The Oral History Center Presents The Berkeley Remix Season 8: “‘From Generation to Generation’: The Legacy of Japanese American Incarceration”

This graphic illustration depicts a large wave and guard tower behind barbed wire with text above that reads, "From Generation to Generation: The Legacy of Japanese American Incarceration."
The Berkeley Remix Season 8 Podcast Image for ‘From Generation to Generation’: The Legacy of Japanese American Incarceration.

Just a couple of months after the United States entered World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. This order authorized the government to forcibly remove more than 120,000 Japanese American civilians—even American-born citizens—from their homes on the West Coast, and put them into incarceration camps shrouded in barbed wire and patrolled by armed guards for the duration of the war. This imprisonment uprooted families, disrupted businesses, and dispersed communities—impacting generations of Japanese Americans.

In season 8 of The Berkeley Remix, a podcast of the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley, we are highlighting interviews from the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. The OHC team interviewed twenty-three survivors and descendants of two World War II-era sites of incarceration: Manzanar in California and Topaz in Utah. This four-part series includes clips from these interviews, which were recorded remotely via Zoom. Using healing as a throughline, these life history interviews explore identity, community, creative expression, and the stories family members passed down about how incarceration shaped their lives. 

This season features interview clips from the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project.

Produced by Rose Khor, Roger Eardley-Pryor, Shanna Farrell, and Amanda Tewes. Narration by Devin Katayama. Artwork by Emily Ehlen. A special thanks to the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant for funding this project.

The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Episode 1: “‘It’s Happening Now’: Japanese American Activism.” In this episode, we explore activism and civic engagement within the Japanese American community. The World War II-era incarceration of Japanese Americans inspired survivors and descendants to build diverse coalitions and become engaged in social justice issues ranging from anti-Vietnam War activism to supporting Muslim Americans after 9/11 to protests against the separation of families at the US-Mexico border. Many Japanese Americans also participated in the redress movement, during which time many individuals broke their silence about incarceration, and empowered the community to speak out against other injustices.

This episode features interviews from the Oral History Center’s Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project, and includes clips from: Bruce Embrey, Hans Goto, Jean Hibino, Roy Hirabayashi, Susan Kitazawa, Kimi Maru, Margret Mukai, Ruth Sasaki, Nancy Ukai, and Rev. Michael Yoshii. Additional archival audio from Tsuru for Solidarity and the National Archives. The transcript from Sue Kunitomi Embrey’s testimony comes from the Los Angeles hearings from the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

Episode 2: “‘A Place Like This’: The Memory of Incarceration.” In this episode, we explore the history, legacy, and contested memory of Japanese American incarceration during World War II. Incarceration represented a loss of livelihoods, property, and freedom, as well as a disruption—cultural and geographic—in the Japanese American community that continued long after World War II. While some descendants heard family stories about incarceration, others encountered only silence about these past traumas. This silence was reinforced by a society and education system which denied that incarceration occurred or used euphemisms to describe what Japanese Americans experienced during World War II. Over the years, Japanese Americans have worked to reclaim the narrative of this past and engage with the nuances of terminology in order to tell their own stories about the personal and community impacts of incarceration. 

This episode features interviews from the Oral History Center’s Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project, and includes clips from: Miko Charbonneau, Bruce Embrey, Hans Goto, Patrick Hayashi, Jean Hibino, Mitchell Higa, Carolyn Iyoya Irving, Susan Kitazawa, Ron Kuramoto, Kimi Maru, Lori Matsumura, Alan Miyatake, Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder, Ruth Sasaki, Masako Takahashi, Peggy Takahashi, Nancy Ukai, and Rev. Michael Yoshii. Additional archival audio from the US Office of War Information and the Internet Archive. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

Episode 3: “‘Between Worlds’: Japanese American Identity and Belonging.” In this episode, we explore identity and belonging in the Japanese American community. For many Japanese Americans, identity is not only personal, it’s a reclamation of a community that was damaged during World War II. The scars of the past have left many descendants of incarceration feeling like they don’t wholly belong in one world. Descendants have navigated identity and belonging by participating in Japanese American community events and supporting community spaces, traveling to Japan to connect with their heritage, as well as cooking and sharing Japanese food. However, embracing Japanese and Japanese American culture can highlight for descendants their mixed identities, leaving them feeling even more like they have a foot in multiple worlds. 

This episode features interviews from the Oral History Center’s Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project, and includes clips from: Miko Charbonneau, Hans Goto, Jean Hibino, Roy Hirabayashi, Carolyn Iyoya Irving, Susan Kitazawa, Kimi Maru, Lori Matsumura, Alan Miyatake, Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder, Ruth Sasaki, Steven Shigeto Sindlinger, Masako Takahashi, Peggy Takahashi, Nancy Ukai, Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong, and Rev. Michael Yoshii. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

Episode 4: “‘Origami as Metaphor’: Creative Expression, Memorialization, and Healing.” In this episode, we explore creative expression, healing, and the memorialization of Japanese American incarceration. It is clear that stories about World War II incarceration matter. Some descendants embrace art and public memorialization about incarceration history as not only means of personal creative expression and honoring the experiences of their ancestors, but also as avenues to work through the intergenerational impact of this incarceration. Stories shared through art and public memorialization help people both inside and outside of the Japanese American community learn about the past so they have the tools to confront the present. Others seek healing from this collective trauma by going on pilgrimage to the sites of incarceration themselves, reclaiming the narrative of these places. 

This episode features interviews from the Oral History Center’s Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project, and includes interviews from: Miko Charbonneau, Bruce Embrey, Hans Goto, Patrick Hayashi, Jean Hibino, Mitchell Higa, Roy Hirabayashi, Carolyn Iyoya Irving, Susan Kitazawa, Ron Kuramoto, Kimi Maru, Lori Matsumura, Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder, Ruth Sasaki, Masako Takahashi, Nancy Ukai, Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong, and Rev. Michael Yoshii. Additional audio of taiko drums from Roy Hirabayashi. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

ABOUT THE ORAL HISTORY CENTER

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Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Oral History Center if you would like to see more work like this conducted and made freely available online. The Oral History Center is a predominantly self-funded research unit of The Bancroft Library. As such, we must raise the funds to cover the cost of all the work we do, including each oral history. You can give online, or contact us at ohc@berkeley.edu for more information about our funding needs for present and future projects.

 


The Berkeley Remix Season 8, Episode 1: “‘It’s Happening Now’: Japanese American Activism”

In episode 1, we explore activism and civic engagement within the Japanese American community. 

This graphic illustration depicts a large wave and guard tower behind barbed wire with text above that reads, "Episode 1: It's Happening Now."
The Berkeley Remix Season 8 Podcast Image for “Episode 1: It’s Happening Now.”

The World War II-era incarceration of Japanese Americans inspired survivors and descendants to build diverse coalitions and become engaged in social justice issues ranging from anti-Vietnam War activism to supporting Muslim Americans after 9/11 to protests against the separation of families at the US-Mexico border. Many Japanese Americans also participated in the redress movement, during which time many individuals broke their silence about incarceration, and empowered the community to speak out against other injustices.

In Season 8 of The Berkeley Remix, a podcast of the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley, we are highlighting interviews from the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. The OHC team interviewed twenty-three survivors and descendants of two World War II-era sites of incarceration: Manzanar in California and Topaz in Utah. This four-part series includes clips from these interviews, which were recorded remotely via Zoom. Using healing as a throughline, these life history interviews explore identity, community, creative expression, and the stories family members passed down about how incarceration shaped their lives. 

This season features interview clips from the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. This episode includes clips from: Bruce Embrey, Hans Goto, Jean Hibino, Roy Hirabayashi, Susan Kitazawa, Kimi Maru, Margret Mukai, Ruth Sasaki, Nancy Ukai, and Rev. Michael Yoshii. Additional archival audio from Tsuru for Solidarity and the National Archives. The transcript from Sue Kunitomi Embrey’s testimony comes from the Los Angeles hearings from the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

Produced by Rose Khor, Roger Eardley-Pryor, Shanna Farrell, and Amanda Tewes. Narration by Devin Katayama. Audio from Tsuru for Solidarity protests courtesy of the documentary Tsuru for Solidarity History, produced by Emiko Omori. Newsreel audio clips courtesy of “U.S. Government Newsreel: A Challenge to Democracy” from the National Archives. The transcript of Sue Kunitomi Embrey’s testimony comes from the Los Angeles hearings from the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians on August 5, 1981. Original theme music by Paul Burnett. Additional music from Blue Dot Sessions. Album artwork by Emily Ehlen. A special thanks to the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant for funding this project.

The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government.

 

LISTEN TO EPISODE 1 ON SOUNDCLOUD

 

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT:“‘It’s Happening Now’: Japanese American Activism”

Tsuru for Solidarity protesters: “Close the camps! Close the camps!”

Nancy Ukai: What we decided was: what are we going to do with all these cranes? Let’s go to Washington, D.C. Trump was in power. Let’s go to the fence and hang 125,000 paper cranes on the White House fence to symbolize the 125,000 Japanese Americans, Japanese Latin Americans, and Aleuts and everybody who got incarcerated, hang them on the fence and protest the detaining of immigrants. 

Devin Katayama: That was Nancy Ukai, who’s a Sansei, or third generation Japanese American. During World War II, the United States government incarcerated her family in a prison camp at Topaz, which is located in Utah. Her family was incarcerated because of her Japanese ancestry. Now, Nancy is a member of Tsuru for Solidarity. 

Ukai: We were organizing for this massive national pilgrimage against detention in February of 2020.

Tsuru for Solidarity protesters: “And we’re here today to say, ‘This must stop now!'”

Katayama: Nancy remembers when another member of Tsuru for Solidarity started organizing another protest.

Tsuru for Solidarity protesters: sounds fade out.

Ukai: “Fort Sill, Oklahoma: the government now wants to use that as a place to detain children, and that’s where 700 of our ancestors, of our Issei immigrants, were held during World War II. Let’s go,” like in a week. It was just amazing. And, and that’s kind of when Tsuru for Solidarity, I think, really took off.  

Katayama: Tsuru for Solidarity was formed in 2019 after the Trump administration announced its immigration family separation policy at the US-Mexico border. This was the so-called Zero Tolerance Policy. Together, a group of Japanese American and Japanese Latin American survivors and descendants of World War II incarceration camps convened in Crystal City, Texas. They were there to protest the separation of children from their parents. Tsuru means “crane” in Japanese and symbolizes peace, compassion, hope, and healing.

Theme song fades in.

Katayama: At that Crystal City protest, they brought 30,000 of these brightly colored origami cranes with them. 

Welcome to The Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The Center was founded in 1953 and records and preserves the history of California, the nation, and our interconnected world. You’re listening to our eighth season, “‘From Generation to Generation’: The Legacy of Japanese American Incarceration.” I’m your host, Devin Katayama. 

This season on The Berkeley Remix, we’re highlighting interviews from the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. The OHC team interviewed twenty-three survivors and descendants of World War II-era sites of incarceration at Manzanar in California and Topaz in Utah. In this four-part series, you’ll hear clips from these interviews, which were recorded remotely via Zoom. These life history interviews explore identity, community, creative expression, and the stories family members passed down about how incarceration shaped their lives. 

As a heads up, generational names for Japanese Americans are going to be important in this series. Issei refers to the first generation of Japanese immigrants to the United States. Nisei are the second generation, Sansei the third, Yonsei the fourth, and Gosei the fifth. Just think about  counting to five in Japanese: ichi, ni, san, shi, go.

This is episode 1, “‘It’s Happening Now’: Japanese American Activism.” 

Theme song fades out.

Katayama: Ruth Sasaki is a Sansei descendant of Topaz. She’s also involved with Tsuru for Solidarity. 

Ruth Sasaki: Tsuru worked really fast, because they only heard about the impending incarceration of something like 1,500 kids at Fort Sill about ten days before the actual demonstration. And about twenty-six of us flew out to Oklahoma. We had like six survivors from various camps. 

Soundbed: Tsuru for Solidarity drumming fade in.

Katayama: On June 22, 2019, Tsuru for Solidarity activists gathered at Fort Sill to protest the planned detention of 1,400 immigrant children. The site of this federal detention center struck a nerve—Fort Sill had been a prison camp for 700 Japanese immigrants in 1942, and even before that, in 1894, 400 Chiricahua Apache prisoners. Activists like Ruth wanted to do everything they could to keep history from repeating itself.  

Soundbed: Tsuru for Solidarity drumming sounds fade into Buddhist chants, clapping, bells.

Sasaki: All they wanted to do was to just share their story and explain why they were there. And of course, the MPs [Military Police] were trying to make us move and they were threatening us. And I was thinking, That’s not a good visual, you know, arresting these little, old ladies [laughs] who are obviously not violent. Everybody risked arrest because we didn’t know if we were going to get thrown into jail. And we were joined by 2 or 300 allies from all different groups: the Native American community, the Latino community, Black Lives Matter. There were Holocaust survivors.

Soundbed: bells fade out. 

Katayama: These protests took place all over the country, including close to Ruth’s home in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Katayama: In fact, she was part of a protest at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California, on March 6, 2021. Ruth was joined by more than 1,000 other people, some of whom objected to this family separation policy based on their own family history of incarceration. Like in Fort Sill, the protest movement wasn’t limited to just Japanese Americans—it brought together people from all kinds of backgrounds. 

Sasaki: There was a, a big protest there, and that’s the one where we dressed up as World War II Japanese Americans. And we got a lot of press from that. I had created a little cage using a Target wire storage bin [laughs] that looked like a cage with little dolls inside like children. One was lying down covered by aluminum foil. I wanted a sign that would like be visceral, not just, “Stop incarcerating kids.” There was also a sign that said something like, “My family spent 3.5 years in a camp. [laughs] It wasn’t a summer camp.” 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out.

Ukai: There was a national day of opposition to the Zero Tolerance Policy, and it was “Keep Families Together,” and it was going to be a national day of solidarity.

Katayama: This is Nancy Ukai again talking about Tsuru and a protest she went to at Tule Lake in Northern California—it’s another place where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II.

Soundbed: Tsuru for Solidarity protesters, “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!”

Ukai: It was in July. About a hundred people who were there at the pilgrimage got together after the traditional service and had a rally, and basically these were survivors. Some of them were in their eighties and even nineties, possibly, and were holding up signs saying, “Families Belong Together,” “No More Separation,” “Protect The Children,” and directly tied their incarceration experience as children and survivors of the camps to what is happening now. And it’s like, It can happen again. It is happening again. It’s happening now. So this idea of “never again” is like, no, it’s happening now.

Soundbed: Tsuru for Solidarity protesters, “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!”

Multiple narrators: “Camp,” “Topaz,” “Manzanar,” “Camp,” “Detention Centers,” “Camp,” “Mass Incarceration,” “Topaz,” “Camp,” “Manzanar,” “Camp,” “Incarceration,” “Topaz,” “Manzanar,” “Camp,” “Topaz,” “Camp.”

Newsreel from the 1940s with music: “Evacuation. More than 100,000 men, women, and children—all of Japanese ancestry—removed from their homes in the Pacific Coast states to wartime communities established in out-of-the-way places. Ten different relocation centers in unsettled parts of California, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas.”

Katayama: One day after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States Congress declared war on Japan. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Katayama: Just a couple of months later, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This order authorized the government to forcibly remove Japanese American civilians—even American-born citizens—from their homes on the West Coast, and put them into incarceration camps shrouded in barbed wire and patrolled by armed guards for the duration of the war. This imprisonment uprooted families, disrupted businesses, and dispersed communities—impacting generations of Japanese Americans.

Susan Kitazawa: I remember my parents talking about going on the street and seeing those executive order signs tacked up on windows and telephone poles. They were out there in public just saying, “If you’re of Japanese ancestry, on this date at this time you need to show up at such and such a place.” 

Katayama: This is Susan Kitazawa. She’s a Sansei. Her family was incarcerated at Manzanar.

Kitazawa: The whole thing of being shipped off to camp, you could only take two pieces of luggage, and whatever you took with you, you had to be able to carry yourself. Um, you know, just the suddenness of it, that, okay, your life has just been torn apart and you need to pack up what you can carry and show up at this place, you know, the assembly center…and not knowing what was going to happen to you.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Katayama: They were given just a few days to pack up their belongings, shutter their businesses, sell whatever they could—often for cheap. They had to uproot their lives before reporting to assembly centers. For most of the Japanese Americans in the Bay Area who would end up in Topaz in the middle of Utah’s desert, they had to report to the Tanforan Assembly Center just south of San Francisco. Japanese Americans in the Los Angeles area reported to the Santa Anita Assembly Center before being forcibly removed to Manzanar in California’s arid Owens Valley. Both assembly centers were active horse racetracks. Margret Mukai, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Tanforan and then Topaz, remembers hearing about this from her mother.

Margret Mukai: When the Executive Order 9066 came down, they had six days, she told me, to pack up everything, take only what you could carry. She had to close the florist business, do all the books, she said, and physically close it. She arrived to Tanforan very tired from all this.

Katayama: People were forced to sleep in horse stalls. Here’s Kimi Maru, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Tanforan.

Kimi Maru: It was terrible. They were living in a horse stall. Yeah, my mother, all she said was how awful it was, the smell of horse manure, waking up to that every day. It was pretty filthy. She had nothing good to say [laughs] about, about that experience at all.

Newsreel from the 1940s: “The food is nourishing but simple. A maximum of 45 cents a day per person is allowed for food. And the actual cost is considerably less than this, for an increasing amount of the food is produced at the centers. A combination of oriental dishes, to meet the tastes of the Issei, born in Japan, and of American-type dishes, to satisfy the Nissei, born in America.”

Katayama: Kimi’s family was sent to Topaz from Tanforan. Life in camp was difficult. Kimi remembers her mother talking about how even the simple things in Topaz were hard. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in.

Maru: As far as food went, she really said the food was terrible. She remembers getting food that had maggots in it. She said that they used to be served Spam a lot, which is why she really didn’t like it. You know, we never really grew up eating Spam much at all, because it reminded her of camp.

Katayama: Incarceration didn’t just have a profound impact on families and individuals. It also had an impact on the Japanese American community as a whole. This impact continued beyond the time they spent in camp, long after the last camp closed in 1946. Here’s Bruce Embrey, a Sansei whose mother was incarcerated at Manzanar.

Bruce Embrey: The legacy is that this is not some static, little episode in history that we go back to and pay homage to.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Embrey: It’s something that is to be learned from and applied. And that’s what my mother did. My mother learned from her experience in camp and applied it in her life. When she assessed what happened to her in Manzanar, she said, “We had no political power, we were a young, immigrant community, we had no allies.”

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in.

