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.
Since visiting Manzanar as part of the Manzanar Pilgrimage in 2019, it became apparent to me that the injustice of the Japanese American Incarceration is still deeply relevant to injustices faced by many today. The current dialogue held around education and activism is a dialogue that younger folks like me should embrace passionately, seeking justice and preventing the repetition of a horrible history. Visiting the Manzanar National Historic Site and seeing the barracks, touring the museum, as well as listening to personal stories of former incarcerees and their families, encouraged me to join the Manzanar At Dusk committee and participate in the Katari program this year.
The Katari program took my initial experience and showed me that there was still so much more to learn and understand about the history of incarceration. It enabled us to ensure that the stories of Japanese American internees are well-represented, fully understood, and remembered. A key aspect of accomplishing this is knowing how we should properly and effectively learn and share these stories. Through Katari, we were taught methods of interpreting history and the different types of truths that are intertwined within. I think this lesson is one of the biggest takeaways for me, as I realized that I hadn’t acknowledged the different voices and perspectives that have contributed to the narrative we are familiar with today.
For example, we were able to hear from activists and elders in Payahuunadü (the Owens Valley), indigenous Nuumu (Paiute) and Newe (Shoshone) communities, who shared the history of the indigenous people in the valley that Manzanar was built on. Learning how their history and the removal of their land relates to Manzanar drove home the importance of understanding historical interpretation. It further emphasized the need to provide platforms to amplify voices, as the issue of forced removal of indigenous people is often neglected in history. Another example is how the stories of guest speakers Min Tonai and Nancy Oda shared many similarities, but also many differences, due in part to their families being located in different camps. Listening to these narratives in person and understanding the way incarceration affected their lives and their families was an impactful and intimate experience that revealed how the effects of incarceration are still deeply felt today.
While I do not have family history tied to incarceration, this program has encouraged me to educate myself as best as I can about a history that should be told and learned. The injustices of Manzanar and Japanese American Incarceration are injustices that are being repeated today, and regardless of age or race, it is our duty to educate ourselves in order to put an end to this historical cycle. As we move past 2020 into 2021, we are witnessing a rise in anti-Asian sentiment and a need for solidarity between communities. Whether it is showing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, or with those held in detention centers at the border, the commitment of the Manzanar At Dusk committee to preserve cultural history and navigate these conversations are ways we can learn about and fight the injustices that continue to occur. Katari has been an eye-opening experience, revealing the harsh reality that the histories taught in classrooms are not the only histories that exist.
A 20-year-old native of Long Beach, California, Richenny Bovannak is a junior at California Polytechnic University, Pomona (CPP), where she is studying Civil Engineering. She is the President of the CPP Nikkei Student Union, and also serves on the 2021 Manzanar At Dusk organizing committee.
LEAD PHOTO: Richenny Bovannak. Photo courtesy Richenny Bovannak.
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