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..
This year’s Katari program has allowed me to reflect upon my identity as a Japanese American, and remember the importance that I had initially learned about my family’s story and sharing our history.
This is the second time that I have participated in the Katari program. The first time was in 2019, and at that time, the main takeaway that I was able to obtain was the need to learn from the remaining survivors of the internment camps. This year, what resonated with me the most was our discussion on our identities and discrimination that we may have faced.
I compared a couple of my experiences to some of the racism that Japanese Americans have faced in the past. When I reflect on my own experience, I could only imagine how other Japanese Americans must have felt to be hated by other Americans and have a whole country turn its back just because of their race.
In high school I was helping a Korean friend with a project at their home. While we were working, they told me that I had to go home before their parents got back. I was confused and later found out that her parents disliked Japanese people because of what Japan did to Koreans during the war. Although their opinion toward Japan was understandable, I was unable to comprehend why someone who does not know me could dislike me.
After the program, my cousins and I had a conversation with our grandpa about his time being interned. Papers that I was able to receive from the Manzanar staff allowed me to learn that my family was moved from Gila River to Tule Lake. I assumed that my family was similar to the other Japanese families that were sent to Tule Lake and that they were “No-No Boys” that felt betrayed by the United States.
I asked my grandpa why they would answer no and no to (the infamous questions 27 and 28 on the so-called “loyalty questionnaire”), and he responded that it was not because they hated the United States, but because they still had family in Japan and were afraid that if they were to swear allegiance to the United States then they would be forced to possibly fight against their own family. This surprised me because I never knew that part of my family was still in Japan, and it was sad that I had made an assumption that my family was acting out of resentment but were actually trying to avoid conflict that could have forced them to fight. Unfortunately, they had to renounce their citizenships and return back to Japan to restart their lives.
It seems like the main component of hate to individuals comes from a lack of understanding of an individual and their past and the generalization of someone’s cultural background. Everyone person is different and should not be judged just because of their race. The Katari program has allowed me to think about these views and motivates me to help by continuing to teach others about the history of Japanese Americans and the damage that racism can do to a community.
Kobi Kozai, a 22-year-old Orange County, California native, is in his fifth year at California Polytechnical University, Pomona. The Mechanical Engineering major is the President of the Cal Poly Pomona Nikkei Student Union, and he serves on the 2023 Manzanar At Dusk Planning Committee. He writes from Cypress, California.
LEAD PHOTO: Katari students are shown here during a presentation by ranger Rose Masters about the infamous “Loyalty Questionnaire” in the Block 14 demonstration barracks at the Manzanar National Historic Site, November 13, 2022. 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!
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