Katayama: It wasn’t just the survivors who carried the scars from that history, but also their children, their grandchildren. Many Japanese American families didn’t discuss what happened in the camps. It was common for older Issei and Nisei generations to be completely silent on the topic.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Katayama: Jean Hibino, a Sansei whose parents were incarcerated in Topaz, remembers being told: 

Jean Hibino: “Don’t rock the boat, don’t make waves, don’t stick your neck out. Why do we want to do this? We’re okay. Why do we want to bring up old wounds?”

Katayama: But as time went on, some younger Japanese Americans did want to reopen these wounds. Sansei activists felt that in order to empower themselves and find allies, the Japanese American community wanted to talk about how they were treated during World War II, and they wanted to share these memories with others. This led to decades-long activism by individuals and groups like the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations, called the redress movement. Japanese Americans and other allies fought the United States government for several things. Among them was an apology for this unjust incarceration, and monetary reparations for the harm that was caused.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in.  

Katayama: Here’s Kimi Maru speaking about the importance of the redress movement to the Japanese American community.

Maru: But it wasn’t until the redress movement came about and people—Niseis and Isseis at that time—really started opening up and speaking about what they went through. Before that, many people, especially Sanseis, never even heard their parents utter a word about it. You know, it was just not something that people spoke about. 

Katayama: Redress helped break these intergenerational silences. 

Maru: It was through the redress movement that I think it really, uh, brought the community together and really opened up a chapter in history that needed to be talked about. The younger generations needed to learn about what people went through.

Katayama: The redress movement picked up steam in the 1970s and ’80s. It led to official Congressional hearings as part of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. In 1981, Congressional hearings were held for twenty days in cities across the country: Los Angeles; San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; Seattle; Chicago; Cambridge; New York; Anchorage; and the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. During these hearings, survivors of incarceration publicly shared their stories. Kimi Maru says that testimony was moving. 

Maru: And then when the Commission hearings happened, that was when there was such an outpouring of people sharing what had happened to them, things that most people had never even heard of, as far as what people lost, in terms of their houses or businesses, their belongings, you know, the conditions in camp itself. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Katayama: Here’s Hans Goto, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated first at Manzanar and later at Topaz. 

Hans Goto: When they got to Los Angeles, unbeknownst to me, uh, my father decided to give testimony. I think that was the first time he ever told the story to the public. My father spoke about how difficult it was and how emotional it was, and that really struck me more than anything else. It’s like that’s part of the history of the “camps,” in quotes, that we never heard. You know, we always heard, “Oh yeah, we went to camp and we met so and so.” There’s some really heartfelt stories of deprivation, things being taken away, their whole life being turned upside down and so on.

Katayama: Rev. Michael Yoshii is a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Topaz. He was in the room when person after person would get up to tell their story. 

Michael Yoshii: There were three days of hearings in San Francisco, and my parents came to all of them. You know, so many people that I had known in the community came to the hearings. And it was just so profound, the energy there.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in.

Yoshii: I think there were like 500 people in the room. And just the gripping testimonies from, from Isseis, from Niseis, and Sanseis like myself. You can, um, feel people just listening to every word. It was a very cathartic experience for me personally. It was clearly a cathartic experience for our whole community.  

Katayama: Bruce Embrey’s mother, Sue Kunitomi Embrey, testified at the Los Angeles hearings on August 5, 1981. She joined over 150 survivors of incarceration and descendants in sharing their stories and appealing for justice. In her testimony, she said: “The period I spent in Manzanar was the most traumatic experience of my life. It has influenced my perspective, as well as my continuing efforts to educate, persuade, and encourage others of my generation to speak out about the unspeakable crime.” Here’s Kimi again reflecting on the impact of redress.

Maru: It was a pretty intense movement that finally resulted in President Reagan passing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and signed it, which recognized that the government had made a mistake: it was wrong; it was based on racist, wartime hysteria and lack of leadership; and then $20,000 reparations for those who went through that experience. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out.

Maru: No one felt that that was enough money, that would ever, you know, pay for what people lost, but it was at least a recognition that it was wrong.

Katayama: Redress was also an exercise for the Japanese American community in growing political power and building coalitions. A lot of the same people who pushed for redress were involved in other social justice movements like civil rights, Yellow Power, and the anti-Vietnam War protests.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in.

Katayama: What happened to Japanese Americans during World War II helped ignite decades of political activism. For many in this community, the history of incarceration is a call to action. Kimi Maru remembers growing up with this activism. 

Maru: My parents used to go to all the anti-war marches that were in San Francisco against the Vietnam War, from really early on, when these marches first started. And I was pretty young then. I, I just kind of grew up going on anti-war marches. [laughs]

Yoshii: Once I got into Berkeley, there was a lot of anti-war protests going on, and I started joining some of them. But for us, as Asians, looking at what was going on in Vietnam. I think there was a visceral reaction to that particular incursion into Vietnam. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out.

Katayama: That was Rev. Yoshii again. And this is Bruce Embrey.

Embrey: I think this is a quote from the amazing woman, Audre Lorde, where she says, “Silence will not protect you.” And my mother used that a lot, “Silence would not protect us.” She says, “If you think that the US government is no longer rounding up Asians and incarcerating them in concentration camps, look at what’s happening in Vietnam and Indochina. US imperialism is, just as it did to us, still utilizing racism to oppress Asians and Asian Americans.”

Katayama: On September 11, 2001, the United States was hit by the largest terrorist attack in its history.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in.

Katayama: The attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda, a terrorist organization then based in Afghanistan. In the wake of these attacks, the United States went to war, as hate crimes and xenophobia against Muslims and Arab Americans went up. For Japanese Americans, this wartime hysteria seemed all too familiar. Rev. Yoshii remembers it this way:

Yoshii: The first Sunday after 9/11 I had just an open conversation with people, like many Christians were doing, to just debrief what was happening. And one member really brought up his memories of Pearl Harbor, and how immediately the Nisei and the Issei were targeted as the enemy. And he was concerned about what’s happening with Arabs and Muslims and South Asians, because he knew that they would be a targeted enemy that could be vulnerable in the American context. The next week I invited an Imam to come speak to us. And then we began working with the local Afghan community. And the parallel was that the FBI was coming into Muslim communities at this particular time doing surveillance and monitoring things then. That happened with Japanese Americans, too. Many of us knew that there would be a time where the Civil Liberties Act would be important for other communities. It’s not just about ourselves, but it’s going to be a principle for others. And I think that really came home in 9/11.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out.

Katayama: Many Japanese Americans wanted to show support for Muslims and Arab Americans, advocating as their allies. In return, some of these communities have remained connected. Here’s Roy Hirabayashi, a Nisei whose family was incarcerated in Topaz.

Roy Hirabayashi: Over the years, the Japanese community has really tried to connect and support other communities in distress or having their own challenges. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in.

Hirabayashi: So the Muslim community naturally was being supported, you know, the Latino community for immigration issues. 

Katayama: And that solidarity between communities is mutual for many. February 19th is called the Day of Remembrance. It’s a time to acknowledge the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Roy has been going to these events for years. 

Hirabayashi: Over the past ten years, the attendance for the Day of Remembrance has really increased. Before we were happy if maybe a hundred people come. Now, you know, it’s like standing-room only. And it’s not just the Japanese community, but just different folks from the larger communities coming out for this event, too.

Katayama: Which brings us back to Tsuru for Solidarity. For these activists building coalitions, the past and the present will always be connected—because of incarceration, because of redress, because of their history of organizing.  

Ukai: Tsuru for Solidarity has become a place where people have particular political interests—prison abolition, HR 40 to support Congressional legislation for Black reparations—that’s another thing that Tsuru for Solidarity is doing. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out.

Ukai: So I think all of these ways of connecting and becoming an activist voice is just really important.

Katayama: That was Nancy Ukai. Here’s Kimi Maru again.

Maru: I think because Japanese Americans were able to win redress by organizing in our community and telling the stories about what happened to us, we wanted to share with people in the African American community, and just let them know that we’re behind them. And we want them to know that it’s possible to win. Getting the government to admit when they’ve done something wrong and to redress it is something that everyone has a right to do.

Katayama: Many descendants believe staying silent about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II won’t protect people facing injustice today. And for some of them, taking action is an obligation. They feel they need to speak out to prevent history from repeating itself. Susan Kitazawa, who was interviewed by Amanda Tewes, agrees. 

Amanda Tewes: Susan, what do you think motivated you to get involved in these ways?

Kitazawa: That’s a funny question. [laughs] I think my question is: why isn’t everybody doing that? [laughs] Like aren’t we here to do that? You know, there’s a lot of uneven playing fields in the world and in our lives. There’s a lot of things that aren’t just, and it’s our responsibility to do what we can to fix that.

Theme song fades in.

Katayama: Thanks for listening to “‘From Generation to Generation’: The Legacy of Japanese American Incarceration” and The Berkeley Remix. Next time: the history, legacy, and contested memory of Japanese American incarceration during World War II.

This episode features interviews from the Oral History Center’s Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project, and includes clips from: Bruce Embrey, Hans Goto, Jean Hibino, Roy Hirabayashi, Susan Kitazawa, Kimi Maru, Margret Mukai, Ruth Sasaki, Nancy Ukai, and Rev. Michael Yoshii. Music from Blue Dot Sessions. Additional archival audio from Tsuru for Solidarity and the National Archives. The transcript from Sue Kunitomi Embrey’s testimony comes from the Los Angeles hearings from the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. This episode was produced by Rose Khor, Roger Eardley-Pryor, Shanna Farrell, and Amanda Tewes. Thank you to the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant for funding this project. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website listed in the show notes. I’m your host, Devin Katayama. Thanks for listening, and I will talk to you next time.

Theme song fades out.

END OF EPISODE

 


The Berkeley Remix Season 8, Episode 2:”‘A Place Like This’: The Memory of Incarceration”

In this episode, we explore the history, legacy, and contested memory of Japanese American incarceration during World War II. 

This graphic illustration depicts a large wave and guard tower behind barbed wire with text above that reads, "Episode 2: A Place Like This"
The Berkeley Remix Season 8 Podcast Image for “Episode 2: A Place Like This.”

Incarceration represented a loss of livelihoods, property, and freedom, as well as a disruption—cultural and geographic—in the Japanese American community that continued long after World War II. While some descendants heard family stories about incarceration, others encountered only silence about these past traumas. This silence was reinforced by a society and education system which denied that incarceration occurred or used euphemisms to describe what Japanese Americans experienced during World War II. Over the years, Japanese Americans have worked to reclaim the narrative of this past and engage with the nuances of terminology in order to tell their own stories about the personal and community impacts of incarceration. 

In season 8 of The Berkeley Remix, a podcast of the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley, we are highlighting interviews from the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. The OHC team interviewed twenty-three survivors and descendants of two World War II-era sites of incarceration: Manzanar in California and Topaz in Utah. This four-part series includes clips from these interviews, which were recorded remotely via Zoom. Using healing as a throughline, these life history interviews explore identity, community, creative expression, and the stories family members passed down about how incarceration shaped their lives. 

This season features interview clips from the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. This episode includes clips from: Miko Charbonneau, Bruce Embrey, Hans Goto, Patrick Hayashi, Jean Hibino, Mitchell Higa, Carolyn Iyoya Irving, Susan Kitazawa, Ron Kuramoto, Kimi Maru, Lori Matsumura, Alan Miyatake, Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder, Ruth Sasaki, Masako Takahashi, Peggy Takahashi, Nancy Ukai, and Rev. Michael Yoshii. Additional archival audio from the US Office of War Information and the Internet Archive. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

Produced by Rose Khor, Roger Eardley-Pryor, Shanna Farrell, and Amanda Tewes. Narration by Devin Katayama. Newsreel audio clip “Japanese Relocation” from the U.S. Office of War Information, ca. 1943, courtesy of Prelinger Archives. Newsreel audio clip “August 14, 1945, Newsreel V-J Day” from the Internet Archive. Original theme music by Paul Burnett. Additional music from Blue Dot Sessions. Album artwork by Emily Ehlen. A special thanks to the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant for funding this project.

The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government.

 

LISTEN TO EPISODE 2 ON SOUNDCLOUD

 

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: “‘A Place Like This’: The Memory of Incarceration”

Newsreel from the 1940s: “When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, our West Coast became a potential combat zone. Living in that zone were more than 100,000 persons of Japanese ancestry. Two-thirds of them American citizens, one-third aliens. We knew that some among them were potentially dangerous; most were loyal. But no one knew what would happen among this concentrated population if Japanese forces should try to invade our shores. Military authorities therefore determined that all of them—citizens and aliens alike—would have to move.”

Jean Hibino: What would you carry? If everybody had two things they could carry, what would you put into a duffel bag? And what if you had a baby, and that’s one of the things that you’re carrying? How do you figure out the other thing? What is important to you? And you have no idea where you’re going, what kind of weather it’s going to be.

Theme song fades in.

Devin Katayam: Welcome to The Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The Center was founded in 1953, and records and preserves the history of California, the nation, and our interconnected world. You’re listening to our eighth season, “‘From Generation to Generation’: The Legacy of Japanese American Incarceration.” I’m your host, Devin Katayama. 

This season on The Berkeley Remix, we’re highlighting interviews from the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. The OHC team interviewed twenty-three survivors and descendants of World War II-era sites of incarceration at Manzanar in California and Topaz in Utah. In this four-part series, you’ll hear clips from these interviews, which were recorded remotely via Zoom. These life history interviews explore identity, community, creative expression, and the stories family members have passed down about how incarceration shaped their lives. 

As a heads up, generational names for Japanese Americans are going to be important in this series. Issei refers to the first generation of Japanese immigrants to the United States. Nisei are the second generation, Sansei the third, Yonsei the fourth, and Gosei the fifth. Just think about counting to five in Japanese: ichi, ni, san, shi, go.

This is episode 2, “‘A Place Like This’: The Memory of Incarceration” 

Theme song fades out.

Katayama: Executive Order 9066 changed life for Japanese Americans. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the order on February 19, 1942. It authorized the forced removal of Japanese American civilians from their homes on the West Coast. The federal government incarcerated Japanese Americans first in regional assembly centers before sending them to prison camps for the duration of the war. We’re talking about more than 120,000 people—or roughly the population of Topeka, Kansas. 

Hibino: The US government was very careful about choosing how they wanted to describe the unconstitutional [laughs] removal of 120,000 people, uh, by just saying it was for their own safety, of military necessity: “It was a relocation. It was an evacuation for their own safety.” But we know better. 

Katayama: That’s Jean Hibino, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated in Topaz. Nancy Ukai, a Sansei whose family was also imprisoned in Topaz, says she remembers the stories her mother shared about this time. 

Nancy Ukai: The immigrants couldn’t buy land; they couldn’t naturalize; they couldn’t vote, so they didn’t have a political voice. My grandfather used to say, “You know, we’re going to all be sent to camp.” And my mother said, “Oh no. You might be, but I’m a citizen.” And he said, “Yeah well, you’ll see.” And she said later when, of course, everybody was rounded up and sent to the camps, he said, “See?”

Katayama: When the looming threat of incarceration became a reality, it caused significant disruption in people’s lives. Jean talks about the impact it had on her family. 

Hibino: So my mom always tells the story about selling everything they own to the junkman—was it thirty-five bucks or something? Refrigerator, stove, furnishings, store goods, everything was sold. They knew that there was going to be a short amount of time where things had to be done. Businesses, affairs had to be put in order, including the dog, which was so sad! Oh my God, their poor dog, they had to get—ah—get rid of. And I think there was an actual story where the dog came back after they gave it to the junkman, that the dog wandered back home, and we’re all crying when we heard that story. 

Katayama: People had a matter of days to pack up their things and organize their lives before reporting to assembly centers. They could only take what they could carry. And they had to make some pretty heart-wrenching decisions about what to take and what to leave behind. Here’s Nancy again, sharing her mother’s memories of those uncertain days.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. Sound of door opening.

Ukai: When they were all packing to go, she said my grandfather packed up this box very carefully, and she thought it was, oh, treats or tools, she didn’t know. And she said when they got to camp, they opened it up and it was filled with eucalyptus leaves. And she said, “You fool, why did you waste this precious space on this?” He told her, “I thought we may never go back to Berkeley,” and he loved the fragrance of the Eucalyptus leaves, and they reminded him of the Berkeley that he loved. And so she said, “I wished I had directed my anger at the US government and not my father…who didn’t know if he’d ever go back to this place that he loved so much.” 

Soundbed: sound of door closing.Instrumental music fades out. 

Katayama: Bruce Embrey, a Sansei whose mother was incarcerated in Manzanar in California, heard stories about the sale of his family’s store in the Los Angeles area. 

Bruce Embrey: I have the receipt, actually, for the sale of the store, and they kept it. They sold it for half of what they paid for it. They got about 50 percent. What was remarkable to me was that there was very little resentment about it. You know, you lose an asset to somebody, you, you generally are kind of upset, right? I mean, I, I know everybody says, “Oh, it’s amazing how they’re not bitter.” Yeah well, close the door and get into a family discussion and see how bitter people really are. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Katayama: Life in Manzanar and Topaz was a difficult adjustment for many. To this day, descendants of the camps have visceral memories of the stories their families told about what it was like to be incarcerated in the desert, far from the lives they once knew. Here’s Bruce Embrey again sharing his grandmother’s first impressions of Manzanar.

Embrey: My grandmother was convinced that this was a desolate area, I mean, it was bulldozed, there was nothing around but barracks. And that while you had these majestic mountains in the back, apple orchard—this is, you know, the quote she said, “It’s a place like this. They brought us to a place like this: beautiful on the one hand, desolate on the other.” And she was convinced they were brought there to be shot. She thought they were being removed to a far-flung area, meaning far from a large metropolitan area like Los Angeles, essentially to be either worked to death or, or, or killed. That was her framework. And so she cried every day until she finally got it together, and came back and said, “No, we’ve got to survive this crap.”

Katayama: For many of the incarcerated Issei and Nisei, survival in camp meant trying to create some semblance of a normal life. They built schools, grew gardens, and honed crafts like woodworking and photography. Susan Kitazawa, a Sansei, recalls that her grandfather did this while incarcerated at Manzanar.  

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Kitazawa: It’s like my grandfather, who had a nursery, being able to be in charge of the victory garden. It was like, Oh, I get to use my best skills, even though I’m locked up.

Katayama: Ruth Sasaki, a Sansei whose parents were incarcerated at Topaz, remembers learning about her mother’s role in creating an education system while in camp. 

Ruth Sasaki: They called a meeting of all the college graduates, you know, among the internees and organized preschools for the kids. And so my mom was teaching preschool in Tanforan. And then when they were transferred to Topaz, they did the same thing. They organized a preschool system. So from ’43 to ’45, she was the supervisor of Topaz preschools.

Katayama: Alan Miyatake, a Sansei, heard many stories about his grandfather, Toyo Miyatake. Many people know Toyo today as the official camp photographer of Manzanar. But he didn’t start out that way. Toyo originally smuggled a camera into camp with him. In fact, Alan’s father remembers when Toyo first showed him the camera.

