By MARTHA NAKAGAWA
(Following is the second part of a report on a recent visit to Manzanar by educators and former internees from Bainbridge Island, Wash. Read Part 1.)
The Only What We Could Carry project was founded by Jonathan Garfunkel, a Jewish American who grew up on the East Coast. Although he had no immediate family killed in the Holocaust, he grew up hearing about the experiences and was able to spend a week at Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial as part of a national program.
Garfunkel had heard of the U.S. camps in high school but did not learn of their full impact until he moved to the Pacific Northwest.
Three years ago, he applied for a Washington Civil Liberties Public Education Program grant to start OWWCC.
“The non-profit that I founded and ran has been grounded in the mission of offering teachers lived experiences in order to form a more lived curriculum,” said Garfunkel. “…We recognized that the teachers on our island have been teaching this story but they’ve never been afforded the opportunity to actually go to a place like Manzanar or Minidoka as a professional learning experience, and we see the power of bearing witness as a wonderful educational vehicle for helping students understand everything that crosses sort of the social studies spectrum.”
As for the controversy surrounding the use of the word “concentration camp” to describe the U.S. camps, Garfunkel felt the word should not be restricted to describing only one experience.
“I think it’s part of the larger learning curve of those who have come to sort of see the Holocaust in the context of the Jewish experience and have a hard time seeing that it could apply to other experiences,” he said. “What we realize is that our first impressions of concentration camps came from the European Holocaust, so it was hard to sort of see these (U.S. camps) as concentration camps.
“But when you start to look at the conditions that people of Japanese ancestry went through in terms of their steps into concentration camps and what initially the Jews and others had experienced, it was almost similar. When you go to the Japanese American National Museum and you look at all those suitcases, the people in Europe could also take only what they could carry. They had no idea where they going. Everything up to the point in which those concentration camps became death camps in Europe was parallel to what our Japanese American neighbors encountered, which is almost scary to think that this took place in this country.”
Garfunkel does not foresee the group traveling to Manzanar during the pilgrimage because he feels the large number of people would take away from the educational experience of a smaller group.
“Our hope is that out of this experience, Bainbridge Island can become a destination for teachers from Washington State and from all over the country, where they can learn about this experience,” said Garfunkel.
Among the partners of OWWCC is the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, where Katy Curtis works as the education outreach representative. This was Curtis’ second year accompanying the group to Manzanar.
Curtis, who was born on Bainbridge Island, learned of the camps in bits and pieces. Her best friend in high school was a Japanese American.
“I don’t know how the topic came up,” said Curtis. “Maybe I saw a PBS show or something but I asked her, ‘Did this happen?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, my grandma and parents were in a camp but they just never talked about it.’
“At first, I couldn’t believe it, but my friend didn’t react like, ‘Oh my God, it was horrible!’ So then I thought it must’ve been like (summer) camp. And my mom and brother lived off at Mammoth so we would drive back and forth (on Highway 395), and my mom kept telling me to read ‘Farewell to Manzanar.’ She said it was one of her favorite books, but not until I fell in love with the people that it affected me enough for me to get very curious and to learn more and more and get more and more disturbed about it.”
She valued the experience of having a former inmate as part of the group.
“It makes a world of difference,” said Curtis. “Last year, we had Kay Sakai Nakao and her son (Bruce) and her son’s wife. And to be here with my friend and to hear the response of Bruce Nakao, who was born in the camp, was just amazing. There’s nothing like being with people and hearing their first-hand account.”
This year, educators from Woodward Middle School were selected to participate in the program. Last year, educators from Sakai Intermediate School participated. The middle school is named after Walt and Milly Woodward, who editorialized against the internment in their newspaper, the Bainbridge Review. The intermediate school is named after the Sakai family, who sold the property to the school district for what they had originally paid for the land, thus forfeiting any profits.
“I’m trying to do more research, but I believe we’re one of the few public school districts that has two schools whose namesake reflects this very important part of history and whose families are living, vibrant members of our community,” said Garfunkel.
For all of the educators on this trip, it was their first visit to Manzanar, and the word they most often used to describe this journey was “emotional.”
Mike Florian, Woodward Middle School’s principal, grew up in southeast Alaska, where the community was predominantly Caucasian, Klinkit and Haida, with a few smatterings of Japanese Americans.
“In my history classes, there was absolutely nothing of the internment,” said Florian. “I didn’t even know this had happened.”
Florian learned of the incarceration while teaching at Bainbridge High School. Last year, he invited former internee Frank Kitamoto and Mary Woodward, daughter of the Bainbridge Review publishers, to be speakers at a ceremony celebrating what would have been Walt Woodward’s 100th birthday.
