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..
My experience during the Katari program was unlike any other. It felt spiritual and transformational, and I know that my peers and I left Manzanar as changed individuals.
Growing up in the Southern California Japanese American community and being involved at the Orange County Buddhist Church, I have always felt surrounded by peers who had so much in common to myself, whether that was our favorite meals, or our love for the Japanese American community.
My family lived in Honolulu, Hawai’i during World War II, and luckily, they avoided some of the turmoil and tragedies that life inside of the camps brought. Knowing this, I have always sought to read stories and listen to histories from the people I know who have been affected by the incarceration on a deeper level.
I knew Katari would be a life-changing experience for me when my peers and I sat down inside Manzanar’s Visitor Center and first started talking about family stories that were important to us. I didn’t expect to create such an immediate, strong bond to my peers attending Katari, especially having met most of them just a couple hours ago. When each person opened up and shared such personal and vulnerable stories about their families, I felt that something truly special was happening in those small moments of storytelling that I would remember forever.
For myself, I had the opportunity to share my grandpa’s story of living in Honolulu during Pearl Harbor, and his experience serving in the Korean War. I gained a deeper appreciation for sharing and listening to family stories when we listened to Manzanar’s collection of oral histories. I grew up hearing stories and reading children’s books about the incarceration camps, but the personal narratives shared in Manzanar’s oral histories were so rich in emotion, detail, and depth, that they moved me to tears.
I enjoyed learning about the stories that I didn’t hear growing up, especially stories of resistance within Manzanar. Often, the idea of violent resistance and activism within the Japanese American and even Asian American community is more of a cultural taboo. Learning about the forms of resistance and empowerment that the Japanese American community cultivated within and outside of the camps helped me remove my personal stigmatized understanding of activism as an Asian American. It was empowering to hear stories of real resistance and change in a time where present racial inequities and injustice still exists.
What impacted me the most during the Katari program was the connections with my peers that I formed during the time of the program. I enjoyed hearing about all of my peer’s personal experience with being Japanese American, as well as their connection to the community and the camps. I have always known that the Japanese American community was a small and tight-knit space, but hearing about all of the fate encounters that my peers had shared with one another in the past, whether it was families knowing each other from the camps or being listed with one another on immigration documents, made me feel all the more interconnected to the people in the room with me.
During the times my peers and I weren’t participating in an activity or listening to an oral history video, we were eagerly discussing the emotions we felt, our experiences, and our thoughts about the vast range of nuances within the Japanese American community. The Katari program invited us to participate, not just on an academic level, but on an interpersonal one with our hearts open to each other. My peers and I even spent time in the hotel room late at night discussing our family stories, our shared experiences with serving on board for our Nikkei Student Unions, and hopes for the future of the community.
The importance of providing a space for Japanese American college students to reflect, think critically, and have a deep emotional vulnerability to express generational trauma as well as stories of joy and resistance is something that the Katari program has beautifully created for the community, and I am forever grateful.
A 19-year-old native of Anaheim Hills, California, Erin Hayashida is in her second year at California State University, Long Beach, where she is studying Graphic Design. She is a member of the CSULB Nikkei Student Union, and she currently serves on the 2023 Manzanar At Dusk Planning Committee. She writes from Long Beach, California.
LEAD PHOTO: Group photo of the 2022-23 Katari students, along with some of the program organizers at the Manzanar cemetery, November 13, 2022, at the Manzanar National Historic Site. Photo by Gann Matsuda and Vicky Perez/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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