Alan Miyatake: The way my father told the story was that one day in camp, he took him aside and opened up his suitcase and said, “Look what I have.” 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in.   

Miyatake: It terrified my father, because, you know, he thought, Wait a minute, I know that’s not legal. So he explained it to my dad that, you know, “I’m going to make a camera and I’m going to photograph this injustice, in hoping that it would never happen again.”And he started, you know, making a camera. So he mounted a lens onto a drainpipe, onto the male part of the drainpipe, and then the female end of the drainpipe was mounted to the box. So that was the focusing device that made the camera operate.

Katayama: But Toyo’s photography didn’t go completely unnoticed by the camp administration in Manzanar.

Miyatake: As the story goes within our family, that in order to kind of cover himself, Ralph Merritt, the director, he made up this rule. Once he said, “Yeah, go ahead and take pictures, but you can’t snap the shutter.” And I’m, I’m guessing that if he ever got caught, you know, and if it went to higher authorities, at least Ralph Merritt could say, “Well, he wasn’t the one that snapped the shutter.” 

Katayama: Eventually, Ralph Merritt gave Toyo permission to take photographs as the official camp photographer, as long as he had supervision. It was a camp rule that he needed to be accompanied by someone who was not Japanese American, like the wife of a camp worker, when he would take photographs there. This underscored his lack of autonomy, both as a professional photographer and a prisoner with restricted freedoms.  

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Katayama: Despite the fact that many Japanese Americans were able to create lives for themselves inside the prison camps, the indignities of incarceration were never far from their minds. Even Japanese American service members fighting on behalf of the United States and democracy abroad had families who were incarcerated at home. Here’s Rev. Michael Yoshii, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Topaz.

Michael Yoshii: My father’s brother, he was already part of the military when the war broke out. And then he got assigned to the 442nd in the process of it. 

Katayama: That’s the 442nd Infantry Regiment of the United States Army. The 442nd is the most decorated regiment in US military history. Its daring feats, like the rescue of the “Lost Battalion” in Italy, have made the 442nd the stuff of legend. But this unit was also segregated within the US military. 

Yoshii: My father and his parents went to Tanforan initially. His brother was wounded in the war in Europe and had his arm, uh, blown off. And he kind of had to go to a hospital and then do some recovery. He had a prosthetic arm put on. That was like a lifelong injury from the war. You know, my grandparents were really upset about that. I think he was able to come back and visit them in Topaz on one of his return trips. 

Katayama: And it wasn’t just the indignities of losing livelihoods, property, and their freedom that haunted Japanese Americans incarcerated in these camps. There was also the constant threat of harm and death. Here’s Masako Takahashi, a Sansei born in Topaz, reflecting on this tension. 

Masako Takahashi: My family and all those other people lived under the constant threat of murder. I mean, whatever baseball games or arts and crafts they were practicing, there were armed guards pointing guns at them at all times.

Katayama: And she means this literally. All the prison camps featured tall guard towers with  armed guards and searchlights. The guard towers stuck out in otherwise isolated landscapes. 

M. Takahashi: So no wonder they were tense. 

Katayama: This tension permeated Manzanar, too. In December 1942, internal political divisions with the camp’s federal administrators, and within the Japanese American community, culminated in a violent uprising at Manzanar. Hans Goto, a Sansei whose father was a doctor and working in Manzanar’s hospital, remembers hearing about this.

Hans Goto: There was a riot in the camp. I think approximately 2,000 people came out for this riot. They were shouting, they were chanting, they were very angry. The details aren’t really clear. But suddenly the military police opened fire, which they weren’t supposed to do. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Goto: So two people were instantly killed and nine people were wounded, and that sort of dispersed the crowd. They brought the people into the infirmary, where my father was, and the whole staff was, was on duty at that time.The people who were killed and the people who rioted, were they shot from the front, or were they shot from the side and back? And the controversy was: if they were shot from the front, that means they were charging the guards. And if they’re shot from the side and back, that meant they weren’t charging the guards. The military held an inquiry within a few days of the actual event. They highly encouraged my dad, according to him, to report that they were all shot from the front. Because he was also the physician coroner. He said, “No, I’m not going to do that.” And they said, “Well, you have to do this.” And he goes, “Uh, no, they, they were shot from the side.”

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Katayama: The Manzanar Uprising had far-reaching consequences. Within two months, the US government required all incarcerees at all ten federal prison camps to complete a “loyalty questionnaire.” This questionnaire was administered in part to identify and remove so-called “troublemakers” from the camps. Beyond the irony of a loyalty survey for people unjustly imprisoned by their own government, the questionnaire language was confusing and led to further problems. For example, Question 27 asked Nisei incarcerees if they would be willing to serve on combat duty wherever they were assigned. Question 28 asked individuals if they would swear unqualified allegiance to the US and forswear any form of allegiance to the Emperor of Japan. Many incarcerees answered “no” and “no” to those two questions. And as a result, they were labeled “no-no boys” and ultimately confined at the high security Tule Lake Segregation Center, deep into rugged Northern California. The Manzanar Uprising also had consequences for Dr. Goto.

Goto: The next day he was relieved of all his duties. He was the head physician.

Katayama: After refusing to sign the death records of the young Japanese Americans who were shot and killed at Manzanar, Dr. Goto and his family were sent to Topaz. But they also witnessed deadly violence in the Utah desert. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Ukai: Wakasa was murdered on April 11, 1943, at 7:30 at night. He was shot through the heart. He fell on his knees. He fell on his back. He died instantly. The bullet went through his heart and also pierced his spine.

Katayama: James Hatsuaki Wakasa, a 63-year-old Issei man, was days away from leaving Topaz for another camp, when he was killed by a camp sentry. He was shot from a guard tower, 300 yards away. The military took his body and then spun a false narrative about Wakasa’s death. Masako Takahashi recalls Wakasa’s tragic murder.

M. Takahashi: He was four days away—he already had a pass to leave camp, four days away. And of course he wasn’t trying to flee. That adds to the sorrow.

Katayama: The story of James Wakasa’s murder has been told many times over the years by survivors and descendants of Topaz. Everyone knew about it. Everyone had some kind of connection to it. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Katayama: But not everyone tells the same version of the tragedy. Patrick Hayashi, a Nisei who was born at Topaz, and Nancy Ukai, remember hearing this story many times as children. This incident profoundly shaped their families’ incarceration experiences. 

Ukai: That is just burned into my childhood memory. 

Patrick Hayashi: My mom told me an old deaf man, Mr. Wakasa, was walking his adopted, stray dog around the perimeter of the camp—and he would do that every afternoon. His dog got caught in the barbed wire fence, and Mr. Wakasa went to save him and release him. 

Ukai: And I just remember to this day my mother’s emotion and anger, and saying, “They didn’t have to kill him. He was deaf.” Well, he wasn’t deaf. That was one of the rumors, which I think the government probably created to, you know, rationalize his murder.

Hayashi: The sentry ordered him to back away from the fence, but because he was deaf, he couldn’t do it, and so the sentry shot and killed him. 

Ukai: He was accused of escaping through the fence, and it was in the national papers, and that never got corrected.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Katayama: Remember Dr. Goto, Hans’s Father? When he and his family were sent to Topaz after the uprising at Manzanar, he became the physician and coroner at Topaz. In a twist of fate, it was Dr. Goto who signed the death certificate for James Wakasa.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Newsreel from the 1940s with instrumental music: “America waited out World War II’s last tense hours. At the White House, President Truman, State Secretary Byrnes, and Cordell Hull stood by for the momentous surrender message from the Japanese. Radiomen, sound and camera crews, and worldwide newsreels kept vigil with Washington reporters. Then, after tantalizing hours of rumors and guesses, came the President’s historic announcement, August 14, 1945.”

Katayama: After several years of incarceration, on December 18, 1944, Americans learned that the US government approved the closure of all the camps by the end of 1945. However, the last camp didn’t actually shutter until March 1946—nine months after the war against Japan in Asia ended. This sudden change left Japanese Americans struggling to plan for the future. Remember, many of them had either sold or lost their homes and businesses before being forcibly removed from their communities, so they didn’t have much to return to.

Mitchell Higa: A big part of it was my dad’s parents’ business taken away when they went to camp, and then coming out of camp penniless. And then having to go through the humiliation of going on government assistance, coming out of camp broke. No prospects, no money, no father.

Kitazawa: My father’s parents were, um, working their very, very small family flower nursery in San José at the time. And my father told us that for his father, even though he wasn’t happy about being taken away from his home and his nursery, that he was able to sell the family nursery and business to people at the Quaker Meeting House in San José, where he was a weekend custodian. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Kitazawa: So they bought the place on paper for a dollar and they held it for them until they came back home again, which was really fortunate that they had that connection to people in the white community, and didn’t lose their land or have to sell it super cheap.

Katayama: That was Mitchell Higa, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Manzanar, and Susan Kitazawa. Here’s Alan Miyatake again. 

Miyatake: I always pictured that they just came back to Boyle Heights and moved into their house. But later on, I found out that because of a, a lease that was set up, that Bobby, my uncle, told me, “Oh no, no, we, we had to live across the street for a while, because there were still people living in our house.”

Katayama: But not everyone was able to return to their homes and communities. Some felt pressured to stay away from the West Coast, and others saw opportunities to begin anew in other parts of the United States. Here’s Ron Kuramoto, a Sansei whose mother was incarcerated at Manzanar.

Ron Kuramoto: What they were given when they were released was a bus ticket and $25 in cash per person.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Kuramoto: Those were the federal guidelines for releasing prisoners from, [laughs] you know, from federal prison, was to give them a bus ticket and $25 to wherever they went. They said, “So, many of the people, they were glad to be released, but they had nowhere to go.” Interestingly enough, that’s what led to a lot of the diaspora of Japanese Americans. 

Hibino: So we [laughs] ended up in this extremely small, white town in Connecticut, and I always thought I was white until I was about ten. When you left the camp, the War Relocation Authority had put out pamphlets that said to the Japanese, “It is advisable that you move as far away from California as you can. Stay away from other Japanese. Try to become even more American than, than [laughs] you think you are, than you already are.” They were just trying to say, “Try to assimilate, be white, and don’t rock the boat. Don’t make waves. Don’t stick out. Just quietly go about your business, even though this horribly unconstitutional thing has just happened to you and you’ve suffered all this trauma.” I think that is part of the reason why only half of the Japanese moved back to the West Coast after the war. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Hibino: My dad really took that to heart. And so he always told us he chose to never go back to California because of the racism and the horrible experiences his family suffered. And so we’re going to go up here, and we’re going to try to live the American dream and not so much talk about what happened to us in 1942. 

Katayama: That was Jean Hibino again. Some Japanese American students were able to leave camp during the war to attend college in the Midwest or on the East Coast. Carolyn Iyoya Irving, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Topaz, recounts her mother’s experience moving to New York State during the war while her parents remained in camp. 

Carolyn Iyoya Irving: The Quakers, the American Friends Service Committee, really made a concerted effort to help kids in camp to go to college. And so I think they helped with the brokering of the government paperwork to find out which colleges would accept Japanese Americans from the camps. And so I think, by and large, most of them were East, because you were away from the West Coast. She ended up leaving for Vassar in, um, August of 1943 by herself, you know, on a train, saying goodbye to her parents behind barbed wire and heading out to Poughkeepsie.

Katayama: Moving away from their homes and centers of Japanese American culture led some to become isolated from the community. These moves have had a profound impact on intergenerational identity and belonging. Both survivors of incarceration and their descendants have had to live with the consequences of lives uprooted, torn apart during and after World War II. Here’s Masako Takahashi again.

M. Takahashi: My parents were super American. When I was young, they took my brother and me to Washington, D.C., to see the Lincoln Memorial; we went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to see the Liberty Bell; we went to Manhattan, New York City, to see the Statue of Liberty. These were like really iconic American institutions and parts of history. Those touchstones, they wanted to go see them for themselves, because that’s how they felt through the war and continued after the war. My Uncle Will went in the 442nd. These people wanted to prove their Americanness, even die for America.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Katayama: Here’s Kimi Maru, a Sansei, whose family was incarcerated at Topaz.

Kimi Maru: You know, even my kids had friends growing up—they’re Yonsei, fourth generation—who didn’t know how to use chopsticks, because their families didn’t eat Japanese or Asian food. [laughs] And largely, I think that’s because of the camps, because they didn’t want to really relate to being Japanese. They wanted to prove their Americanness, how they thought about themselves, you know, and what it meant to be American, but not really understanding what it meant to be Japanese American. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Hayashi: I think trauma can be transmitted nonverbally. And because the silence among Japanese Americans, among everyone, is textured, different types of silence mean different things and convey different emotions, and I think that’s how I learned about the emotional tone of the camps and the devastation it had.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Vox pop:

Matsumura: My dad doesn’t talk about camp life, he’s very quiet about it.

M. Takahashi: Just generally speaking, it was horrible and shocking, but they, like many others, did not speak that much about camp experience.

Hayashi: I’m typical of third-generation Japanese Americans. We grew up hearing next to nothing about the camps.

Margret Mukai: You know, we were Japanese Americans. We were supposed to be quiet. 

Sasaki: She didn’t talk that much about the war or those experiences. 

Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder: “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.”

Katayama: Incarceration was an agonizing experience for most Japanese Americans. It was difficult for many to talk about. The silence was about shame, it was about trauma, and it was about cultural influences that encouraged people not to dwell on the past. This meant that children of survivors rarely learned about incarceration firsthand. Here’s Lori Matsumura, a Sansei descendant of Manzanar. 

Lori Matsumura: My dad was so quiet, and so he didn’t discuss camp life unless we asked him or hounded him, he didn’t discuss it, which is unfortunate, because he’s gone now. Now I have so many questions I wish I would have brought up. Almost everyone’s gone now.

Katayama: Masako Takahashi remembers growing up with shame about incarceration.

M. Takahashi: As a child, I felt ashamed, because it seemed bad to be the children of people who the government wanted to lock up and called an enemy. I wasn’t proud to be Japanese or proud to have been born in a concentration camp or, you know—so I guess they were just trying to spare us feeling bad, so they just didn’t talk about it and looked forward.

Katayama: Peggy Takahashi is a Sansei whose parents were incarcerated at Manzanar.

Peggy Takahashi: There’s a whole generation of Japanese people, probably my age and a little younger, whose parents made a conscious decision not to make the Japanese culture   prominent in their lives, um, because of what happened during the war.

Katayama: Peggy talks about how many people never learned about Japanese American culture or the history of incarceration in school. 

M. Takahashi: It wasn’t talked about at all. In our US history books in the 1970s, there was one—literally one paragraph—about the incarceration. Literally one paragraph. 

Goto: No. Not at all. Never heard about it. What’s ironic is—just, just for a little tidbit—is that one of my high school history teachers was a little kid in one of the camps. And he never mentioned it, ever, in history. And he taught US history. It was just a sign of the times. 

Katayama: That was Hans Goto again. Here’s Miko Charbonneau, a Yonsei whose family was incarcerated at Manzanar.

Miko Charbonneau: Sometime in middle school, we were learning about the Holocaust, and our teacher, he was telling the whole class like, “Well, Jewish people were put in camps.”

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Charbonneau: And I was like, Wait, my grandmother was put in a camp. So I raised my hand and said, “My, my grandparents were put in a camp, but they were put in camp by America.” And there was like this awkward silence, because all the kids were confused and had never heard about it, and he clearly did not know what to say. And after this silence, all he said was, “Well, we didn’t kill people.” And so I really remember that, and it’s sort of maybe the first time I feel like my experience was disparaged or, or put down.

Katayama: If descendants learned about this history at all in school, it was often brushed off as something insignificant. Some teachers outright denied Japanese American incarceration ever happened. Here’s Susan Kitazawa.

Kitazawa: One time when I was in elementary school, we had to talk about our families or how our parents met, and so I said, “My parents met when they were locked up in the prison camp.” And the teacher got really mad at me and said, “You’re supposed to tell the truth. Don’t make things up.” And I said, “That really happened. And my parents told me that.” And the teacher said, “Nothing like that ever happened in the United States.” And she got really angry at me. And I felt really bad, because she thought not only that I was lying, but that my parents were lying to me. And so my mother said I could take the book to school and show her the book. And I showed her the book and she just brushed it off like, “Yeah, whatever. Things like that don’t happen in America.” And so from that experience, I learned to just kind of shut up about it.

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Katayama: This pushback reinforced silence within the community. The language used to describe what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II is equally important in acknowledging this past. It impacts how people remember events, and even how they continue to teach this history in school. It’s become a sensitive topic for many descendants of incarceration. 

Here’s Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Topaz, and Ron Kuramoto again. 

Neuwalder: Yeah, I mean, I certainly grew up with “relocation,” not even “forced relocation,” “relocation” and “internment camps.” 

Kuramoto: There would be references that we could overhear about somebody they knew from “camp.” And that was kind of the euphemistic talk about that. 

Neuwalder: And of course, as a little kid I was like, “Camp,” summer camp! You know, like [laughs] it was confusing, um, because it was a camp, but you couldn’t leave. And it was a camp in the middle of the desert with your whole family and all these other families.

Kuramoto: And as kids, we thought this was maybe something like summer camp. And we thought, Wow, this is really cool, everybody went to the same summer camp. But they were there for four years, so [laughs] it was a long summer camp. 

Katayama: But it was far from a summer camp. People have referred to the camps by different names over the years. Even the US government has changed its terminology. Here’s Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong, a Gosei descendant of Manzanar and National Park Service Superintendent of the Hono’uli’uli National Historic Site, discussing this.

Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong: And the US government, you know, also used “concentration camp” during World War II, and eventually the terminology kind of transitioned.

M. Takahashi: It was first called a “concentration camp.” Later, after the discovery of Auschwitz and Dachau and so on, the words “concentration camp” had meanings that the government preferred not to be associated with, so they started calling it “internment camps” and “relocation.”

Katayama: That was Masako Takahashi again. The euphemistic language about incarceration that Ron referred to has long weighed on the minds of survivors and their descendants. Densho is a nonprofit organization founded in 1996, whose mission is to preserve and share history of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans in order to promote equity and justice today. 

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Katayama: In its guide to terminology, Densho explains that “internment” refers to “the legally permissible, though morally questionable, detention of, quote, ‘enemy aliens’ in time of war.” In other words, Issei immigrants. Therefore, this terminology glosses over the fact that the federal government actually incarcerated American citizens of Japanese ancestry—Nisei children and young adults—without due process. More recently, in 2022, the Associated Press changed its style guide to embrace this distinction. This is why we’ve been using the word “incarceration” throughout this series. But others have advocated for even more changes in terminology. Here’s interviewer Roger Eardley-Pryor asking Masako Takahashi about her birth. You can hear how integral terminology is to her and her family’s incarceration experience.