“When we come into the entrance of our school, we have one picture of Walt and Milly with their names under it, but it doesn’t say anything about them as far as their work on the newspaper and their work for the Japanese American community,” said Florian. “So I contacted Frank and Mary, and we had a special program for all of our students. It kind of connected our student body with that experience and our namesake.”
Florian has also participated in the pilgrimage to Minidoka, Idaho. “I went to Minidoka on the pilgrimage with about 160 people from the Seattle area,” he said. “That was my first real exposure to the details of what had happened and how it had impacted families. Obviously, you feel like how could we have done that, how could that have happened? And as far as I understand, the big push for all the pilgrimages is to ensure that this never happens again. As an educator, that certainly is my goal too.”
In comparing the two trips, Florian said traveling to Manzanar in a smaller group with people whose children have been in his classroom has made it “definitely a more emotional experience.”
Woodward Middle School Librarian Patti Schlosser grew up near Pittsburgh, Pa., where she learned about the camps in high school.
“I probably became aware of it because I had a good librarian,” said Schlosser. “But I didn’t have the details, and I didn’t have any strong positions one way or another.”
When Schlosser moved to Bainbridge Island in 1980, she started meeting people who had been incarcerated. Among former inmates she became friends with was Aileen Okada, who was then an elementary school librarian.
“I don’t remember what the impetus was, but I think one day we were all in the staff room, sitting around talking about early memories of Christmas,” said Schlosser. “When the two of us were returning to the library, I remember her saying, ‘You know, not everybody has happy memories of early Christmas. I remember our parents struggling to make Christmas gifts for us in camp.’ ”
As a librarian, Schlosser highly recommends Ken Mochizuki’s books, particularly “Baseball Saved Us,” which is set in camp.
“Historical fiction is very powerful with our students,” said Schlosser. “When Ken Mochizuki’s book came out, we were very excited. I think it was written up in the New York Times. I got a hold of the book and started sharing it with the students. And I had him to our school twice. That was a long time ago. Now, I’m working at the middle school but I still purchased the book, although it’s a picture book. The kids remember the book, and when they see it on display, they re-read it. It’s very powerful, telling a story from the point of view of somebody their age.”
Stacie Munoz, a Woodward Middle School teacher, grew up in Yakima, Wash. Like the other educators, she learned of camp when she came to teach at Bainbridge Island and was appointed the multicultural lead teacher for the Multicultural Advisory Council.
Munoz found her first day at Manzanar highly emotional. “I knew once I got here, it probably would be emotional, but I wasn’t sure,” said Munoz. “When we got here and saw Fumiko and Natalie here and watched the introductory movie, it became really hard. It was just the realization of it all.” (Fumiko Hayashida, 100, and her daughter, Natalie Hayashida Ong, appeared in an iconic photo in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1942.)
Munoz felt part of the challenge as an educator was teaching her students to be vigilant against something like this happening again.
“I think the kids think that we would never repeat things like this again, especially on Bainbridge Island, where it’s a relatively liberal community and you don’t find as many people having irrational fears about certain groups of people as you might find in other places,” said Munoz. “Yet, I don’t think it’s too far from reality to say it could happen again if we’re not careful.… Now, it’s going back and sharing this with our students.”
Jessica Bender, who teaches seventh grade at Woodward Middle School, grew up in Bremerton, Wash., where she did not recall learning of the camps in any of her history classes.
She praised the OWWCC project for allowing her to visit Manzanar. “I think it’s important that we see and be a part of this because there’s no way for us to understand how something like this could have happened unless we experience it first hand,” said Bender. “I’m a huge proponent of active learning. It’s important to get the full feeling of what it was like. I think it’s important for the kids to see this too, and when they do, hopefully in the future, we won’t repeat ourselves.”
Memorial at Departure Site
More than 12 years ago, Kitamoto, who is Hayashida’s nephew, floated the idea of putting up a sign at the ferry dock from which they had left the island. Since then, that idea has expanded into a five-acre memorial with an interpretive center.
“We had the idea of putting up a sign, but the Interfaith Council, which is made up of different churches and synagogues in North Kitsap area, said to us, ‘You really need a memorial, that this is actually sacred ground where you left from,’ ” recalled Kitamoto. “So over the years, we’ve been able to get some grants and helped the city purchase 55 acres for a park. Out of those 55 acres, five will be set aside for a memorial.”
Hayashida also testified in Washington, D.C., and Congress was convinced to make this memorial a part of the National Park Service system.
To date, they finished constructing a 276-foot memorial wall, with each foot representing a person who had been excluded from the island. In the future, they also plan to build a 4,000-square-foot interpretive center and a 150-foot pier that represents the number of people who had returned to the island.
A dedication ceremony and reunion picnic are set for Aug. 6.