2022-23 Katari Program: A Sense of Identity is the Most Powerful Form of Resistance

Editor’s Note: Over the last few 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..

When I think back on my earliest memories of Japanese American incarceration, it’s condensed to skimming a single page in my history textbook. I found myself disconnected as my great grandfather never got the chance to pass down his story to his children.

I’ve read and listened to several oral histories of former incarcerees and 442nd Regimental Combat Team veterans, but nothing was going to prepare me for the eye-opening Katari program.

This was my first time ever going to Manzanar, and I was able to truly put myself in the shoes of an incarceree arriving at the camp. My first impressions were how horrific the conditions were. There was little space or furniture to rest on in the barracks. The bathrooms were especially shocking. There was no privacy, as the toilets were all lined up with less than four feet between them with no curtain or wall. All I could think about was the stink and the humiliation. Feeling cold, uncomfortable, and miserable, I cannot imagine the added emotions of confusion and anger the incarcerees felt.

The most impactful part of the program were the oral histories, such as that of Patricia Sakamoto, who brought us to tears as she powerfully told her mother’s story. But what broke my heart the most was how she was ashamed to be Japanese. Hearing stories like hers made me truly appreciate the power of storytelling and how lucky I am to be able to hear these stories from former incarcerees. I hope to use what I’ve learned to fight against social injustices and to educate the next generation.

Along with these heavy topics, I was also shown the symbols of hope and resistance throughout camp. From the man-made block gardens to the graffiti, I learned that they served as a beacon of hope and self-confidence. For example Harry Ueno’s testimony was inspirational because of his drive to get the Block 22 Garden built for the community.

When I first heard Ueno’s story, I immediately thought about the Japanese Americans before me who endured so much to create a community where basketball leagues, Buddhist churches, and non-profit organizations, like the Manzanar Committee, thrive today. Without them, I would not be the person I am today.

If I were to take away one lesson from those three days, it would be that a sense of identity is the most powerful form of resistance. Japanese Americans like Harry Ueno sparked hope in others through community art and activities. As a result of these symbols, former incarcerees were able to share their stories with us today. Without these stories of strength and self-love, the Japanese American community wouldn’t be where it is today.

When I think about my identity now, I think about the people who have sacrificed for my community. I am grateful to have the privilege of saying that I am proud to be Japanese American, or, in former Manzanar incarceree Tommy Miyaoka’s words, I love myself!

A native of LaPalma, California, 20-year-old Emily Sarashina is in her second year at University of California, Riverside, where she is studying Public Policy, and is the Culture Chair for the UCR Nikkei Student Union, amd is a mamber of the 2023 Manzanar At Dusk Planning Committee. She writes from Riverside, California.

LEAD PHOTO: Katari students are shown here during a presentation about the latrines in the camps in the Block 14 replica women’s latrine at the Manzanar National Historic Site, November 12, 2022. Photo by Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.

The 2022-23 Katari program was funded, in part, by the George and Sakaye 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!

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.

One thought on “2022-23 Katari Program: A Sense of Identity is the Most Powerful Form of Resistance

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  1. Wow! Emily, your reflections are so meaningful and impactful, including for someone without a JA community background! Proud of you!

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