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Roger Eardley-Pryor: Can you tell me the date of your birth and the location, please?

M. Takahashi: January 29, 1944, in Topaz Concentration Camp in Utah. My mother said it was a concentration camp.

Katayama: Here’s Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder again. 

Neuwalder: Linguistically they were concentration camps. They were places where people were concentrated, because of some ethnic cultural characteristics that were deemed to be abhorrent, and they were locked up as families. Um, I know there’s a lot of controversy, but I think, you know, there are lots of concentration camps around the world. To my mind, it’s about the removal of human rights and liberties of movement, and the literal concentration and segregation of one cultural group against their will.

Katayama: Jennifer is speaking about this from the perspective of her two identities. She is a descendant of a Japanese American mother incarcerated at Topaz, and of a family of ethnically German Jews who survived the Holocaust. 

Neuwalder: I think the term “concentration camp” has acquired very specific meanings to specific people. Um, but you know, maybe it will be reclaimed by the Japanese American community over time. 

Katayama: But not everyone agrees. 

Kuramoto: I don’t really hear many people refer to the incarceration camps, which is now the preferred terminology, as “concentration camps” anymore, other than maybe to describe some of the things that went on that are similar to that. But, uh, no, they were not mass extermination type of facilities, such as in the European experience. 

Katayama: That was Ron Kuramoto again. Indeed, language—and reclaiming language—is an important discussion, particularly in the Japanese American community. Here’s Patrick Hayashi again, recalling the conversations he had about this with Topaz survivors during a meeting with the Class of ’45. It’s a group of Japanese American students who attended high school behind barbed wire. 

Hayashi: The question was: what do you call Topaz? Some people wanted to call it a “concentration camp.” Everyone was in agreement that “internment camp” was just not proper, but you could call it a “confinement site,” something like that. They asked me what I thought, but I didn’t say anything. I thought it was up to them.

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Hayashi: In the end, they decided to call it a “concentration camp.” And I could see a complete transformation occur once they settled that issue. They became proud of their lives and proud at how they conducted themselves in the camps.

Katayama: Clearly, language matters. It’s not just words, it’s also about agency. Since the end of World War II, Japanese Americans have worked to reclaim the narrative of their incarceration experiences. This reclamation includes not only pushing for acknowledgment of this past, but also intergenerational conversations about the nuance of language and its implications. Without a doubt, each generation of descendants will need to begin this process for themselves. 

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Katayama: Thanks for listening to “‘From Generation to Generation’: The Legacy of Japanese American Incarceration” and The Berkeley Remix. Join us next time for more on identity and belonging in the Japanese American community.

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Katayama: This episode features interviews from the Oral History Center’s Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project, and includes clips from: Miko Charbonneau, Bruce Embrey, Hans Goto, Patrick Hayashi, Jean Hibino, Mitchell Higa, Carolyn Iyoya Irving, Susan Kitazawa, Ron Kuramoto, Kimi Maru, Lori Matsumura, Alan Miyatake, Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder, Ruth Sasaki, Masako Takahashi, Peggy Takahashi, Nancy Ukai, and Rev. Michael Yoshii. Music from Blue Dot Sessions. Additional archival audio from the US Office of War Information and the Internet Archive. This episode was produced by Rose Khor, Roger Eardley-Pryor, Shanna Farrell, and Amanda Tewes. Thank you to the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant for funding this project. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website listed in the show notes. I’m your host, Devin Katayama. Thanks for listening, and I will talk to you next time!

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END OF EPISODE




The Berkeley Remix Season 8, Episode 3: “‘Between Worlds’: Japanese American Identity and Belonging”

In this episode, we explore identity and belonging in the Japanese American community. 

This graphic illustration depicts a large wave and guard tower behind barbed wire with text above that reads, "Episode 3: Between Worlds"
The Berkeley Remix Season 8 Podcast Image for “Episode 3: Between Worlds”

For many Japanese Americans, identity is not only personal, it’s a reclamation of a community that was damaged during World War II. The scars of the past have left many descendants of incarceration feeling like they don’t wholly belong in one world. Descendants have navigated identity and belonging by participating in Japanese American community events and supporting community spaces, traveling to Japan to connect with their heritage, as well as cooking and sharing Japanese food. However, embracing Japanese and Japanese American culture can highlight for descendants their mixed identities, leaving them feeling even more like they have a foot in multiple worlds. 

In season 8 of The Berkeley Remix, a podcast of the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley, we are highlighting interviews from the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. The OHC team interviewed twenty-three survivors and descendants of two World War II-era sites of incarceration: Manzanar in California and Topaz in Utah. This four-part series includes clips from these interviews, which were recorded remotely via Zoom. Using healing as a throughline, these life history interviews explore identity, community, creative expression, and the stories family members passed down about how incarceration shaped their lives. 

This season features interview clips from the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. This episode includes clips from: Miko Charbonneau, Hans Goto, Jean Hibino, Roy Hirabayashi, Carolyn Iyoya Irving, Susan Kitazawa, Kimi Maru, Lori Matsumura, Alan Miyatake, Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder, Ruth Sasaki, Steven Shigeto Sindlinger, Masako Takahashi, Peggy Takahashi, Nancy Ukai, Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong, and Rev. Michael Yoshii. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

Produced by Rose Khor, Roger Eardley-Pryor, Shanna Farrell, and Amanda Tewes. Narration by Devin Katayama. Original theme music by Paul Burnett. Additional music from Blue Dot Sessions. Album artwork by Emily Ehlen. A special thanks to the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant for funding this project.

The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government.

 

LISTEN TO EPISODE 3 ON SOUNDCLOUD

 

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: “‘Between Worlds’: Japanese American Identity and Belonging”

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Ruth Sasaki: In some respects, I guess my whole life I felt sort of a duality, like I have one foot in two different worlds: Japan and America. I didn’t know who I was, and it felt like I couldn’t speak up for myself. When I understood that my values that I had been raised with were majority culture values in Japan and were valued, it just changes the whole way you feel about yourself. 

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Devin Katayama: Welcome to The Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The Center was founded in 1953, and records and preserves the history of California, the nation, and our interconnected world. You’re listening to our eighth season, “‘From Generation to Generation’: The Legacy of Japanese American Incarceration.” I’m your host, Devin Katayama. 

This season on The Berkeley Remix, we’re highlighting interviews from the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. The OHC team interviewed twenty-three survivors and descendants of World War II-era sites of incarceration at Manzanar in California and Topaz in Utah. In this four-part series, you’ll hear clips from these interviews, which were recorded remotely via Zoom. These life history interviews explore identity, community, creative expression, and stories family members passed down about how incarceration shaped their lives. 

As a heads up, generational names for Japanese Americans are going to be important in this series. Issei refers to the first generation of Japanese immigrants to the United States. Nisei are the second generation, Sansei the third, Yonsei the fourth, and Gosei the fifth. Just think about counting to five in Japanese: ichi, ni, san, shi, go.

This is episode 3, “‘Between Worlds’: Japanese American Identity and Belonging.” 

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Katayama: What does it feel like to have a foot in multiple worlds? How does this affect the search for personal identity? For many Japanese Americans, identity is not just personal, it’s a reclamation of a community that was damaged during World War II. The scars of the past have left many descendants of incarceration feeling like they don’t wholly belong in one world. 

Miko Charbonneau: I think that I’ve always felt like stuck between worlds and never really belonging to any place entirely. 

Katayama: That was Miko Charbonneau, a Yonsei. Here’s Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong, a Gosei, talking about the role that incarceration plays in her search for identity. Both women’s families were incarcerated at Manzanar, and they have multiple ethnic heritages. 

Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong: The biggest thing that I feel is the loss of identity. Because it’s like I’m still trying to find my identity, [laughs] um, and it’s because I feel like you couldn’t be proud of your heritage during camp, and afterwards it was basically like Americanization. 

Katayama: Here’s Susan Kitazawa, a Sansei and descendant of Manzanar.

Susan Kitazawa: And then also when I was in later elementary school, we were the only family in our town who wasn’t a white family. Church, Girl Scouts, unless it was a multi-age thing and my sister happened to be in the group with me, I was always the only person of color. 

Katayama: Many other Japanese Americans can relate to Susan’s experience. Steven Shigeto Sindlinger is a Yonsei whose birth mother was incarcerated at Topaz. He grew up in Michigan with his adoptive mother, who was from Japan, and his white, American father.  

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Steven Shigeto Sindlinger: There just weren’t any other individuals of Asian descent. There were only a couple, and none that we knew. So it was a little, I don’t want to say disappointing, that there weren’t more Japanese or Asian representation in the school system.

Katayama: Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder, a Sansei whose mother’s family was incarcerated at Topaz, had a similar experience as Susan and Steven. Additionally, her father was Jewish and his family survived the Holocaust. 

Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder: My parents integrated the town’s country club single-handedly. First mixed couple, first Asian, first Jewish. I had no awareness of that, except one time when I was probably eight or nine years old, this very blonde woman passing by me said, “You’re so dark you could be a little Black child.” And there were no African Americans in this club. At the time it was like very, very white. Um, and it stuck with me. At the time I thought it was like a great compliment, I was like, Yeah! But over the years, I was like, That was not meant to be a compliment. [laughs]

Katayama: Feeling like an outsider can take many forms. For some, it manifests in something as intrinsic as a name. Names are not just words, they carry a lot of meaning. 

Michael Yoshii: My name is Michael Arthur Yoshii. A lot of my friends had Japanese middle names. Uh, my parents kind of didn’t give us Japanese middle names on purpose, and I think that was to not make us stand out and not draw attention to being Japanese, per se. I think that kind of was the explanation. 

Katayama: Rev. Michael Yoshii is a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Topaz. Another way Japanese Americans can feel like outsiders is through language—or not learning to speak Japanese at all. 

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Katayama: After World War II, many survivors of incarceration didn’t teach their children how to speak Japanese. Here’s Lori Matsumura, a Sansei descendant of Manzanar. 

Lori Matsumura: I know that the Issei—my grandmother’s generation, Issei—did she not want the Nisei, which is my dad’s generation, to speak Japanese because of being sent to Manzanar and having to show that you are an American? Is that why they didn’t speak Japanese at home? I’ve always wondered that, but I never did find out the reason why. 

M. Takahashi: We only spoke English at home. I’m sorry I don’t speak Japanese. I’ve learned that a language is not just a dictionary, it’s a way of thinking, it’s a cultural reality.

Katayama: That was Masako Takahashi, a Sansei and a child survivor of Topaz. Here’s Hanako again. 

Wakatsuki-Chong: I remember my dad used to joke, saying he knows enough Japanese to read a menu, you know, and that’s about it.

Katayama: Nancy Ukai, a Sansei descendant of Topaz, wasn’t able to speak to her grandparents when she was a child. 

Nancy Ukai: When I was in elementary school, because I didn’t speak Japanese, and they didn’t really speak English, we didn’t communicate, and there would always be these [laughs] older people sitting on the sofa, or, you know, as a kid you just couldn’t joke with them, talk with them. 

Katayama: When you can’t speak with your elders, it’s hard for them to pass down stories from generation to generation. Family stories can help you understand who you are or where you come from. When you lose this ability to communicate, it’s hard to recover. You might feel like you have a foot in multiple worlds. 

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Katayama: As a result of World War II incarceration, Japanese Americans had their lives uprooted and saw their community centers dissolved. Ruth Sasaki is a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Topaz. Her family lived in San Francisco’s Japantown prior to forced removal. There were about 5,000 Japanese Americans living in the area, which was about 6 city blocks, with around 200 Japanese- and Japanese American-owned businesses. When Ruth’s family returned to San Francisco, they saw that Japantown had disintegrated. 

Ruth Sasaki: The others remember Japantown and they remember living in a situation where they were surrounded by the Japanese community. Because we moved out of Japantown to the Richmond District when I was so little, I’ve always felt sort of like I missed out on something, you know?

Katayama: After this fracturing of community, having a place to gather became sacred for survivors and their families. Many wanted to reclaim a space for themselves. They made an effort to form new cultural centers where they could come together as a Japanese American community. Not only were these centers meaningful places to convene, but they also became places where younger generations could learn about their heritage.

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Matsumura: Nikkei Kai was a Japanese community center. And it started postwar in my grandmother’s house, because they wanted a meeting place where they can get together and talk about things and learn from each other, like a support community for themselves, for the Japanese and Japanese Americans. 

Katayama: That was Lori Matsumura. Here’s Rev. Michael Yoshii again.

Yoshii: A big portion of time was spent in that Japanese American community, an invisible community, is the way I would call it.

Katayama: These community spaces weren’t just informal and invisible—they were physical places, too. One of the places where people came together was at church. Here’s Hans Goto, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at both Manzanar and Topaz, talking about growing up in Watsonville, California, where he had ties to two different churches.

Hans Goto: The Japanese American community was actually split into two groups based on religion. 

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Goto: And my mother, because her mother, uh, was either a Methodist or Presbyterian, went with the Christian church. We were associated with them, even though a lot of my friends were Buddhist. And so we crossed the lines a lot, you know, we got together a lot. But that was the social as well as religious thing. There was a lot of interchange between the two. And that was where the culture was. 

Katayama: But this split between churches wasn’t always as seamless as Hans’s experience. It also sometimes reflected larger religious and cultural divides within the Japanese American community. Carolyn Iyoya Irving is a Sansei descendant of Topaz. 

Carolyn Iyoya Irving: One thing that always stuck out in my head as a kid is remembering the differentiation between the Christian Japanese Americans and the Buddhists. So for instance, we were sort of told we couldn’t dance in the Obon Festival, which is the big Buddhist festival in August. And I just remember my dad saying, “Yeah, it just really doesn’t look good if the daughters of the, you know, Presbyterian minister are off dancing in Obon.”

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Irving: And so there was this kind of artificial division, in a way, between the Christian churches and the Buddhist churches. Not that we couldn’t be friends or go to the Obon Festivals, but there were two distinct communities, I think, of Japanese Americans.

Katayama: Japanese American children didn’t just go to church to worship. Church also served as a community space where they could attend Japanese language school. Roy Hirabayashi, a Nisei whose family was incarcerated at Topaz, attended language school at his local church, upon the urging of his mother. 

Roy Hirabayashi: She felt it was important for us to learn Japanese, so she required that we go to language school on Saturdays. It ended up also where we were going to this one Japanese community center; after the language school, they would have church services. 

Katayama: In addition to language school, some churches hosted special events. These events provided space for the community to gather and celebrate their Japanese American heritage. Here’s Rev. Michael Yoshii talking about his church’s spring bazaar.

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Yoshii: We had something called the Spring Festival Bazaar. It’s like a festival event where the whole community comes together to work on a particular thing together. It was a coming together of community after the war. They started it in the late fifties. 

Katayama: Japanese American churchgoers had a tradition of going to each other’s bazaars. 

Yoshii: They were supporting each other economically and financially by having that kind of network of, of support with one another, as well as the larger community that would come to particular events. I think there was this other element of it where we were revisiting our Japanese American history, our identity. 

Katayama: Another celebration that brings the community together is Nisei Week. This is an annual festival in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles. Kimi Maru, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Topaz, enjoys participating in this event. 

Kimi Maru: It’s a tradition that’s been going on like every summer in early August, and it’s two weekends in a row. There’s a Nisei Week parade, where all these different community groups, as well as different schools, dance schools, they do this parade through Little Tokyo.

Katayama: Even though there are many opportunities to connect with the Japanese American community, not everyone has always felt welcome. Here’s Susan Kitazawa again.

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Kitazawa: My initial experience of my attempts to enter the Japanese American community in San Francisco were horribly painful and disappointing.

Katayama: Susan had a hard time finding community when she was in her mid-twenties. 

Kitazawa: I had heard about this organization and I had heard that they wanted volunteers. And so when I first moved to San Francisco, I went over there one day, called ahead and made an appointment. And at the entrance I remember there were two women and a man, and they were sort of about my age. I said, “Oh, I’m here to talk with you about volunteering.” And he said, “Who are you? I’ve never seen you at any community events.” And I said, “Well, no, because I just moved out here. I grew up on the East Coast.” He said, “Oh, you grew up with white people then on the East Coast? Oh, you’re a banana. We don’t need people like you.” And I was just crushed. And I said, “So I can’t volunteer here?” And he goes, “We don’t need people like you.” I left and I was walking down the street crying.

Katayama: So Susan found belonging elsewhere.

Kitazawa: And so I tended that my allies were from a broad range of other people—you know, Latinos, Blacks, poor white people, Filipinos—and I wasn’t that connected with the Japanese American community.

Kitazawa: Kimi Maru had disheartening experiences in her youth, too—only these were outside of the Japanese American community. This led her to connect with her heritage in a different way. 

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Maru: And the reason I started taking aikido, actually, was because of an incident that happened to me when I was going to high school.

Katayama: Aikido is a traditional Japanese martial art with a focus on defense and sparing attackers from injury. 

Maru: One of my classmates, this white guy who was much larger than me, grabbed me on the wrist and wouldn’t let go. He was, you know, insulting me, saying I don’t even remember what, but it was just a really humiliating experience. And the fact that I couldn’t break free from him, after that I decided I wanted to take self-defense, because I didn’t want anything like that to happen to me again. 

Katayama: Aikido wasn’t the only sport that allowed descendants to carve out a space for themselves. 

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Katayama: Some turned to activities like baseball or basketball to connect with other Japanese American kids. Kimi’s children played in these basketball leagues competitively.  

Maru: When they were young, like five or six, they both got involved in the Japanese American basketball organizations down here. JA basketball is a really big thing down here. I mean, it’s a huge thing. That was a way that they were able to meet a lot of Japanese American friends, because their teammates were primarily Japanese. I think that helped them learn more about not just JA basketball, but just being part of a community of people. 

Katayama: Here’s Rev. Michael Yoshii again, who also found community through church sports leagues. 

Yoshii: We had a team at our church, and then we played against teams from other churches and Buddhist temples in the East Bay Area. So then I was starting to meet kids from other places in the East Bay and other churches, and then experiencing this whole dynamic of the whole community of Japanese Americans.

Katayama: It was actually through basketball that Alan Miyatake, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Manzanar, was able to create an identity separate from his famous family. This fame stemmed from Miyatake Studios, a photography studio founded by Alan’s grandfather, Toyo, prior to World War II. 

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Katayama: Toyo was beloved in the Japanese American community in the Los Angeles area, and eventually became the official Manzanar photographer while he was incarcerated there. Toyo reestablished his studio after Manzanar closed, and kept it running for years. Alan now runs things, and the studio has become a multigenerational legacy business. But before Alan took it over, he worked to find his own place. 

