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. As you may know, we’ve been sharing their reflection on their experiences in the program over the last few months. This is the final installment of the series.
Katari was an eye-opening experience that taught me a great deal about Japanese American history and the importance of sharing and learning history.
I was born in Japan, but I’ve lived in the United States for most of my life, which, technically, makes me Issei. I have always considered myself very Japanese, even though my father is fully American. I grew up speaking Japanese and eating mostly Japanese foods, and our family stayed very connected to Japan. Attending Katari was eye-opening for me because I got to hear the stories of the Japanese American community, which was very foreign to me for my entire life.
Growing up as Japanese and American, I never thought about the cross-section of the two nationalities. I was Japanese at home and with my family, and American while at school and with my friends, and that always felt very normal to me.
Learning about the Japanese American community through Katari opened my eyes, not only to the history of Manzanar and Japanese American Incarceration, but to the overwhelming strength of the Japanese American community. Learning about incarcerated life at Manzanar, Sue Kunitomi Embrey, and the fight for redress amd reparations, revealed the persistence and strength of the Japanese American community.
Although I have not considered myself Japanese American, learning about how hard Japanese Americans fought for redress filled me with a sense of pride. Through Katari, I was able to listen to the stories of those who once lived in the camps, like Manzanar, and gain new insight into what life was like at incarceration camps. I learned the toll the camps took on the Japanese American people. While I don’t have family who were incarcerated, and I couldn’t empathize in that same way with their struggles, I was able to listen to the stories of former incarcerees and gain a much deeper understanding and empathy for what they went through. Thank you to the wonderful people who took time out of their weekend to speak to us about their experiences.
Sadly, this year’s Katari program had to be held online, not in person, at the Manzanar National Historic Site. Despite this, we were still able to have a very interesting and productive Katari program online. We were able to hear stories about the different areas of Manzanar, along with videos and photos of the relevant areas. Learning about the camps was equally interesting and heartbreaking, and the accompaniment of the oral histories made the experience even deeper. Thank you to the National Park Service for putting together such an in-depth program online.
I look forward to participating in the Manzanar Pilgrimage myself one day so that I can see all I learned about first-hand. I would highly recommend the Katari experience to members of the Japanese American community, and to those who do not identify as Japanese American. The experience is certain to open your eyes to the history of Japanese American incarceration.
LEAD PHOTO: Kipling Stopa. Photo courtesy of Kipling Stopa.
A 20-year-old native of California’s Bay Area, Kiplng Stopa is studying Aerospace Engineering at the University of California, San Diego. He currently serves are the Culture Chair for the UCSD Nikkei Student Union and as a member of the 2021 Manzanar At Dusk Organizing Committee.
The views expressed in this story are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.
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