.
Katari was a touching experience for me and to commemorate it, I created the above graphic art piece which shows a play area outside of the Children’s Village with the children’s lost toys in a layer of soil below the surface and a few Paiute-Shoshone artifacts further beneath that layer. The biggest takeaway that I received from Katari is that history isn’t always easy to understand and it can never be fully discovered when only looking at the surface; we must always dig deeper to find out the rest.
Hayley Yamamoto, 21, is in her third year at the University of California, San Diego, where she is studying Cognitive Science. The Culver City, California native is the President of the UCSD Nikkei Student Union and she also serves on the 2021 Manzanar At Dusk organizing committee.
LEAD PHOTO: Hayley Yamamoto. Photo courtesy Hayley Yamamoto..
CHILDREN’S VILLAGE GRAPHIC ART IMAGE: ©2021 Hayley Yamamoto. All rights reserved. Used with permission..
The views expressed in this story are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.
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