On Sept. 1, the Manzanar Committee launched Phase III of Katari: Keeping Japanese American Stories Alive, a project aimed at educating college-age youth about the unjust incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II, and providing them with tools to help them teach that critical history to others.
Katari, which means to tell stories in Japanese, is a project of the Manzanar Committee, in partnership with the National Park Service, and the Nikkei Student Unions at CSU Fullerton, CSU Long Beach, California Polytechnic University Pomona, UCLA, and UC San Diego.
In early November 2019, students from the five campuses will travel to the Manzanar National Historic Site, located approximately 230 miles northeast of Los Angeles in California‘s Owens Valley. They will engage with former Japanese American incarcerees, National Park Service staff, and members of the Manzanar Committee for two days of intensive, place-based, experiential learning at the site of the first of the American concentration camps where Japanese Americans were locked up behind barbed wire during World War II, one of the darkest chapters and one of the most heinous violations of constitutional rights in American history.
Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey took note of the important role young people have traditionally played, both in the Manzanar Pilgrimage and the fight for redress, and how that continues to this day.
“Students and young people have always played a central role in the struggle to understand and to educate people about Executive Order 9066 and the forced removal,” he said. “In 1969, the first community-based pilgrimage was led by young third- and fourth-generation Japanese Americans, and throughout the decades-long struggle to win redress, students lent their skills and resources to the work initiated by those who had endured camp.
“Today, students and young people continue to play a vital role in both remembering and deepening our understanding of what happened to our community and families [more than]75 years ago. Young people are continuing the work of their parents, grandparents, and family members in telling their unique stories of life behind barbed wire. But it has become apparent that we need to do much more to educate our younger generations in order to ensure that they can continue to teach others about this history.”
Wendi Yamashita, Ph.D., who is an assistant professor at the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity, Ithaca College, and serves as co-director of Katari, noted the significance of youth taking on the responsibility of preserving this history and teaching others about it.
“Katari is an example of the Manzanar Committee‘s continued commitment to engage young people in the preservation of community history, identities, and memories,” she said. “Teaching and having conversations about what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II is important to understanding, not only how the current political climate came to be, but also how we can resist and support one another. Stories and storytelling are a form of resistance.”
Although some funds have been raised to support this year‘s Katari trip to Manzanar, the Manzanar Committee, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, has launched a $6,000 fundraising campaign to cover the costs of food, lodging, liability insurance and transportation for the student participants in the projects.
Donations can be made via GoFundMe at https://www.gofundme.com/f/katari2019 or by sending a check to the Manzanar Committee, 1566 Curran St., Los Angeles, CA 90026-2036 (write “Katari” on the memo line of your check or specify “Katari” on a separate note). Your donation may be tax-deductible (consult your tax advisor).