Alan Miyatake: During my teen years, being around Little Tokyo, I would always hear, “Oh, you’re Archie’s son,” or, “You’re Toyo’s grandson.” And after a while, it was a little irritating. But it hit me enough to say, “Hey, wait a minute, I’m Alan, I have my own identity.” I started around the third grade in some of these Japanese American leagues. I realized that I felt very confident playing basketball. All of a sudden, my goal was to have my own identity. And I think that’s the role basketball played, was that I want to be known as Alan, a good basketball player. I was able to accomplish that after a few years…

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Miyatake: …like hearing people, “Oh yeah, that’s Alan, he’s a basketball nut.” Once I heard that, I thought, Okay, good. Now, now I feel good. 

Katayama: The meaning of community space varies across generations. And a few years ago it came full circle for Carolyn Iyoya Irving. At the time, her son was attending the East Bay School for Boys, which resides in part of the First Congregational Church in Berkeley.

Irving: He went there for sixth to eighth grade, and it wasn’t until he was in eighth grade that I learned from my cousin that there’s sort of an outside courtyard where the boys would skateboard.

Katayama: Carolyn found out that there was also historical significance to this place. During World War II, when the US government forcibly removed Japanese Americans from the West Coast, that church served as an assembly point for those local families before being sent to the prison camps. 

Irving: And that was evidently where all of the Japanese Americans in Berkeley had to assemble to get on the buses to, to Tanforan. And I didn’t learn that until my son was in eighth grade. And so I remember being like, “Ben, [laughs] you have to talk to your history teacher about this incredible, you know, confluence where you’re here and this is where your own grandmother was, you know, kind of herded into buses and sent off to camps.” And eventually, he actually did incorporate it into what they called their Hero Project, where he had to give a presentation. Which was very touching to me, actually, the fact that, you know, this all happened on the same place.

Katayama: This location, which represented a splintering of the Japanese American community during World War II, has now become a place where Carolyn’s family has been able to make new memories and connections. In effect, her family has been able to reclaim the meaning of this space. 

For many descendents, the desire to connect with their Japanese heritage is part of their ongoing search for belonging. And so travel to Japan can be an important rite of passage. It’s also a way of understanding who their parents and ancestors were, as well as where they came from. 

Ukai: When I went to Santa Cruz and started studying Japanese, I just found, Oh, this brings in the art, and it makes me understand more things about my grandparents and my parents and myself. 

Katayama: Nancy Ukai began to form a deep and lasting relationship with Japan while she was in college at UC Santa Cruz. It felt right for her to explore her heritage through travel.

Ukai: And I ended up going to Japan as an undergraduate. 

Katayama: Nancy also ended up returning to Japan after she graduated from college. She stayed for fourteen years. Here’s Kimi Maru talking about her experience traveling to Japan.

Maru: We had a great time. I mean, it was just like so different being in Japan, being in a country where you feel like you’re the majority, right? Yeah, it was just a completely different type of feeling, like going on the trains and buses and bullet train and things. Just being in a situation where everyone around you is Asian [laughs] or Japanese was just a big culture shock.

Katayama: Kimi wasn’t the only person to experience some form of culture shock. 

Charbonneau: Being an American girl, you know, I talk a lot. And I was an only child, and so I did have a lot of like energy, and that’s not really how the girls I met were. They had a very like calm energy.

Katayama: That’s Miko Charbonneau. 

Charbonneau: It also was the first time I realized that no Japanese person was ever going to think I was Japanese, which is totally different from my experience in America, where essentially no one would think I am Caucasian. [laughs] I was often asked, “Where are you from?” And like, “Are you from Alaska?” And in Japan, you know, we would go somewhere and very politely in English someone would say, “Do you have an ancestor that is maybe Japanese?” And I didn’t know how to explain the whole hierarchy, so I would just say, “My grandmother is Japanese.” And they would say, “Ah, because you look like you are a little bit, like you could be from Japan.” And I was just like, “Mm-hmm.” I did—definitely did not know how to explain like what it meant to be Yonsei and what it meant to be hapa [laughs] and everything.

Katayama: Lori Matsumura first visited Japan when she was thirteen years old. She also felt like she stood out. 

Matsumura: When we went to visit some of the shrines in Kyoto, school was in session, and when the kids from Japan would see me, I’m sure they had an idea I was Japanese, but I wasn’t Japanese from Japan. I know some of them would point and laugh, because I realized I had nail polish. Things like that aren’t done with the kids at school, they’re not allowed to have that or have their hair done a certain way or wear certain things. I think someone came up to me and started speaking Japanese. I don’t know Japanese, so I just stood there. The way they looked at me was so shameful, I thought, Oh gosh, this is just not good. [laughs]

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Katayama: People like Carolyn Iyoya Irving found that in Japan, there was still a disconnect between being Japanese and being Japanese American.

Irving: When I went back to teach English there after college, almost like having a feeling of disappointment among these little elementary school kids, because they were getting this American teacher, and I think they really expected somebody white. And so it was almost like I was the budget version [laughs] or something or the discount, you know, because like, Wait, where is our American? Eventually they all warmed to me. So that was a double education for them that, you know, there are these people in America that actually look like you, but who are American. But it’s hard for people to get their brains around. 

Katayama: When Ruth Sasaki lived in Japan, she felt like she had a foot in two worlds.  

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Sasaki: I always kind of kid that when I’m in America I feel more Japanese than American, and when I’m in Japan I feel more American than Japanese.

Katayama: Nancy Ukai reflects on the reason for this disconnection.

Ukai: Well, I think all foreigners in Japan are outsiders. That’s why they’re called gaijin: “gai” is outside and “jin” is person. You’re an outside person. In Japan, you racially belong even though culturally you don’t. 

Charbonneau: I think it just further made me feel like there’s not really going to be anyone I can meet or any one place where I’m like completely belonging. 

Katayama: That was Miko Charbonneau again. Despite these cultural differences—or maybe even because of them—it remains important for many descendants to share this experience in an ancestral homeland with younger generations. Here’s Peggy Takahashi, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Manzanar, talking about moving to Japan when her daughter was young.

Peggy Takahashi: Sami was nine at the time. Nine and ten is a crucial age for language acquisition. I grew up, my first language was Japanese, so I can speak Japanese without an accent. She still has a slight accent, but her Japanese is pretty darn good, and that’s a big reason why I decided I wanted to go then.

Katayama: Indeed, Kimi Maru remembers how much her teenage son enjoyed traveling to Japan.

Maru: He actually picked up quite a bit of Japanese. When we were traveling around, he was much more able to ask questions, order food…

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Maru: …speak and converse with people much more comfortably than myself or my daughter. For him, it was really a good experience.

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Vox pop:

M. Takahashi: Food plays a very central role in my life.

Maru: My grandmother used to make a lot of tempura at New Year’s, tempura and sushi. 

Matsumura: On New Year’s Day, my grandmother would prepare a very nice Japanese meal.

Miyatake: I will always remember eating hot noodles at my grandmother’s house.

Sasaki: We would drink ozoni, the New Year’s soup, with mochi.

Mukai: My mother made makizushi, a type of sushi where the seasoned rice contains little pieces of vegetables and egg, a Japanese gourd.

Matsumura: She’d make me drink sake for luck, and we’d have the long noodles.

Maru: There are specific foods, like these black beans, and daikon and carrot salad called namasu. 

Miyatake: It was always kind of a mixture of American and Japanese dishes.

Wakatsuki-Chong: I didn’t grow up eating any Japanese food. 

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Katayama: Food isn’t just about food. It’s also about identity, belonging, and heritage. For Japanese Americans still working to rebuild community spaces and organizations in the aftermath of World War II incarceration, food—particularly during the holidays—remained an important way to pass on traditions to younger generations. New Year’s is a holiday that is especially important for many Japanese Americans. Here’s Roy Hirabayashi talking about cooking with his mother in preparation for the day.

Hirabayashi: The New Year’s, naturally, was a big event for family gathering. There were different foods that were made during that time. You know, she would spend days laboring over making them. Those were all traditions that she really valued and felt was really important for us all to do.

Katayama: Preparing this food was a way for Roy’s mother to connect with her own family. 

Hirabayashi: Between my mom and my aunt, they would be making all the different foods for the dinner. And it was all the more traditional things, the sushi and whatever, but there was also the different specialty Japanese foods that’s really more for good luck and longevity and wealth and whatever else. 

Katayama: While Roy once watched his mom and aunt cook during the holidays, he and his sisters later learned to make traditional foods themselves once the older generation slowed down. 

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Hirabayashi: My sisters and I actually started to try to learn some of that as best as possible. And when my mother and my auntie were getting older, they were saying, well, it’s just really hard for them to kind of do that. It was decided that within the cousins that we would rotate every year to host the New Year’s dinner, basically, so my aunt and my mom wouldn’t have to do that. And in that rotation every year, we would be responsible for one special Japanese dish that we had to prepare, so we would learn how to do that and be part of it. That was for us to really try to keep the, uh, sense of family and tradition going.

Maru: Well, New Year’s was always the big one, my favorite, because of all the food. [laughs] 

Katayama: That was Kimi Maru. She learned to cook Japanese food from her elders, because her mother didn’t cook those dishes.

Maru: My grandmothers on both sides of the family were really good cooks. My grandmother on my dad’s side used to do a huge New Year’s spread, and so I used to go over to help her prepare the food like a couple days in advance, help her cook. And actually, she’s the one that taught me a lot of Japanese cooking, I learned from her. But I’m glad that I learned from my grandmother, because otherwise I wouldn’t have learned it from my mom. [laughs] She taught me how to do a lot of other things, like baking and cooking, but not so much Japanese food.

Katayama: Peggy Takahashi grew up eating traditional Japanese food. Her mom went to culinary school in Japan, and used those techniques all her life. 

M. Takahashi: My mom made dashi the old-fashioned way, you know, big hunk of dried bonito. Relatives from Japan would send her dried kelp, the kombu, and she would make dashi.

Katayama: Jean Hibino, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Topaz, reflects on how her mother made a cultural connection to Japan through food when she lived there for a few years as a child. 

Jean Hibino: That helped her more ground herself in who she was as a Japanese and an American. She was very conscious about Japanese foods and telling us what they were, what you were eating. 

Katayama: Hans Goto learned to make a traditional dish when he lived in a rural Japanese village while studying aikido. Hans’s aikido teacher taught him and the other students to make a regionally-specific recipe that Hans still makes today. 

Goto: The one dish I feel relatively comfortable doing is gyoza. So Japanese gyoza is like pot stickers. And so my teacher and his family had a very specific way of making it. There’s a lot more garlic, a lot more white pepper in it, a lot of garlic chives in it. You know, we’d make hundreds, hundreds at a time. And then all the students would come in, which would be like, Where did everybody come from? And so we’d make this stuff, and my teacher would put it on an open fire. So he had this big, large, steel plate, and then we’d pour oil on it and then put the gyoza on it. And everybody, when it’s done, picked it up and eat it. It’s a treat. 

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Katayama: But sharing food doesn’t have to be about one thing. It can blend flavors, traditions, and ethnic backgrounds. That mix can reveal multiple cultural identities. For Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder, holiday meals were about celebrating these identities.

Neuwalder: Christmas was the best, because we’d have this big party. We’d have like all the Jews and the couple of Japanese people we knew and just agnostics. My parents had an Italian American housekeeper who worked for them. Christmas we’d have a big antipasto, we’d have a fabulous lasagna, turkey and ham and a big plate of sushi. And [laughs] we’d have Mozartkugeln, which are these chocolates from Vienna. Meals in my family, we might have Wienerschnitzel one night, a very Italian green bean salad with olive oil and vinegar, and minestrone soup, and then the next night we might have chicken teriyaki with, you know, rice. Various members of my family went through periods of only using chopsticks. 

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Katayama: Like Jennifer, Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong explores her multiple ethnic identities through food.   

Wakatsuki-Chong: I didn’t grow up eating any Japanese food. My dad wanted more Mexican food. A lot of the food my grandmother made when I was younger was either like Mexican food, I guess I’ll just call it generic white American food, was like, you know, eggs and stuff like that. I feel more culturally Korean. Like when I’m sick, I want Korean food. When I think about home cooked meals, it’s Korean food. And it was only recently, in the last fifteen years or so, I’ve been exploring my Japanese American identity.

Katayama: Though Peggy Takahashi did grow up eating traditional Japanese meals, her mother also prepared dishes from different cultures.  

M. Takahashi: When I was growing up, she cooked Japanese food. My dad liked more Western food, so she cooked that. She learned how to cook Mexican food from a lady nearby, carne asada.

Katayama: Ruth Sasaki’s family meals also weren’t limited to Japanese food. Over the years, her parents adopted more contemporary American fare.

Sasaki: I think in the old days there were more traditional Japanese dishes, things like the black beans. Over the years we would incorporate things like Chinese chicken salad and tabouli and lemon meringue pie, chicken nuggets, you know, [laughs] whatever.

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Katayama: Though eating dishes from a variety of cultures is common for many Americans—not just descendants—it meant something different for Hanako. For her, it’s reminiscent of the aftermath of World War II incarceration and signifies a disconnection from her Japanese American heritage. 

Wakatsuki-Chong: I think that loss of identity and culture, like on the food aspects and the language aspects and then just in the general self-identity, is part of the generational trauma that I experience.

Katayama: But for others, like Nancy Ukai, sharing Japanese American traditions through food was a source of pride. 

Ukai: I remember once going to a church picnic, which was traditional for that time in the sixties, when it mimicked a Japanese tradition of having an athletic day. And families would all come, bring a blanket, and bring out this amazing spread of Japanese American food. And I remember bringing my fourth grade friend, and her saying, “This is the best food I’ve ever had in my life.” And I was so proud.

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Katayama: Thanks for listening to “‘From Generation to Generation’: The Legacy of Japanese American Incarceration” and The Berkeley Remix

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Katayama: Join us next time for more on creative expression, healing, and memorialization of Japanese American incarceration.

This episode features interviews from the Oral History Center’s Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project, and includes clips from: Miko Charbonneau, Hans Goto, Jean Hibino, Roy Hirabayashi, Carolyn Iyoya Irving, Susan Kitazawa, Kimi Maru, Lori Matsumura, Alan Miyatake, Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder, Ruth Sasaki, Steven Shigeto Sindlinger, Masako Takahashi, Peggy Takahashi, Nancy Ukai, Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong, and Rev. Michael Yoshii. Music from Blue Dot Sessions. This episode was produced by Rose Khor, Roger Eardley-Pryor, Shanna Farrell, and Amanda Tewes. Thank you to the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant for funding this project. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website listed in the show notes. I’m your host, Devin Katayama. Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you next time!

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END OF EPISODE




The Berkeley Remix Season 8, Episode 4: “‘Origami as Metaphor’: Creative Expression, Memorialization, and Healing” 

In this episode, we explore creative expression, healing,
and the memorialization of Japanese American incarceration. 

This graphic illustration depicts a large wave and guard tower behind barbed wire with text above that reads, "Episode 4: Origami as Metaphor"
The Berkeley Remix Season 8 Podcast Image for “Episode 4: Origami as Metaphor.”

It is clear that stories about World War II incarceration matter. Some descendants embrace art and public memorialization about incarceration history as not only means of personal creative expression and honoring the experiences of their ancestors, but also as avenues to work through the intergenerational impact of this incarceration. Stories shared through art and public memorialization help people both inside and outside of the Japanese American community learn about the past so they have the tools to confront the present. Others seek healing from this collective trauma by going on pilgrimage to the sites of incarceration themselves, reclaiming the narrative of these places. 

In season 8 of The Berkeley Remix, a podcast of the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley, we are highlighting interviews from the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. The OHC team interviewed twenty-three survivors and descendants of two World War II-era sites of incarceration: Manzanar in California and Topaz in Utah. This four-part series includes clips from these interviews, which were recorded remotely via Zoom. Using healing as a throughline, these life history interviews explore identity, community, creative expression, and the stories family members passed down about how incarceration shaped their lives. 

This season features interview clips from the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. This episode includes clips from: Miko Charbonneau, Bruce Embrey, Hans Goto, Patrick Hayashi, Jean Hibino, Mitchell Higa, Roy Hirabayashi, Carolyn Iyoya Irving, Susan Kitazawa, Ron Kuramoto, Kimi Maru, Lori Matsumura, Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder, Ruth Sasaki, Masako Takahashi, Nancy Ukai, Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong, and Rev. Michael Yoshii. Additional audio of taiko drums from Roy Hirabayashi. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

Produced by Rose Khor, Roger Eardley-Pryor, Shanna Farrell, and Amanda Tewes. Narration by Devin Katayama. The taiko and shinobue songs “Taiko Fue Intro” and “Celebration” were composed and performed by PJ and Roy Hirabayashi. Original theme music by Paul Burnett. Additional music from Blue Dot Sessions. Album artwork by Emily Ehlen. A special thanks to the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant for funding this project.

The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government.

 

LISTEN TO EPISODE 4 ON SOUNDCLOUD

 

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: “‘Origami as Metaphor’: Creative Expression, Memorialization, and Healing”

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Ruth Sasaki: Well, the first story I ever tried writing based on Japanese American experience was in 1974, and I had no success getting that published. [laughs] Um, and I guess I just really wanted to, you know, try to bring that experience into the fabric of American literature, because it was missing, really. Anytime I saw a Japanese American character in fiction, which was not at all often, I felt really sensitive about how that character was portrayed, and so I was tired of feeling like a ghost [laughs] in my own country and I thought, you know, It’s time that I opened up—and we, artists and writers, opened up our world and invited other people in.

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Devin Katayama: Welcome to The Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The Center was founded in 1953, and records and preserves the history of California, the nation, and our interconnected world. You’re listening to our eighth season, “‘From Generation to Generation’: The Legacy of Japanese American Incarceration.” I’m your host, Devin Katayama. 

This season on The Berkeley Remix, we’re highlighting interviews from the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. The OHC team interviewed twenty-three survivors and descendants of World War II-era sites of incarceration at Manzanar in California and Topaz in Utah. In this four-part series, you’ll hear clips from these interviews, which were recorded remotely via Zoom. These life history interviews explore identity, community, creative expression, and the stories family members have passed down about how incarceration shaped their lives. 

As a heads up, generational names for Japanese Americans are going to be important in this  series. Issei refers to the first generation of Japanese immigrants to the United States. Nisei are the second generation, Sansei the third, Yonsei the fourth, and Gosei the fifth. Just think about counting to five in Japanese: ichi, ni, san, shi, go.

This is episode 4, “‘Origami as Metaphor’: Creative Expression, Memorialization, and Healing.”

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Katayama: Art is many things. It can be a form of creative expression, a reflection on culture, and an avenue to invite people into your innermost self. For some Japanese Americans, art has also been a way to work through the intergenerational impact of World War II incarceration and Asian American identity. In recent years, this has been true for multimedia artist Masako Takahashi.

