Memory Transfer

Photos: Brian Kohaya
(click above to view larger image)

by Brian Kohaya

This tryptic features Pat Sakamoto, a former Manzanar incarceree, and Lauren Matsumoto, a granddaughter of former incarcerees. In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which forced 120,000 people of Japanese descent to incarceration camps spread throughout the United States. A few months later, Pat was born. She grew up not knowing her father, as he left the family during incarceration.

Lauren is currently a junior at the University of California, San Diego. Her grandfather was incarcerated at Tule Lake and her grandmother was incarcerated at Gila River.

76 years later, Pat stood close to the ruins of the hospital where she was born and close to the remains of the barracks where she grew up. These photos were taken during the Manzanar Committee’s Keeping Japanese American Incarceration Stories Alive pilot project. This trip brought together upcoming Asian American leaders to learn about the stories that took place at Manzanar and the nine other incarceration centers around the country. For some, this was their first experience learning about incarceration since their families were not one of the 120,000 who were incarcerated.

The story of Manzanar and the Owens Valley is a complex web of stolen land, stolen water, and forced relocation. Before the Japanese were forced onto the land, Native American tribes were forced off. Our group had the privilege of speaking with the Button family of the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, including Roger Button, who passed away one week later.

We learned how this land is considered sacred to many, for a variety of different reasons. For the Owens Valley Paiute, it is land where their ancestors are buried. For Japanese Americans, it is the land where their rights were taken away. For everyone, it is a land that must be preserved and maintained for future generations.

Physically being at Manzanar is truly the only way to contextualize the site. Sure, you can read about everything and see the pictures taken, but it does not compare to visiting the space. The site has a perpetual sadness from the hundreds of years of people pushed off and forced onto the site, juxtaposing the beautiful mountains that became a reminder of the prison that the Japanese Americans were in.

These photos represent the interactions that took place during this trip. Pat spoke to us about the injustices that incarceration caused her family to face and its lasting repercussions. 76 years later, she could still barely speak about her and her mother’s experience without tearing up. Unfortunately, a majority of those who experienced incarceration are no longer with us, their memories and their stories gone with them. Lauren represents a new generation of Japanese Americans who will serve as the preservation of memory and make sure that incarceration will never happen again, to anyone, anywhere.

Brian Kohaya is a graduating senior at the University of California, Los Angeles, studying Psychology and Asian American Studies. Besides being an active member of the UCLA community, he spends time volunteering in Little Tokyo. He has also tried all the boba and coffee shops in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, so ask him for his recommendations!


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3 Responses to Memory Transfer

  1. Pingback: Keeping Japanese American Incarceree Stories Alive – Pilot Project A Huge Success | Manzanar Committee

  2. Louise says:

    Many were put there to be safe from US residents who might kill them because their sons were killed in the conflict. Maybe unfare but war is hell for both sides.

    • Gann Matsuda says:

      If that was the case, why were the machine guns mounted on the watchtowers aimed inward, at those behind the barbed wire, rather than pointed out, towards their would-be attackers (Manzanar’s watch towers didn’t have mounted machine guns but those at other camps did)? Why were the soldiers in those watchtowers shining their searchlights into the camps, rather than outside, to watch for those attackers you claim were coming? Why did the solders point their guns into the camp, rather than outside?

      Sorry…but that’s a very common fallacy. Totally false. Factually incorrect.

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