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..
Growing up in the Japanese American community, I had the privilege of being exposed to many aspects of Japanese American history and culture. Learning about incarceration through leadership organizations like Kizuna, trips up to Manzanar, and Day of Remembrance events were my main sources of education on Japanese American Incarceration during World War II. However, up until Katari, I thought I had a decent grasp on the events surrounding Executive Order 9066, but Katari truly broadened, challenged, and enriched my understanding of the Japanese American narrative.
To start, Katari provided education about the deeper history. Starting with the origins of anti-immigrant sentiment starting in the 1800’s with the Chinese Exclusion Act to the Gentleman’s Agreement, it was very important to acknowledge the catalyst of incarceration was not Japan entering the war with Pearl Harbor, but through the buildup of racist tensions starting from years and years before.
Additionally, it was very interesting to hear about the land before incarceration at Manzanar. Hearing about the indigenous perspective of how their land was bought out and how that affected their community was also very impactful in understanding how these systemic structures of power harm multiple marginalized communities. It puts the importance of standing in solidarity with indigenous people and sharing our own stories, as the physical land has so much history that needs to be kept alive, into perspective.
In addition, in history, the perspective is usually voiced through the white male, and often is not an accurate depiction of events. In listening to one of the speakers talk about their indigenous history and their forced removal, I drew parallels to the false narrative that is typically told in primary education about how indigenous people were peaceful when colonizers arrived, and it is often ignored that there were revolts and massacres that scarred their communities. To draw a connection, in learning about the Manzanar Revolt, it truly challenged the narrative of how incarceration is presented because before I understood many people didn’t put up a fight or resist. In one of the presentations we also learned about how Japanese American Citizens League was complicit in trying to frame that narrative at the time for people to peacefully go into the camps. Of course, as they were the only strong political voice at the time, it’s especially important to point out the people in protest. Their acts of righteous anger are to be commemorated as they were exercising their justice against alienation, war hysteria, and racism.
Seeing their display of different types of righteous anger and contextualizing the concept of protests today as a form of self-preservation and self-care was very empowering and humbling to be reminded of why we fight for our community to be heard and seen.
Overall, many of the talks, speakers, restorations, and much more was truly eye-opening and incredibly insightful in gaining a better understanding about the different narratives surrounding incarceration at Manzanar. To reflect more on my experience, in my sketch, I drew all the most impactful and memorable moments during Katari. As there was an abundance of concepts, events, and moments, the collage is representative of the narratives we have learned and will continue to help passing down for generations to come (to view a larger image, click here).
Sarah Ando, a 22-year-old native of Orange, California, is in her fourth year at the University of California, San Diego, where she is studying Speculative Design with minors in Studio Art and Cognitive Science Design. She is the President of the UCSD Nikkei Student Union. She also serves on the 2022-23 Manzanar At Dusk Planning Committee. She writes from San Diego, California.
LEAD IMAGE: Original artwork by Sarah Ando. © 2023 Sarah Ando. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
The 2022-23 Katari program was funded, in part, by the George and Sakaya Aratani CARE Award from the UCLA Asian American Studies Center.
The views expressed in this story are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the 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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