My Experience at Manzanar

As in 2020 and 2021, this year, the 53rd Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage was held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Likewise, our annual Katari program for college students was also forced to be held online the past two years.

But this year, as conditions improved a bit, even though there was no live, in-person Pilgrimage program, the Manzanar Commitee held a small, in-person program at the Manzanar National Historic Site on April 22, 2022, an extension of the 2021-22 online Katari program. During this trip, students were able to see and experience some of what they learned about during the Katari program, up close and in-person.

Despite having the opportunity to visit Manzanar several times over the past decade, and experiencing past Manzanar Pilgrimages, this year’s “Mini-Katari” not only gave me a deeper insight into the stories of survivors of Manzanar, but also a deeper appreciation for what my grandma had to go through in the camps.

When I was younger, my trips to Manzanar were a blur, consisting of a day of sitting in the heat of the Mojave Desert, listening to several stories of speakers at the podium, only hearing a general gist of the stories of the camp.

Being a kid at the time, my mind wandered quite a lot, and I ended up distracted by my surroundings, looking at the sand or playing with desert caterpillars I had encountered along the way. It wasn’t until this recent trip, as a college student, that I could fully immerse myself within the history of Manzanar and truly learn what it meant to be a Japanese American.

Through the stories of people’s sentiments at the Manzanar reservoir, the Children’s Village, or the stories of those at the barracks, I really learned the true struggles of what Manzanar had in store. Most meaningful to me, was the stories that I heard of my grandma at the camp—her story and experiences of Manzanar, retold through the account of my aunt.

Despite always knowing my grandma had gone through the camps at a young age, raising my two aunts as a single mother, and being left by her husband, I never knew how grandma truly felt about the camps, seeing that it was a taboo topic and we were usually hush hush about it. This remained true until this trip to Manzanar, listening to the recollections of my aunt, my grandma always recounted it as “a bad time” and it shook her to her core. Her time at the internment camps had left her vulnerable, whether this meant what to do with her two daughters, how to live life with no job, and in a country where she was an outcast. She had felt ashamed, relying on welfare to provide for her family, my usually happy-go-lucky grandma felt ashamed despite all her hard work and efforts keeping the family afloat.

Manzanar not only affected people when they were interned, but had very long-lasting effects years later on the Japanese American community, something I had truly not realized until hearing these stories and testimonies. Everyone had their own story and had their own circumstances that made living life within Manzanar and other internment camps alike, so difficult and saddening.

Revisiting Manzanar as a college student has not only broadened my views and taught me more about internment but it also gave me a greater appreciation for people like my grandma who went through so much struggle to give me the life I have today.

Tyler Terada, 19, a native of Irvine, California, is a freshman at California State University, Long Beach, where he is studying Mechanical Engineering. He writes from Huntington Beach, California.

PHOTO: Former Manzanar incarceree and Manzanar Committee member Pat Sakamoto tells her mother’s story in the Block 14 demonstration barracks at the Manzanar National Historic Site, April 22, 2022. Photo by Jason Fujii/Manzanar Committee.

The Manzanar Committee’s Official web site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Manzanar Committee Official web site – Licensing and Copyright Information.

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