Editor’s Note: Moet Kurakata and Lauren Matsumoto were participants in the Manzanar Committee’s pilot project, Keeping Japanese American Incarceration Stories Alive, which took a group of college students to the Manzanar National Historic Site for a two-day, intensive, placed-based learning experience about the unjust incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II. For more on this project, we urge you to read about it here.
Kurakata, 23 is a senior at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she is the Community Activities and Cultural Awareness Committee Chair of the Nikkei Student Union at UCLA. Matsumoto, 21, is in her third year at the University of California, San Diego, where she is the past Cultural Awareness Chair of the UCSD Nikkei Student Union.
Both shared the following reflections on what they experienced at Manzanar during those two days.
As a shin-Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans, whose parents are recent immigrants from Japan), I always felt out of place within the Japanese American community in Los Angeles. But this trip made me realize that no matter what generation, age, skin color, or whatever form of identification, Manzanar is a place that impacts you as a member of society.
Hearing the stories of the members of the Manzanar Committee, the park rangers, and fellow students made me realize that Manzanar has so many aspects that reflect human life. This trip has helped me to identify with Manzanar, something I did not feel last year at the Pilgrimage—I identify with the spirit of the Japanese phrase gaman [to endure, persevere] and the beauty behind the incarceree’s efforts to make things a little more tolerable with the building of the gardens, the care the orphanage provided for the children whose futures were changed before they could realize, and the strength of everyone on the Manzanar Committee to keep these stories alive.
I am very grateful I was able to participate in the first of hopefully many programs like this!
Visiting Manzanar, for me, has been a time to remember and honor the lives that were forever changed there and at the other Japanese American concentration camps. The stories and lessons I learned about this dark part of history were not taught in school and were not prominently featured in my textbooks. Rather, what I’ve learned came from my own research through the limited books in the library and the brief phone interviews with my grandpa.
My time at Manzanar, this time, was different. Intense and powerful. I felt it was more impacting and meaningful, combining the two, learning more about the history on land where one of the camps stood. I learned in more detail through personal accounts and stories about events I was not aware of before, such as the Native Americans who once lived on the land until they were forced to move.
I’m thankful for the Manzanar Committee and Manzanar National Historic Site rangers for their time and effort to continue to teach and preserve our history.
LEAD PHOTO: During a session in which students read excerpts from oral histories of those who were unjustly incarcerated at Manzanar during World War II, they began to connect Japanese American Incarceration to their own experiences with racism, inequality and injustice. The result was a very powerful and emotional discussion. That’s Moet Kurakata and Lauren Matsumoto in front (left and right, respectively). Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.
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