Masako Takahashi: I realize all these things that I’ve been looking at, expressing myself through as mediums to use, have been Japanese. I’m looking at Japanese traditions. 

Katayama: Masako is a Sansei born in Topaz, and through this work, she discovered she was more affected by Japanese culture and art than she suspected.

M. Takahashi: I have realized that I’m more Japanese than I thought. [laughs] See, before, I would’ve just said I’m American. But now I realize I’m much more Japanese than I realized. Why deny it? Why fight it? [laughs]

Katayama: For Susan Kitazawa, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Manzanar, the act of making art is therapeutic in and of itself. 

Susan Kitazawa: My creative stuff, my writing and my visual, tactile art, I have absolutely no need to market it, sell it. I do a lot of it for just the process of self-discovery and self-healing. 

Katayama: Ruth Sasaki, a Sansei descendant of Topaz, found that writing was her way of processing personal experience. 

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Sasaki: It’s very cathartic. When I came back from Japan in 1984, I felt very isolated, because people weren’t really interested in what I’d been doing for seven years. I didn’t feel there was anyone I could really share it with, and so being able to write about some of that was very good for me. It was like therapy, really, and kind of exploring it to see what it meant to me. I sometimes joke that something hasn’t happened until I’ve written about it.

Katayama: Though creative expression is often deeply personal, some artists want to share their work with the world. 

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Katayama: But this can bring complications, too. 

Sasaki: After The Loom was published, my mom—she’s amazing, you know, because I know that that story really was hard for her to take, you know? [laughs] And I tried to explain it’s a tribute to Nisei women of that generation, but I also understood that the little details along the way sometimes, you know, [laughs] can be very painful. She really came around to being very supportive, to the extent that she would carry flyers from my book around in her purse in case she ran into, you know, somebody, and then she would like give out flyers. So It turned out okay. There’s still a question, I think, with my sisters.

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Roy Hirabayashi: Taiko is basically the word for the Japanese drum. Uh, it’s a generic word for all the Japanese drums.

Katayama: That’s Roy Hirabayashi, a Nisei whose family was incarcerated at Topaz. 

Hirabayashi: If you would go to most temples, you would see a drum sitting in the altar area, and it was used to accompany the chanting and the services and the celebration. During Obon, the summer festival, the taiko is accompanying the dancing and the singing that was going on.

Katayama: Performance art, like taiko, can be a way to bring a community together. Traditionally a very Japanese artform with only a handful of drumming groups in California, Roy founded the San José chapter. The sound the group created was different from a lot of other groups.

Hirabayashi: Most of the friends had some kind of musical experience, you know, uh, they were coming from more of the jazz, Latin, Afro-Cuban background. They were coming in with, you know, polyrhythms, different time signatures. 

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Hirabayashi: We didn’t realize at the time, but very different from what taiko sounded like in Japan. That, to me, was what created the San José taiko sound, because we were creating what we felt, without knowing, but just creating our own sound using what we called the Japanese drum. And so we felt we were establishing pretty much early on that we’re an Asian American sound, using what we’ve called our version of the Japanese drum, the taiko.

Katayama: Roy and his friends drew inspiration from listening to the music that they grew up with in the San Francisco Bay Area in order to form their own style of taiko. 

Hirabayashi: Growing up musically, I didn’t listen to Japanese music. My influence in growing up was, you know, naturally what we heard in the Bay Area. The Bay Area just has every opportunity of music you could ever want to hear, it’s just all here, and so that was just a big advantage for us. When taiko started and people started to get interested and wanting to actually listen to it and follow it, to me it really became that voice for the community and knowing that we could use the instrument to really help bring people together.

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Katayama: Origami is the traditional Japanese artform of folding paper. Descendants like Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Topaz, found creative release through origami. 

Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder: I did a ton of origami as a kid, a ton. I’ve been thinking about how important of an experience that was for me, because it was a connection with the Japanese side of things.

Katayama: Jennifer used origami in her professional life, too. 

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Neuwalder: When I was first starting to work as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I thought about writing a paper about origami as metaphor, because the kids I would see would have a lot of trauma, because I was working with children who had been hospitalized. And I liked the idea of a piece of paper, let’s say you crumple a piece of paper, you can still flatten it out, you can use it to make something beautiful, but you can’t undo those folds, you’ll still see evidence of them. But you can still make something beautiful. 

Katayama: For many descendants who turn to art to process their heritage, it’s a meditation on intergenerational legacy. Masako Takahashi’s 2004 installation Generaciones/Generations explores these themes. Imagine silk kimonos of various sizes interwoven with the artist’s hair and hanging side by side, the sleeves delicately touching—almost like a family holding hands.

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M. Takahashi: And that is to imply the passing along of something from generation to generation. Something Japanese is being passed along, because I guess that’s how I felt with my father’s death. It’s hard to put in words, but I have some of that legacy.

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Katayama: Having space to process grief can be a vital tool for healing. For some survivors and descendants, incarceration only represents one moment in time of Japanese American history. Some Japanese Americans feel like their stories have been reduced to a single narrative, fixed in time. Here’s Ruth Sasaki describing how difficult it can be to escape from this history. 

Sasaki: I felt that anytime anybody wanted me to speak, they always wanted me to speak about the incarceration. After the war stories got zero interest. Anytime it’s a Japanese American story, you expect the incarceration to figure into it somehow. And to me, that was so limiting. I mean, I thought it was important, but I personally never wanted to tell that story because I didn’t think it was my story to tell. I wasn’t there, you know? And I was so cautious, I guess, about misrepresenting something I didn’t fully understand. 

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Katayama: For people like Patrick Hayashi, a Sansei who was born in Topaz, public memorialization was a way for him to engage with this deeply personal past. 

Patrick Hayashi: In the late eighties, there was an art exhibit called The View From Within of art that was produced in the camps. I had zero interest in art, but I went there. I felt really uncomfortable in museums, because I hadn’t grown up going to museums. But as soon as I went in there and I started looking at the paintings, I started to choke up. It was astonishing, because I’d never responded to any art, and, and something was happening internally.

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Katayama: One of the pieces in the show featured James Hatsuaki Wakasa, the Issei man who was murdered by a camp sentry at Topaz in 1943. 

Hayashi: The fourth painting I saw was Chiura Obata’s sumi-e sketch of James Wakasa falling over after he was shot, and I started to sob. And then it was terribly embarrassing, but everyone around me, who was mainly Nisei, they were crying, too. That’s when I started revisiting the camps.

Katayama: Susan Kitazawa’s father, who was incarcerated at Manzanar, also had an emotional experience while visiting a show about incarceration at the Smithsonian.

Kitazawa: And my father walked through, and he, he said it was really quiet, and all you could hear was a lot of people crying quietly. He said, “As I walked through, I became more and more enraged. Like, How could they do this to these people? This is so unjust, this is so wrong, this is just absolutely stupid. I just found myself being enraged and furious, that: how could the government do this to these people?” All of a sudden he thought, Oh, I was one of the people. Um, he said, “It just hit me like, Oh, this was done to me and Mom and my parents.” He didn’t use this language, but basically he just said he had disassociated himself from the experience. He later told me that instead of the rage he felt that evening walking through the exhibit or that afternoon, he said, “I always felt ashamed. I was like an ex-convict. I had been incarcerated. And partly why I didn’t talk about it was because I didn’t want you kids to think of me as an ex-convict.” Which just blew my mind. 

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Kitazawa: And I said, “Yeah, you did something really wrong, Papa. You were born into a Japanese American body. That was your crime.”

Katayama: These public memorializations can be emotional for descendants, too. Carolyn Iyoya Irving, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Topaz, remembers visiting the Oakland Museum of California. They had just renovated their exhibition on state history to include World War II incarceration.  

Carolyn Iyoya Irving: My husband had gone off to another section and just kind of let me go through this exhibit by myself. I always end up getting so affected, you know, and emotionally quite moved. I think a lot of it is, frankly, anger. And so I was kind of moving out of the exhibit and just kind of being there, [laughs] and then I noticed this person next to me, and it was this very well-meaning, older, white woman. I don’t know how she automatically assumed that I was necessarily a Japanese American person, but she just kind of came up to me, and I think she even put her hand on me and said something like, “Oh, you know, we all hurt about this,” or, “We all feel the pain around this.” I was aghast, like I just, I didn’t even know really how to respond. I mean, obviously, you know, I wanted to be kind of civil, but I think I, I was first a little bit shocked, and secondly, you know, felt like my space had sort of been invaded. It stuck with me. Kind of just shut all that off [laughs] and didn’t engage at all.

Katayama: For other descendants, public memorialization is a way to reclaim the narrative about incarceration. 

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Katayama: Nancy Ukai, a Sansei descendant of Topaz, has taken this to heart. She created the online 50 Objects Project as a vehicle to share stories based on heirlooms from incarceration. 

Nancy Ukai: Going through their belongings—this is true of many people of my age—we Sansei find all of these things about World War II that our parents kept, but we didn’t ask about them. Letters, photo albums. We didn’t know they existed. And so that’s excavated a whole lot of memories, questions, and regret that you didn’t talk to them more, because now you can’t ask people. So material things are sometimes the only thing we have left, and they’re silent, and so with our project what we’re trying to do is coax out those voices the best we can.

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Katayama: But the public display of material culture related to incarceration can also be a source of deep pain, rather than healing. It can bring up all kinds of questions like: who owns art? Whose story is it to tell? Nancy confronted these questions in 2015. 

Ukai: It was the New York Times arts blog newspaper. The headline was something like “Japanese internment art goes to auction,” and there was a watercolor shown. Basically the narrative was: there’s going to be an auction next month in New Jersey by the Rago Arts Company, and material like this rarely comes on the market. And they explained there were going to be barracks signs and paintings and so on and so forth. 

Katayama: This didn’t sit well with Nancy. 

Ukai: Anyhow, I didn’t know all that at the time, but was just thinking, An auction? This is going to be really a historic effort. And now look at all the things that are online, and look at the prices that they’ve assigned to them, because they have an estimate, a starting bid. So maybe the start is like $300, but they expect it to sell for $1,000. And that just, to me, was obscene. It was gross.

Katayama: In the spring of 2021, Nancy discovered that something similar was happening to Lori Matsumura, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Manzanar. Nancy found a listing on eBay and contacted Lori.   

Lori Matsumura: So out of the blue, she contacts me and says, “Are these your dad’s drawings?” She directed me to the eBay website, and I was looking through these items, and it was signed by Matsumura. I’m like, “Well yeah, but why is it on eBay?” 

Katayama: Lori and Nancy met with the representatives from eBay to try to get these items removed from auction. They were also concerned about this happening again, and wanted assurance that items like this wouldn’t come up for sale in the future. 

Matsumura: And I introduce myself and I tell them, “You know, I believe those are my dad’s artwork. I don’t think they should be sold on eBay without the consent of his family.” And they took ’em down. 

Katayama: While Lori was relieved that eBay removed the items for sale, it really got her thinking.

Matsumura: How did this happen? It just made me angry to have our family’s things in the hands of someone else. 

Katayama: Lori felt that it should be up to her family, that it should be their choice about whether or not to sell her father’s artwork from when he was incarcerated. 

Matsumura: If you have these things that your family made while they were being a prisoner, these things are a part of their life at a time when it was hard. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Matsumura: So this is, you know, family artifacts that you’re not going to find anywhere, and to know that your ancestors, who did all this during that time, I just can’t imagine selling it. I think it’s worth more than money.

Katayama: For Nancy, it wasn’t just about the price tags, it was the fact of the auction itself. 

Ukai: These are things borne of tragedy, the loss of humanity, freedom, civil rights. Family members died. People were so traumatized, many people never talked about it. Um, and so to see these belongings, which managed to survive, be priced and sold in this coldblooded, capitalistic auction platform just felt extremely dehumanizing and a great, big insult. 

Katayama: Remember that Rago auction back in 2015? Unlike the conversations with eBay representatives, this time Nancy took her case to the court of public opinion. She and her daughter created a Facebook page a week before the auction to inform people about the sale. 

Ukai: We called it “Japanese American History: NOT For Sale.” That took off immediately, because the idea was that you would, first of all, let people know that there’s an auction. Then you have to kind of educate people: why is this wrong? What are these things? Let’s humanize these things. These represent human lives. Why is it wrong, you know, to put a price on that, and to have this happen without our input? Let’s pause this. Let’s stop this.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Katayama: The response to “Japanese American History: NOT for Sale” was overwhelming.

Ukai: So I have, actually, a binder with all of those comments, and it’s powerful. There were a lot of people who were saying, “You know, I’m a Holocaust survivor. I oppose this,” or from an Indigenous person, “We understand completely. Stop the desecration of our property.” So it just was, um, really a very moving thing. At any rate, two days before the auction, they had one of these promotional events. Rago stood up and basically said, “We’ve decided to suspend the auction.” That was two days before.

Katayama: Nancy still thinks about why this auction was so important, and the larger implications of commodifying artifacts related to incarceration.

Ukai: World War II camp artifacts carry these memories. Selling them for a price, it just feels really painful and offensive to see people bidding on something and then bidding it up. Um, but we live in a, you know, capitalist culture, and everybody thinks everything’s for sale and everything has a price. 

Katayama: Memorialization is not just about descendants honoring the struggles of their ancestors, but also about teaching younger generations about this history. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Katayama: Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong is a Gosei whose family was incarcerated at Manzanar. Her great aunt, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, wrote Farewell to Manzanar. The book—and then later the film—became important ways for the American public to engage with incarceration history. 

Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong: The book was a healing process for her. She never said it in these terms, but this is how I view it, is that: I think she sees it as her responsibility to kind of take on this burden of emotional baggage to help educate people about it.

Katayama: Bruce Embrey, a Sansei whose family was also incarcerated at Manzanar, agrees.

Bruce Embrey: You cannot ignore Farewell to Manzanar, which had a huge impact. I mean, it was a big deal. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Katayama: This dedication to educating future generations about incarceration history is just one reason why many descendants watch conversations about book banning so closely.

Ron Kuramoto: Muskego is a small school district that has one high school. There were a couple of school board members that were recently elected, uh, who were much more conservative than in the past. One of them that was elected last April, uh, ran on the slogan of, “Critical thinking, not critical race theory.” So you can imagine what their perspective on the world was. 

Katayama: That’s Ron Kuramoto, a Sansei whose mother was incarcerated at Manzanar. He lives in Wisconsin. 

Kuramoto: There were about thirty books that were up for review. The majority of them were like science books, math books, third-grade reading, things like that. All of them passed almost without question. But this one novel, which focused in on the Japanese American incarceration experience, caught their attention—of those board members. These board members felt that it was unbalanced because they were only told from the perspective of Japanese Americans, not from the US government, whatever that means.   

Katayama: The book that Ron’s talking about is When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka. 

The school board decided to delay the decision for another year so that the book wasn’t banned entirely—at least for now. Ron’s story indicates how controversial the history of Japanese American incarceration remains—even today.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Katayama: Another way of educating the public about incarceration involves the sites themselves—either preserving or reconstructing the cultural landscape there. This is how Mitchell Higa, a Sansei, found himself part of the National Park Service’s public archaeology project at Manzanar.

Mitchell Higa: My father was contacted by NPS, because his barrack was within the demonstration block at Manzanar. NPS was surveying survivors from camp, and it came up that my father had excavated his own personal basement under the barrack. So my father drew a plan view with dimensions. The archaeologists were able to scale off and figure out, measure out the approximate location of my dad’s basement. So when I got there, excavation had already begun. It was a great experience. I had a lot of time to think about, try to put myself into the mindset of my fourteen-, fifteen-year-old and dad digging his basement and hanging out with his friends in that basement, and kind of what everyday life was like at camp.

Katayama: Education and memorialization can also mean reclaiming the narrative about incarceration. This was at the core of activism around establishing Manzanar as a historic site. A group of dedicated individuals answered this call in 1970. Together, they formed the Manzanar Committee in order to preserve the site and its history. Bruce Embrey’s mother was one of those founding members. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Katayama: Here’s Bruce again, who is the current co-chair of the Manzanar Committee.

Embrey: Its key objectives are twofold: one is to educate the broader American public about what happened at Manzanar and camp in general; and the second was to make sure it becomes a state historic landmark, because it’s hallowed ground. All of that would not have happened without bringing in every stakeholder and without conceiving Manzanar as a site of conscience and as a site of resilience. But I think it’s important to locate this as a struggle over narrative, because this is how you both remember and act. My perspective is there’s a narrative out there that’s really important to get right.

Katayama: Bruce’s mother, Sue Kunitomi Embrey, who was herself incarcerated at Manzanar, also advocated for this narrative.

Embrey: She says, “I want to prepare the next generation and equip them with some skillset or understanding to deal with the inherent racism of the United States.”

Katayama: Stories matter. They help people both inside and outside of the Japanese American community learn about the past so they have the right tools to confront the present. And it’s more than that for some descendants. Here’s Lori Matsumura again. 

Matsumura: I think talking about it and sharing the stories has a lot to do with healing. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Vox pop:

Roger Eardley-Pryor: I want to ask if you think healing is possible.

M. Takahashi: You know, I think the real truth is that there’s such a thing as scars. You could say the wound has healed but left a scar.

Ukai: And so I guess my answer to you would be: truth, accountability, participation in our own history is, I think, a step to healing. 

Neuwalder: And so to me, I think the healing is like trying to help the next generation not experience trauma. 

Jean Hibino: I don’t know if I’m, I’m sure “healing” is a word that I like.

Miko Charbonneau: It’s really hard to heal if you don’t acknowledge it and move on. 

Hibino: I would not say “healing,” but “dealing with.” 

Matsumura: I would love to ask my dad, “Do you forgive? Have you moved on?”

Katayama: Japanese American descendants attempt to heal the scars of incarceration in many ways. Some feel the pull to visit the prison camps themselves, wanting to see where the US government detained their families more than eighty years ago. This act of returning to the sites is a pilgrimage. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Katayama: Even the name implies the deep, almost spiritual connection to place. The journey brings up a variety of emotions. Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong is not only a descendant of Manzanar, but also works to memorialize the history of World War II incarceration. She serves as the National Park Service superintendent of the Hono’uli’uli National Historic Site, an incarceration camp in Hawai’i. She has participated in many pilgrimages over the years, but the journey to Topaz stands out to her.

Wakatsuki-Chong: I don’t know if it was officially a pilgrimage or not, but it’s like, you know, we’re in, um, Salt Lake and then you take a bus out there, you go see the site, go to the museum. And the site is just incredible. I’m not a religious person, but this is the only way I feel like I could actually describe it: it’s like the rapture happened. Things just disappeared, but like you could walk on the paths, because you could kind of still see it delineated, but then like there’s stuff on the ground like pottery or like pennies and stuff like that, like as if people just disappeared. It’s a very eerie sense. It just makes you feel really small, but it’s also haunting at the same time, but then it’s also you’re able to connect with the site. It’s just incredible like being out at that site. [laughs]

Katayama: But not everyone feels this deep connection to the land. Patrick Hayashi was actually born in Topaz.

