In the coming weeks, the college students who participated in our annual program, Katari: Keeping Japanese American Stories Alive, will share their thoughts about this year’s program.
Katari, a program of the Manzanar Committee and the Manzanar National Historic Site, is in its fifth year, working to give young people some of the tools they’ll need to help others learn about the forced removal of over 120,000 Japanese/Japanese Americans from their homes and their unjust incarceration in American concentration camps, and other confinement sites, during World War II.
In this installment, Kaylee Takata of the Cal Poly Pomona Nikkei Student Union shared how the program impacted her.
One of my very first exposures to the injustices inflicted upon Japanese Americans was during a school assembly on December 7. I stood on the concrete in Hawaii’s humid air, looking up at the third story of the school building, where the principal stood with guest speakers who presented their stories.
Although I had no prior knowledge, I recall the seven-year-old me feeling sympathetic for the elders who shared their experiences that day.
As a shin-Nisei, I have no relatives who were incarcerated in the camps. However, as a result of my previous residences in Hawai’i, Arizona, and California, I was able to hear stories from Japanese American communities in those areas about their experiences.
Despite the stories all taking place in separate areas of the United States, the mistreatment they all received was unethical and cruel. Unfortunately, most of those people who told me their stories have now passed away, and it was not until Katari that I realized how valuable those opportunities were.
This year, I was invited to attend the Katari program to learn, in-depth, about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. The land that the U.S. Government utilized to build the incarceration camps, was not even theirs to begin with. Rather, they were lands stolen from the indigenous people. This is an important component of Manzanar’s history that is often overlooked and should be more publicly recognized.
Being able to hear the stories of those incarcerated immediately resonated with me as well. The mental challenges they had to go through, and the living situations they had to endure, are things that America is too ashamed to recognize openly.
Despite the suffering described by former inmates, the government’s horrible actions were justified as a necessity given the conditions at the time.
Katari showed me how people are relying on the present generation to continue on and share the injustices of Japanese Americans. I was able to enrich myself with the knowledge that I would not have had if it had not been for Katari, and I am grateful for the work put behind it.
Even though I grew up in a Japanese American community, I never imagined I would be as involved as I am now, such as through my engagement with Cal Poly Pomona Nikkei Student Union (CPP NSU). I am grateful to prior generations for providing a space where I feel at ease with my identity, and I hope to return the favor.
Anti-Asian sentiment started before the war and is still an ongoing issue. We’ve seen hate crimes escalate during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the influence they hold over society and multiple ethnic groups. Because we are one of the last generations to hear these stories first-hand, it is our responsibility to pass the stories on to future generations.
Kaylee Takata, is in her third year at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, where she is studying Visual Communication Design. The native of Kapa’a, Hawai’i currently serves as the Director of Cultural Affairs, and as Historian, for CPP NSU. She also serves on the 2022 Manzanar At Dusk Organizing Committee. She writes from Arcadia, California.
The views expressed in this story are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.
LEAD PHOTO: Kaylee Takata. Photo courtesy Kaylee Takata.
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