2022-23 Katari Program: “I Will Carry My Experiences in the Katari Program for the Rest of My Life”

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..

I was not raised in the Japanese American community, but that never stopped my family from being proud to be Japanese. On my father’s side of the family, both of my grandparents were incarcerated during World War II. In fact, that’s where they met. My grandpa passed away when I was young, but my grandmother always had stories from her time at Heart Mountain; ever the optimist, she only spoke of the good times, but I knew she wouldn’t want to burden us with knowledge of the hardships she faced.

I joined my school’s Nikkei Student Union to be closer to my Japanese American community, and to meet other students similar to me, who share my culture. During my third year, the first year fully in-person, I became Culture Chair after hearing of the position opening. At first, I was unsure of how I would fit into the role, joining a few months into the quarter, and not knowing fully what the position entailed. However, I understood this was an opportunity to experience something new, something important.

I did not know any history about Manzanar before Katari, as that wasn’t a place where any of my relatives were interned. But over the weekend, I gained everlasting knowledge, not only of historical significance, but of societal and cultural impact.

Before we arrived, I sent in names of my many family members to Park Ranger Rose Masters, who shared with me a considerable amount of information on my family, from photos to movement manifests. The National Park Service rangers perform a masterful job in collecting and creating a full history of those affected by Executive Order 9066.

Throughout the Katari program, as an active listener, I learned, not only of Japanese American hardships but the oppression of the Paiute and Shoshone tribes in the Owens Valley, and the significance of the land. The parallel that my community was held captive in the same territory that indigenous tribes were restricted from occupying due to government interference was vexing. For one group of people to want and have a spiritual connection to the land and have it misappropriated to hold others captive is deeply contradictory.

The education on the social disparities of groups outside the Japanese American community highlights the significance of the Katari program. As the program is a tool to inform students about social injustices across communities and how to recognize and prevent more from occurring.

Before my time in the program, I never knew what oral histories were, and how they were used to collect historical accounts of people’s memories of historical events. Many of the oral histories used in the Katari program were filled with raw emotions, as the time in the camps was tough for the Japanese Americans, it was difficult to not shed a tear about hearing the hardships that many men, women, and children had lived through. Pat Sakamoto’s experience of the separation of her family and never reconnecting with her father after the war is a disheartening reality for many incarcerated post-war. Pat Sakamoto’s mother was a brave, resilient woman doing all that she could to create a life for her daughters in a society that did not accept Japanese Americans, and her fortitude is a message of hope through hardships to carry on and live life despite societal discrimination.

Sue Kunitomi Embrey was another strong figure that I learned about who participated in activist protests, in redress and reparations for Japanese Americans, and the creation of the Manzanar National Historic Site. Her story is inspiring to everyone, but especially to me as a Japanese American woman, her determination to create a better future for Japanese Americans in the United States is inspirational. There are very few people of color highlighted in United States History courses, but after learning about Sue Kunitomi Embrey, I believe in my heart that her story would galvanize a moment of social activism for all. Her history shatters the docile narrative of Asians as a model minority and proves that Asian Americans are more than a quiet stereotype.

To hear the oral histories of many of the survivors was heartbreaking—then I picture my grandparents and the similar grief they went through. The Katari program made me question why I never heard about my grandfather’s time in the camps; when I asked my father, he told me “that his dad couldn’t talk about his time in the camps, that wasn’t something he wanted to talk about, he was probably angry and resentful from the about his time there…,” but I wish that I knew so I could tell his story and hear more about his life.

Katari has taught me the importance of documenting oral histories to teach other generations of the first-hand experiences of others, with the emotional weight of memories, and how they shape unique histories. Katari encouraged me to create more of a discussion in my family of members who lived in the camps—of my Nana and Papa (Mary and Sumio) whose stories we will hold in our hearts forever.

I will carry my experiences in the Katari program for the rest of my life, and recommend the program to anyone who is interested in learning more about the experiences of Japanese Americans, and how past histories shape the future for generations to come.

La Habra, California native Nicole Tsuyuki is in her third year at the University of California, San Diego, where the 20-year-old is studying Human Biology. She currently serves as the Culture Chair of the UCSD Nikkei Student Union, and on the 2023 Manzanar At Dusk Planning Committee.

LEAD PHOTO: Katari students are shown here during a presentation by National Park Service staff at the site of Manzanar’s Children’s Village (November 13, 2022 at the Manzanar National Historic Site), where 101 orphans were among the 11,070 Japanese/Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II. Photo by Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.

The views expressed in this story are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the 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.

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.

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