Hayashi: I thought I would have an epiphany of going home, uh, but none of that happened. Maybe it’s because I was thinking of it in sentimental terms and romanticized terms and political terms, so it didn’t affect me deeply at all.

Katayama: In Ruth Sasaki’s family, there was a divide about whether or not to return to Topaz on pilgrimage. 

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Sasaki: Well, my sister and I heard of this opportunity to go with a group of, I don’t know, maybe thirty to fifty other Japanese Americans. And so we asked my mom if she wanted to go. She was, I guess, in her eighties then. And her response was, “No.” [laughs] You know, “I have no desire to go back.” Which is fine, you know, that was fine. I understood. 

Katayama: Kimi Maru reflects on why survivors, and even descendants, may not wish to go on pilgrimage. 

Maru: For people who were in camp, who were there, it’s very, um—you know, it’s emotional for them to be back there to see, you know, where they lived for three, four years. You feel sadness, sorrow, but you also feel a lot of anger and kind of like you want to express your opposition to what happened, how wrong it was. 

Katayama: And yet, for others, these heightened emotions are really important, because they lead to a kind of catharsis. Here’s Hans Goto, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated first at Manzanar and later at Topaz. In visiting Manzanar, he explains:

Goto: I think that revelation part was like, Oh, there was actually a physical place. This is where my parents were. This is where my family was.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Katayama: Mitchell Higa also finds it important to retrace his family’s footsteps by going on pilgrimage.

Higa: Everything becomes meaningful and not abstract. This helps me develop my gratitude and appreciation for the suffering, sacrifices, bravery, the courage to get through camp. So, uh, there’s a lot to pilgrimages of, of why it’s meaningful and important to me.

Ukai: Interestingly, my husband and I went to one Tule Lake pilgrimage, where we took our daughter, who must have been thirty, and she said, “Thank you for inviting me. That was life-changing.” I was quite surprised. Um, she’s biracial, she’s aware of this history, she’s written a little bit about it in high school. But I said, “Why?” She said, “Because everyone was so nice.” I think it was the feeling of being in a community where all the faces are Japanese American, and people were genuinely interested in you, and interested in you as a Yonsei, as going to be the person to pass on the future stories, and there’s just this kind of warmth and safeness to pilgrimages.

Katayama: That was Nancy Ukai. Here’s Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong again, discussing different pilgrimage experiences.

Wakatsuki-Chong: All of them have a different feel. Sometimes people need to just connect with the land, you know, and, and understand: why were these places chosen, or, what is happening on these lands now?

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Katayama: For some, the land itself holds the memory of what happened there. Susan Kitazawa wanted her father to go on pilgrimage to Manzanar with her. Despite initially being hesitant, he eventually agreed.

Kitazawa: When we got there, my father got out of the car and he was looking over the barbed wire fence into the area where the internment camp was, and he looked really confused. My father was not at this time the tiniest bit demented or Alzheimer’s or anything, his brain was totally sharp until the day he died. And he was standing there looking really confused, when he just said, “Where are all the people?” I thought he meant the tour group that was going to go through the site. And I said, “Oh, Papa, they’re probably over by the main entrance. They’re probably gathering there.” And then that was when he said, “No, but where are all the people that live in the barracks? Where are the barracks?” That was when I realized he was expecting to get out and see the scene he had left when he was in his twenties still going on. I said, “Papa, you and Mom, everybody left a long time ago. They tore the barracks down. Nobody lives here anymore.” And then he was embarrassed and he kind of goes, “Oh, oh, oh. Yeah, right. Of course, of course.” I realized in that moment how traumatized he was, that, you know, in his mind, it was still real, it was still happening. And for him to go back and visit there was just going back to the scene of a terrible, terrible thing.

Katayama: But revisiting a place with such troubled memories also opened the door for Susan’s father to heal.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Kitazawa: We joined the tour. We were walking around and the guide would say, “Now, here was such and such.” And then my father would say, “Actually, I think the dining hall was a little bit further that way.” And then he would say something else, like, “There was such and such here.” My father would say, “No, actually, that was da, da, da.” And so after he did that a few times, the young man leading the tour, he goes, “You lived this, sir. Why don’t you lead the tour? Because you know what it was.” My father somewhat hesitantly took the mic and he led the rest of the tour. It was just this incredibly healing experience for him. It was, it was amazing. It was just wonderful for him. I was just so grateful that the Manzanar Pilgrimages exist. 

Katayama: Here’s Hanako again. 

Wakatsuki-Chong: I know we still need to work within the Japanese American communities to talk about it.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Wakatsuki-Chong: But it’s finding that balance where you’re not appropriating the history, but you’re providing space for people to connect and process the history within their own families.

Katayama: Processing this past is never a smooth road. So what does healing mean for descendants of incarceration? Is it even possible?

Kitazawa: That’s a good question for a nurse. Um, [laughs] healing, healthcare. I think for us to heal, whether it’s physically or emotionally, it’s like you have to let go and undo the damage and the painful stuff in our bodies. You know, grow new, fresh tissue. Grow new, stronger, more useful ways to think about things. 

Katayama: That was Susan again. Here’s Lori Matsumura.

Matsumura: They say time heals all wounds. But if that wound is deep, there’s going to be a scar. And if you look at that scar, it’s going to bring back those emotions and those feelings. A person has to find a way to deal with it on their own in their own way. 

Katayama: Rev. Michael Yoshii is a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Topaz. Helping the Japanese American community is part of his spiritual calling.

Michael Yoshii: And for me, what clearly became evident as, as a pastor, as a clergy person, the congregational life is the base of where my healing work would happen. I could do healing work in the community, but the congregational space would be the place where the healing would be effectuated most dynamically for me as a clergy.

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Katayama: For some, healing means not just honoring their ancestors, but also reclaiming the legacy of incarceration. Here’s Kimi Maru and Bruce Embrey again. 

Maru: I think being involved in a lot of these different issues, not just around the camps itself, but around immigration, around electoral work and all the different things that we’re involved with, trying to right the wrongs or fight for justice and equality, it’s all part of healing. It’s part of preventing it from happening again. And so I think that’s part of being able to heal and to overcome a lot of the, you know, injustices that all people in this country who have faced discrimination, racism, all kinds of inequities. So that’s my message to people, is: get involved. That’s the best way of healing. 

Embrey: My mother always talked about the creation of the site and the role of the pilgrimages as a source of healing a trauma. She talked about healing and she talked about righting injustice and she talked about social change as healing. You heal by righting wrongs and by fighting oppression and gaining your voice. 

Theme song fades in.

Katayama: Thanks for listening to the final episode of “‘From Generation to Generation’: The Legacy of Japanese American Incarceration” and The Berkeley Remix.

This episode features interviews from the Oral History Center’s Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project, and includes interviews from: Miko Charbonneau, Bruce Embrey, Hans Goto, Patrick Hayashi, Jean Hibino, Mitchell Higa, Roy Hirabayashi, Carolyn Iyoya Irving, Susan Kitazawa, Ron Kuramoto, Kimi Maru, Lori Matsumura, Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder, Ruth Sasaki, Masako Takahashi, Nancy Ukai, Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong, and Rev. Michael Yoshii. Music from Blue Dot Sessions. Taiko and shinobue songs were composed and performed by PJ and Roy Hirabayashi. This episode was produced by Rose Khor, Roger Eardley-Pryor, Shanna Farrell, and Amanda Tewes. Thank you to the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant for funding this project. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website listed in the show notes. I’m your host, Devin Katayama. Thanks for listening!

Theme song fades out.

END OF EPISODE

 


Senga Nengudi: Black Avant-Garde Visual and Performance Artist

As a continuation of our work for the Getty Research Institute’s African American Art History Initiative (AAAHI), Dr. Bridget Cooks and I conducted several oral history interviews with the avant-garde artist Senga Nengudi. This interview is one of several AAAHI oral histories exploring the lives and work of Los Angeles-based artists, and highlights Nengudi’s contributions to visual and performance art.

Senga Nengudi and her pantyhose sculptures.
Senga Nengudi setting up for a performance with R.S.V.P. X, 1976. Senga Nengudi Papers, Amistad Research Center, New Orleans. © Senga Nengudi.

Senga Nengudi is an avant-garde artist best known for her abstract sculpture and performance art. Nengudi was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1943 and moved to Los Angeles, California, at a young age. She attended California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) for both her undergraduate and master’s work, as well as completed a program at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. Nengudi was active in the avant-garde Black art scenes in Los Angeles and New York during the 1960s and 1970s, and was a member of the Studio Z Collective. She is best known for her R.S.V.P. (Répondez s’il vous plaît) Series featuring pantyhose, which she began in 1975. Nengudi is the recipient of many awards, including the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award in 2005, the Anonymous Was a Woman Award in 2005, the Denver Art Museum Key Award in 2019, and was elected as a member to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2020. Find this interview and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, key word, and several other criteria.

Senga Nengudi was still in elementary school when she and her mother moved to Los Angeles in the early 1950s. Despite a brief stint in New York, for more than thirty years she lived in the greater Los Angeles area first as a child; as a student at CSULA; as an artist and active member of the Studio Z Collection; and as a young mother. That Nengudi called Los Angeles home for so long meant that her formative years of creative expression and early artistic networks sprang from the Southland. 

Looking back, Nengudi credits her mother with providing a creative foundation.

“…she was very, very, very conscious of the home and making something home, and so she would decorate the house. And then, say like three years later, she would repaint the walls, she would change the upholstery, she would do all those kinds of things. She was very aesthetically aware, as well as needed a particular beauty in her home to feel good.”

And Nengudi expressed her own creativity through several outlets, remembering, “It’s always been a deal between art and dance with me…” Indeed, during her undergraduate years at CSULA, she chose to major in art and minor in dance—a pairing which supports much of her work.

In the mid-1970s, Nengudi found an outlet to express her love of performance through the Studio Z Collective—a collective of artists interested in improvisation that continued into the 1980s. In addition to Nengudi, Studio Z was comprised of Houston Conwill, David Hammons, Maren Hassinger, and occasionally other artists including Franklin Parker and Ulysses Jenkins. Her relationships with these artists also had a great impact on Nengudi’s artistic career. Thinking of Studio Z’s contribution to her 1978 performance Ceremony for Freeway Fets, which took place under a freeway overpass on Pico Blvd., she muses that “we all kind of supported each other in our efforts.”

Nengudi also found early support from Los Angeles-based gallery owners like Greg Pitts at the Pearl C. Woods Gallery, as well as Brockman Gallery’s Alonzo and Dale Davis. In fact, Brockman Gallery’s dispersal of CETA [Comprehensive Employment and Training Act] funds helped employ artists like Nengudi and Maren Hassinger.

Hassinger remains Nengudi’s longtime creative collaborator. Nengudi recalls that the connection between the two was immediate, “We just kind of instantly became friends, because there was this commonality. She was involved with dance, she was involved with sculpture, all that kind of stuff.” And to why this collaboration with Hassinger has sustained both the passing of years and geographical distance, Nengudi explains:

“Because we believe so much in collaboration. We believe in unity. We believe in bringing the best out in each other…Even though our background is different, our interests are the same. It’s always been dance, performance, sculpture, movement, and this commitment to our art. And when we had some really funky times and we were 2,000 miles apart, the thing that held us together was this commitment to art. And so that kind of carried us through the most difficult things…So all these life events were going on, but the constant was our ability to connect and think and make happen.”

Senga Nengudi and her pantyhose sculptures.
Senga Nengudi setting up for a performance with R.S.V.P. X, 1976. Senga Nengudi Papers, Amistad Research Center, New Orleans. © Senga Nengudi.

Nengudi’s most recognizable series of work is R.S.V.P., which she started in the mid-1970s. The R.S.V.P. Series, or Répondez s’il vous plaît (respond, please), demonstrated Nengudi’s experimentation with nylon pantyhose. Importantly, Nengudi began working in this medium after the birth of her first son, when she was especially interested in the elastic nature of a woman’s body. She recalls, 

“So yes, the explorations were really exciting. I put eggs in them, I broke eggs in them…I used white glue, I used hot glue, which obviously didn’t last that long. I tried everything—resin. Again, it dissolved in the resin. So really, as I was developing the series, it was all about exploring the material…And it took a while to get to…the sand, where I just noticed that…once in the nylons, it had such sensuality to it, because it had this kind of natural body form from the weight of the sand.”

Given the experimental nature of her sand-filled nylon pieces, Nengudi explains, “I thought about them as sculpture first. I did not develop them thinking that I would perform in them.” But Nengudi eventually did embrace the performative potential of these sculptures, even engaging Hassinger to perform with them at the Pearl C. Woods Gallery in 1977 by entwining her body with the material, manipulating it, even dancing with it. 

Nengudi has lived in Colorado since the 1980s, and continues to stimulate audiences by creating work that plays with the line between sculpture, installation, and performance in space. However, she has also made significant contributions as an arts educator, especially at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and as an advocate of the arts. Namely, she established a community art gallery called ARTSpace in Colorado Springs so that “artists could show their work” and learn “what it takes to have an art exhibit.” The added bonus, of course, was that “the community could come in and see the artwork. It was right there for them.” For someone whose early exposure to creative expression was so formative to her artistic practice, this is a logical next step to engage new generations of artists and viewers. It also connects with her decades-long entreaty to audiences: “respond, please.”

To learn more about Senga Nengudi’s life and work, check out her oral history interview! Find this interview and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, key word, and several other criteria.

 


Hon. Loni Hancock: Member of the California State Senate, December 2008-November 2016

Loni Hancock
Loni Hancock, c. 2008.

In spring 2021, I had the pleasure of interviewing the Hon. Loni Hancock for the California State Archives State Government Oral History Program. As an interviewer, one of my major areas of interest is the history of women’s political work, and Loni Hancock’s name appears over and over in the course of this study. Indeed, her life and work are integral to understanding California’s recent political history and the greater inclusion of women in elected office.

Loni Hancock is a former California State Senator (2008-2016), California State Assemblymember (2002-2008), Mayor of Berkeley (1986-1994), and Berkeley City Councilmember (1971-1979). Hancock was born in 1940 in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in New York City. She attended Antioch College, Cornell College, and graduated with a BA from Ithaca College in 1963. Hancock later earned a MA from the Wright Institute in 1978. In addition to serving in elected office as a Democrat, Hancock also previously worked as the regional director for ACTION in the Carter administration, the director of the Shalan Foundation, and headed the Western Regional Office of the Department of Education in the Clinton administration. She currently partners with East Bay Supportive Housing Collaborative to advocate for supportive housing for people with serious mental illnesses, and is working to preserve Berkeley’s architectural heritage.

Hancock moved to Berkeley, California, in 1964 amidst the community’s reckoning with school desegregation and the Free Speech Movement. This zeitgeist in 1960s Berkeley inspired Hancock to follow her own interests in political activism. Indeed, it was her involvement in the local peace movement that propelled her into electoral politics. In her interview, Hancock explained, “Berkeley is a place where things begin. And whatever is in the air here has, I think, encouraged us to be standing up for what we believe is right, and arguing it out among ourselves.” 

After an unsuccessful first campaign in 1969, Hancock won election to Berkeley City Council in 1971. For a time, she was the only woman on this governing body. Hear Hancock reflect on gendered expectations for Berkeley City Councilmembers in the 1970s:

After her time as Mayor of Berkeley, as well as work in several Democratic administrations and nonprofits, Hancock felt she could continue to contribute to her community by running for legislative office—first as a California State Assemblymember and then as a California State Senator. During her time in the California Legislature (2002-2008, 2008-2016), Hancock worked on many important issues. Notably, she was a major proponent of environmental legislation. Hancock introduced SCA-5 (later approved by voters as Proposition 25), which proposed passage of state budgets with a simple majority vote rule. She also advocated for criminal justice reform, including funding for prison education programs. Of this work, Hancock explained, 

“One of the things we did was get a lot of prison education funded and implemented and get more money for rehabilitation programs. And actually, one of my best bills that was a my-idea bill was we gave full reimbursement for community colleges in California to run transfer-level courses in our state prisons. The idea being that you would get your basic first two years of college done, and then you could transfer to a UC or CSU on release…The recidivism rate goes down to virtually zero when that happens, so anyway, it makes safer communities, is what it does.”

Hancock’s legislative contributions have certainly helped shape recent California politics. But as the California State Legislature still struggles with gender parity of elected officials, her presence and perspectives as a woman in both bodies have also been key. In thinking about the strides toward greater representation of women in California politics, Hancock reflected, 

“Well, we had our first woman speaker [in the Assembly], Karen Bass. We had our second woman speaker, Toni Atkins, who’s now the [Senate] pro tem. Those were milestones, really important milestones. You know, also, Karen was the first woman of color, and I’m guessing that Toni might be the first LGBTQ woman as a head [in California State government]…so you have women in leadership, which I think makes an interesting difference, and more women…So you know, there’s definitely progress, definitely.”

And Hancock’s tenure in California politics has certainly been a part of this progress. Read Loni Hancock’s oral history interview to learn more about her life and work in California politics!

Find this interview and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, keyword, and several other criteria.

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library has interviews on just about every topic imaginable. You can find the interviews mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. We preserve voices of people from all walks of life, with varying political perspectives, national origins, and ethnic backgrounds. We are committed to open access and our oral histories and interpretive materials are available online at no cost to scholars and the public.

Sign up for our monthly newsletter featuring think pieces, new releases, podcasts, Q&As, and everything oral history. Access the most recent articles from our home page or go straight to our blog home.


From the Archives: Frank Inami

sari
Sari Morikawa, 2022

Sari Morikawa is an intern at the Oral History Center (OHC) of The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. She is a Mount Holyoke College history major with a keen interest in American history. Sari is being mentored by interviewer/historians Amanda Tewes and Roger Eardley-Pryor.

Reading Frank Inami’s oral history made me wonder about the persecution of Japanese Americans and the surprisingly recent freedoms of American citizens to marry whomever they love. Inami recorded his oral history in 2013 and 2014 with David Dunham and Candice Fukumoto as part of the Oral History Center’s Japanese American Confinement Sites and World War II American Home Front Oral History Projects.

