Editor’s Note: Over the course of the next couple of months, college students who participated in our annual Katari: Keeping Japanese American Stories Alive program will share their thoughts here on our web site about their experiences in the two-day, intensive, immersive, place-based learning experience about the unjust incarceration of Japanese/Japanese Americans during World War II, a partnership with the National Park Service staff at the Manzanar National Historic Site..
Being completely honest, I wasn’t too sure what I signed up for and what the three days of Katari were going to entail. I was aware of the program and how it was going to be an intense learning experience for me.
Unlike most of the members of the Manzanar At Dusk Planning Committee, I have no personal connections to any of the incarceration camps because my family and I are from Japan. All of my extended family reside in Japan, and most of them have never stepped foot outside of the country.
I also felt like I wasn’t educated in this part of history due to the limited education I received growing up. I spent five years attending an elementary school in Japan, as well as two years in middle school.
During my time in Japan, we were not taught about this history. If my memory is correct, not a single time was it even mentioned in any of my history textbooks.
Embarrassing enough, the only reason I knew about it was because my own mother, who spent her entire life in Japan until her thirties, told me about this part of World War II. She told me that she knew about a place called Manzanar from a Japanese drama she watched, where the main character is incarcerated there. After watching it, my mother has always wanted to visit the Manzanar National Historic Site, and as a family, we visited there in 2015.
I remember being speechless when I first took a lap around the exhibits and read the descriptions. Not only was I shocked, but I was also disturbed about the fact that I didn’t know much about this part of history. Even with all my time in the United States and having attended public schools in the Bay Area, they only briefly touched upon it during class and wasn’t emphasized much.
With this being my background, being fully transparent, I didn’t exactly feel like I was qualified to participate in Katari. While we were sharing our stories that inspired us to be at Manzanar, at that time, I had a really tough time coming up with things to say.
While most of my peers had family members or directly knew people who were a part of this horrific history, I didn’t. However, my thoughts gradually changed throughout my time at Katari.
During the three days, I learned various things such as that Manzanar wasn’t just a place where Japanese Americans were discriminated against or segregated, but was a place where everything was taken away—their property, their tools, their land, and even their precious family members.
Another key aspect I picked up was the significance of oral history and how we were able to hear it from someone who went through it herself. Unfortunately, more and more of this population is passing away—there is an urgency to keeping oral histories alive. Throughout programs like Katari, I think we are able to be a resource and be a part of it.
One of the most memorable moments in Katari was actually the last few hours spent there. Hearing Seia Watanabe talk about her experience when she first attended Katari and how she didn’t have any family members who were directly affected by this history truly resonated with me.
While I knew that not having personal connections wasn’t important, a part of me felt a little disconnected from everyone. But hearing her talk about her feelings and thoughts really struck a chord.
A native of Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Yuiko Tahara is in her fourth year at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she is studying Chemistry. The 22-year old serves as Co-Chair of the Nikkei Student Union at UCLA’s Cultural Awareness and Community Service committee. She also serves on the 2023 Manzanar At Dusk Planning Committee. She writes from Los Angeles.
The views expressed in this story are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.
LEAD PHOTO: 2022-23 Katari students are shown here listening to a presentation about the indigenous Owens Valley (Payahüünadü) Paiute and Shoshone people at the Manzanar National Historic Site on November 12, 2022. Photo by Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.
Katari Program Needs Your Support
Katari, which means, to “tell stories” in Japanese, is a self-sustaining educational project that is working to bridge the generation gap that has made it much more difficult for young Japanese Americans to teach others about the unjust incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans in American concentration camps, and other confinement sites, during World War II. Teaching others about this subject is absolutely critical given the current political climate.
We need your support to raise the funds necessary to defray the costs of lodging, meals, and transportation from the Los Angeles area to the Manzanar National Historic Site in California’s Eastern Sierra/Payahüünadü (Owens Valley). You can donate to our Katari program by sending a check to the Manzanar Committee, 1566 Curran Street, Los Angeles, California, 90026-2036. Please be sure to write “Katari” in the memo line on your check. Thank you!
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