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..
Before the Katari program, Manzanar was a place I only knew by name. My grandparents, fortunately, were not incarcerated because they lived on the island of Oahu in Hawai’i at the time, had made the trip there when I was three or four years old. I remember not wanting to go because it was too hot during the summer. Looking back at this memory, it’s astonishing to think that, even at this age, I had a general idea that life in camp was, for the most part, miserable.
Growing up in Fresno, California, the Japanese American community is a very small, interwoven one, where most everyone knows everyone else. Outside of our small bubble, I felt as though I was ostracized by people who didn’t understand Japanese American culture. I looked different, I ate different snacks, and I had different interests. This all came to the forefront every year on December 7, the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Throughout middle and high school, I would notice side-eyed stares and snarky remarks behind cupped hands. Teachers would choose me “randomly” to read the passages on what happened that day and the events leading up to the tragedy.
Eventually, we would work our way, chronologically, to the incarceration of Japanese Americans and Executive Order 9066, that is, the one, three-sentence paragraph that I found in my entire K-12 education.
When I had the opportunity to participate in the Katari program, I jumped at the chance to expand my knowledge on a topic that was so integral to the Japanese American community. Over the weekend we spent on site at Manzanar, we listened to the oral histories of Nisei who were forced into the incarceration camps and their families, and I’m sure I speak for everyone who participated when I say the experience moved me. The stories and details of the camps we learned that weekend were eye-opening, and displayed the harsh reality that was camp life.
One part that really stuck with me was the fact that the incarcerees were able to bring life into a place that was meant to demoralize them. They built beautiful ponds in front of their homes and common areas, they had dances, created sports leagues, and found support within one another. This showed me that even in the toughest of circumstances, the Japanese American community has always been able to come together and rise up.
20-year-old Drew Yamamura, a native of Fresno, California, is in a sophomore at California State University, Fullerton, where he is studying Political Science. He currently serves as Treasurer of the CSUF Nikkei Student Union, and he 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!
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