Frank Inami, a Nisei Japanese American (second-generation Japanese American), was born in 1921 in the City of Madera in the Central Valley of California. ​​Inami grew up on a vegetable farm and began attending UC Berkeley in 1939. During World War II, Inami’s studies at Berkeley ended prematurely when the US government unjustly imprisoned him and his family in the Fresno Assembly Center, and the Jerome and Rohwer detention camps in Arkansas due to their Japanese heritage. Inami eventually left the prison camp to attend Illinois Tech and study electrical engineering. After experiencing ups and downs in college and incarceration centers during World War II, he later volunteered in the Military Intelligence Services. After further service during the Korean War, Inami worked as an electrical engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

For me, as an international student from Japan who is studying in the United States, the main highlight of Frank Inami’s interview was his experiences of incarceration at the Fresno Assembly Center and Jerome and Rohwer prison camps, and his postwar transition back to the West Coast. One thing that struck me about Inami’s interview is his description of how rumors became a big part of how imprisoned Japanese Americans collected information and interacted with other people. Under the circumstances where no prisoners had clear information, rumor mills were necessary to network with other prisoners and form a clearer sense of what was happening within the prisons as well as life outside of the centers.

I also found especially intriguing Inami’s stories about anti-miscegenation and the taboo about interracial dating during World War II. Inami had a classmate back in elementary and high school who was European American. This classmate didn’t like Inami and often teased him by saying, “Frank can’t marry a White; White can’t marry Japanese,” and, “I don’t want a minority” in the classroom. Concerns about interracial marriage also appeared in Inami’s parents’ perspectives of marriage and dating. His mother avidly believed that “racial differences” would not allow for a successful marriage, while his father considered white women to be ruthless marriage partners. 

Inami’s interview made me wonder about how much influence the prevalence of racism and anti-miscegenation laws have had in recent American history and the ways they might have impacted many peoples’ notions of marriage and dating. Until the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark court case Loving v. Virginia in 1967, many states codified anti-miscegenation laws and prevented interracial marriages. Even California’s ban on interracial marriage, about which Frank Inami recalled being taunted, was not struck down until 1948 in Perez v. Sharp. For me, these issues about acceptable marriage partners connect to themes of belonging, identity, and community in the United States. This year marks the 55th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia. Since this court case later impacted some basic rights, such as same-sex marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges), it plays a big part in US Constitutional Law. Yet, on the personal level, I see some instances where anti-miscegenation is still in effect. For example, some people jokingly told me that they didn’t want to date folks from other racial groups or only wanted to date “Americans.” 

It’s 2022; yet, it seems to me we still live with the specter of anti-miscegenation laws and racist notions of romantic partnership. For instance, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this summer, some advocates for equal rights have been concerned about the possibility of overturning Loving v. Virginia. Overturning that legal precedent would not only limit Americans’ civil liberties to marry whom they wish, it would also impact cultural notions of belonging and identity in the United States.

Frank Inami’s firsthand accounts about life in the mid-twentieth century made me think about how racially discriminatory laws and practices may have influenced contemporary values on marriage and dating. Most importantly, his oral history made me reckon with the evolving meanings of belonging and identity in the United States. 

Compared to other oral history interviews I’ve read about Japanese American incarceration during World War II, Inami’s experience was more privileged than some. He luckily stuck with his family throughout the incarceration (the War Relocation Authority often cut family ties by sending relatives to different camps). He later left the camp voluntarily to study electrical engineering and eventually had a successful career at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. And yet he also experienced huge personal and professional setbacks in his life. Inami’s interview taught me it is possible to keep moving forward despite unprecedented obstacles and heartbreaks.

Find Frank Inami’s interview and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, key word, and several other criteria.


The Berkeley Remix Season 7, Episode 3: “Save Mount Diablo’s Future”

episode 3
Mount Diablo Sunrise from Marin County. Photograph courtesy of Scott Hein. For more information about this image, visit Hein Natural History Photography.

In Episode 3, we explore Save Mount Diablo’s future. From addressing the challenges of COVID-19 to fundraising efforts to protecting land and biodiversity in the entire Diablo Range to mitigating the impacts of climate change to expanding membership and partnerships, Save Mount Diablo still has a lot of good work ahead. This episode asks: what challenges does Save Mount Diablo face today? What can Save Mount Diablo do about climate change? What does the future of Save Mount Diablo look like?

In season 7 of The Berkeley Remix, a podcast of the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley, we head to Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County. In the three-part series, “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo,” we look at land conservation in the East Bay through the lens of Save Mount Diablo, a local grassroots organization. It’s been doing this work since December 1971—that’s fifty years. This season focuses on the organization’s past, present, and future. Join us as we celebrate this anniversary and the impact that Save Mount Diablo has had on land conservation in the Bay Area and beyond.

This season features interview clips from the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project. A special thanks to Save Mount Diablo for supporting this project!

LISTEN TO EPISODE 3 ON SOUNDCLOUD:

PODCAST SHOW NOTES:

This episode features interviews from our Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project and includes clips from: Seth Adams, Burt Bassler, Ted Clement, Bob Doyle, Abby Fateman, Jim Felton, John Gallagher, Scott Hein, and Egon Pedersen. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Amanda Tewes, and edited by Shanna Farrell. Thanks to Andrew Deakin and Anjali George for production assistance. 

Original music by Paul Burnett.

Album image North Peak from Clayton Ranch. Episode 3 image Mount Diablo Sunrise from Marin County. All photographs courtesy of Scott Hein. For more information about these images, visit Hein Natural History Photography.

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT:

Amanda Tewes: EPISODE 3: Save Mount Diablo’s Future

[Theme music]

Shanna Farrell: Welcome to The Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center at the University of California, Berkeley. You’re listening to our seventh season, “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo.”

Farrell: I’m Shanna Farrell. 

Tewes: And I’m Amanda Tewes. We’re interviewers at the Center and the leads for the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project.

Tewes: This season we’re heading east of San Francisco to Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County. In this three-part mini-series, we look at land conservation through the lens of Save Mount Diablo, a local grassroots organization. 

Farrell: It’s been doing this work since December 1971—that’s fifty years. This season focuses on the organization’s past, present, and future. Join us as we celebrate this anniversary and the impact that Save Mount Diablo has had on land conservation in the Bay Area and beyond.

Farrell: In this episode, we explore the future of Save Mount Diablo. 

Farrell: ACT 1: What challenges does Save Mount Diablo face today?

[Soundbed- ambulance]

Tewes: On March 16, 2020, counties across the Bay Area issued a shelter-in-place order because the COVID-19 pandemic was on the rise. While this impacted life for everyone, it interrupted the work that Save Mount Diablo was doing as people stayed at home and the future was uncertain. 

[Soundbed- doors locking]

Tewes: But executive director Ted Clement knew that life wouldn’t stop, and people needed to know that they weren’t alone, perhaps more than ever. So he decided to light the beacon at the top of Mount Diablo. Think of a lighthouse shining on the top of the highest mountain in the Bay Area.

Ted Clement: We started a special program lighting the beacon every Sunday night and letting it shine until Monday morning, to really create that symbol of hope and gratitude for nature, as well as all of our first responders. 

Farrell: The beacon was originally lit in 1928 by Charles Lindbergh to provide light to aviators in the early days of commercial flight. The beacon beamed every night until December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was lit sporadically until it was restored in 2013, ensuring that it could shine for many years to come. 

John Gallagher: I’m the one that lights the beacon. [laughs]

Tewes: That’s longtime Save Mount Diablo supporter John Gallagher. He helped light it every Sunday during the first year of the pandemic. He remembers the first time he did this, with help from Ted.

Gallagher: [laughs] The two of us drove up and turned it on. [laughs] And then of course, again, everybody is so paranoid about meeting together. You know, Ted and I are wearing masks and think, Should we really be standing up in that confined space at the beacon, you know, unprotected? Nobody knew. 

Clement: They really stood out in those dark days. And we did that beacon lighting, kept that up for an entire year. We did it from April 2020 to April 2021.

[Soundbed- fire]

Farrell: And as people stayed inside during the early days of COVID, they started to value their outdoor spaces even more. This feeling intensified on September 9, 2020, when the sky stayed an eerie orange all day as wildfires burned across the Bay Area and smoke filled the air. As these fires further forced people inside, many began to think about the environment and care more about the future of the planet. 

Clement: It’s a silver lining amidst the pandemic. I think so many people have discovered nature, because there weren’t many places they could go, so many places were shut down. Nature is a better option. 

Tewes: Ted’s right. As Bay Area residents were spending a lot more time outside, they began to consider financially supporting organizations dedicated to preserving nature, like Save Mount Diablo. These donations kept Save Mount Diablo alive during this precarious time. Here’s board member Scott Hein.

[Soundbed- nature noises]

Scott Hein: We actually had some of our best fundraising campaigns ever during the pandemic, if you can believe it. And I think a big part of that was people wanting to contribute to something positive during those dark times. But I also think there was an increased appreciation of the work we do, and how important parks are and how they helped so many people endure the pandemic. 

Farrell: Save Mount Diablo has always had the goal of conserving land, which includes buying more property. And even before the financial uncertainties of the pandemic, fundraising was a key effort. One of its ongoing projects was the Forever Wild Capital Campaign, which started around 2012 with the goal of raising money for land acquisition. This wrapped up in 2021. This campaign was so successful that it raised money for other program areas, like legal funds and stewardship. 

[Soundbed- cash register]

Clement: We completed Forever Wild, this $15 million capital campaign, and it’s the largest, most consequential fundraising campaign in our organization’s history. And the campaign made a tangible, lasting difference, not only for our organization, but the whole Mount Diablo area. We conserved nine important properties; those will now be permanently protected and continue to benefit our area. 

Tewes: All this sets up Save Mount Diablo to think about the next fifty years. Land conservation director Seth Adams’s big goal is to protect the entire Diablo Range. This is a huge undertaking because the range is 180 miles long and 20 miles wide. But of course, this effort requires money. Here’s Seth speaking about this work.

Seth Adams: Mount Diablo State Park—20,000 acres—has 10 percent of the state’s native plants. Over and over again down the Diablo Range, small areas have incredible biodiversity, species we haven’t even discovered yet. Because so much of it has been locked away in private hands since the Spanish got here that it’s intact, it’s unexplored, it’s unknown, and so a big part of what we’re doing is making it known. [laughs] And that level of intactness, that level of biodiversity, it’s one of the two or three hotspots for the entire state. 

[Soundbed- nature noises]

Farrell: Protecting these lands, and the biodiversity that exists within them, is increasingly important as the climate warms and the pressures of development creep in. If Save Mount Diablo is able to protect the entire range, it can connect precious habitat corridors.

Adams: Rather than thinking about parks as islands where you go to see some relic of what was there before, the cities need to be the island surrounded by protected lands for basic ecosystem functions and beautiful views and proximity to open space and things like that. Rather than a park here or there, we need to connect all of the parks across the entire statewide, landscape-level distances. 

Tewes: Expanding the organization’s mission to protect the entire Diablo Range has real impacts for the future of California. If Save Mount Diablo can realize Seth’s vision of cities as islands instead of having parks here and there, it will mitigate the impacts of climate change and development. More land protected means less traffic, cleaner air, and fewer threatened species. Longtime supporter and early board president Egon Pedersen agrees.

Egon Pedersen: I think it’s wonderful that they carry on Mary Bowerman’s goal to preserve the mountain and expand open space. I really admire them expanding beyond Mount Diablo, also. This is also open space for wildlife, so the more wildlife areas you can connect together, the more beautiful chance we have for survival of all the wildlife—plants and animals. So I think that’s beautiful.

Farrell: Here’s Seth again.

Adams: The things that were achievable were just the background noise. The bigger picture stuff is when you start thinking about policies and funding measures and new programs and expansions and things that you haven’t done before. 

[Theme music]

Farrell: ACT 2: What can Save Mount Diablo do about climate change?

Gallagher: One year, there was a fire. I’m not sure where it was nor what year it was, but I could see the glow of the fire, and that’s a little disconcerting. It’s kind of hard to sleep when you can see the glow of a fire, even though it might be five miles away and there’s really nothing to worry about whatsoever. That was a little eerie. 

Tewes: That was John Gallagher again talking about spending the night on the mountain before Save Mount Diablo’s annual Moonlight on the Mountain event. Each year, he’d sleep in the back of his pickup truck before the fundraiser. 

[Soundbed- truck engine]

Farrell: John had a front-row seat to one of these fires, but many of the people who live in the towns surrounding Mount Diablo have to prepare for fire season each year. They keep a go-bag at the ready, waiting to evacuate if a fire creeps too close. This means that climate change is on the minds of all those involved with Save Mount Diablo. Now its programs are designed with this crisis in mind.  

[Soundbed- fire]

Bob Doyle: And now we go from fires to drought to the point where the heat is killing people. You know, you have these really big events—fires, droughts—but now you have the secondary impact, which is the smoke, people dying from heat. And now we’re going into the drought cycle that these reservoirs are not refilled; they’re already way, way, way low. So you know, my attitude is: Mother Nature’s pretty pissed. 

[Soundbed- rainstorm]

Tewes: That’s Bob Doyle, one of the original six members of Save Mount Diablo, talking about the impact that fires have on life in the Bay Area. It’s also a concern for Abby Fateman, executive director of the East Contra Costa Habitat Conservancy. In California, wildfires are directly connected to rainfall.

Abby Fateman: Water is absolutely critical to what we’re looking at, and it’s being affected by drought. It’s not just drought, it’s the timing of the rain. So if we get all of our rain right at the beginning of the year, and then it doesn’t rain for the rest of the season, that’s a problem. Or if it doesn’t rain until March, and rains for like a month and a half, that’s a problem. So it’s not just how much rain, it’s when it arrives that we’re struggling with.

Farrell: As we feel the effects of climate change more acutely, Save Mount Diablo and its partners have started thinking critically about how to tailor their goals to fit into the future. 

Fateman: So we need to adapt, right? We’re committed to managing these lands in perpetuity for the species, and I don’t think we have all the answers on how we do that as climate continues to change. And I don’t really know what the endpoint is. Trying to figure out how to manage the lands with any immediate emergency versus what is our long-range plan for what’s really going to happen.

Doyle: It’s going to be a tremendous sacrifice for everybody. So you’ve got to deal with it. [laughs] You’ve got to deal with it. You can argue over what, how, and when, but it is very much accelerated and it’s frightening. A hundred and fifteen degrees in Portland, Oregon; a hundred, you know, what, fourteen, fifteen in Canada?

Tewes: That’s Bob again. In response to the changing climate, Ted initiated a climate action plan for Save Mount Diablo.  

Clement: We’re really, really excited about it, and it’s already having a big impact on us. For example, our largest fund, the Stewardship Endowment Fund, as it’s laid out in our Climate Action Plan, we’ve got it invested in a completely fossil-free portfolio. We are starting massive tree-planting programs. 

Farrell: Seth values Ted’s leadership on this. 

Adams: He understands nature is the cure, and land is the answer in a lot of cases. It’s deeply related to carbon and how we handle climate change positively or negatively. But you know, we’ve started thinking about that in a more nuanced way, and that led to the Climate Action Plan, doing things in a thoughtful way, with urgency. 

[Soundbed- nature noises]

Farrell: Here’s Abby Fateman again.

Fateman: We’re spending more time advocating for funding for research on climate change. We are advocating for money on: how do we respond to drought, how do we respond to fire, how do we manage our lands? You know, we’re at the urban-wildland interface, we have an obligation to keep communities safe, as well as species safe. 

Tewes: This all means that Save Mount Diablo—and its partners—have their work cut out for them for the next fifty years. Here’s longtime board member and treasurer Burt Bassler.

Burt Bassler: Yeah, I don’t, I don’t see us not being needed anymore. The threats to the environment are real, climate change is real. Land preservation, in a small way, is important to mitigate climate change. We’re not going to outlast our usefulness.

[Theme music] 

Farrell: ACT 3: So what does the future of Save Mount Diablo look like?

Farrell: Looking to the future of Save Mount Diablo, the organization needs to expand its stakeholders, including the people who use the land. Ted thinks about this a lot.

Clement: Sometimes there’s a lot of conflict and tension between different outdoor user groups, maybe between the mountain bikers and the hikers, or the rock climbers and the birders, you know? To me it’s always a little comical when I see such passion and tension between these groups. I’m like, do you understand what’s going on in the world right now? [laughs] You know, this little spat with the mountain bikers or whatever, that’s small, small potatoes. We’ve got a climate crisis right now, or we’ve also got a mass species extinction event. We actually need to change our thinking. And clearly, you know, the people that recreate outdoors love nature, and they love it in different ways and they exercise in different ways, but clearly they love getting out there. So let’s put the judgment aside. 

[Soundbed- bicycles]

Tewes: Save Mount Diablo doesn’t just want to expand the different groups that appreciate the mountain, it also needs new blood and fresh perspectives to continue the work. John Gallagher agrees.

Gallagher: As a board, we’re always talking about: how can we get some younger people on the board? You know, we’re all a bunch of old white guys, and so forth. Well, the fact is every organization talks about that

Clement: And then diversify. We have got to invite more people into conservation. We’ve got to show respect to more types of communities, ethnic communities, different outdoor user groups. We need to embrace one another, recognize that we need more people engaged in taking care of nature, which we love. And let’s actually welcome more people into the tent, and get them on the team all working in the same direction. 

Farrell: Women also need a seat at the table. Here’s Abby Fateman. 

Fateman: You know, one of my concerns is: who is the next group of people, and it always surprises me who it is, right? I mean, I go to meetings and I’m the only woman in the room—still. I’m the youngest person in the room, and I’m not that young. But I wonder about that, and I worry about it. 

Tewes: Bob Doyle first got involved with Save Mount Diablo when he was young. Now he’s focused on bringing in younger generations to keep the organization alive and rethink what’s possible. 

Doyle: I think about that so much today with the issues of equity and inclusion and, you know, the whole social youth effort. They’re going to ask, “Why can’t we?” rather than, you know, “Why should we?” 

Farrell: Like Bob, Ted also wants to bring younger generations into Save Mount Diablo’s work. Here’s Seth Adams speaking about that. 

Adams: Ted’s got a real focus on youth and conservation collaborations with youth and youth education, and the solution to a lot of our problems has to lie with educating youth, and that leads in every direction, too. 

Tewes: Involving younger activists and supporters is important because climate change will have a big impact on them. Here’s Save Mount Diablo board president Jim Felton discussing this.

Jim Felton: One major thing is that I’m trying to do my best for our community and for the future generations. This land use, it’s not necessarily my problem in my lifetime, it’s my kids’ problem and their kids’ problem, and are we going to have places that people want to go and be outdoors and enjoy the wilderness right here in the Bay Area? 

Farrell: Bob knows from experience that this work is a lifelong commitment. 

Doyle: It’s a long game, but other young people involved, when they ask me, I said, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” I’m talking years, and that’s how you make progress. It takes a long time, but it’s amazing if you focus and have a commitment. 

Tewes: Bob has seen this commitment pay off. 

Doyle: One thing about the past is everybody was pessimistic. We weren’t going to save Mount Diablo; it was just so much growth, everybody wanted real estate development, nobody listened, like save Mount Diablo from what? And I think that story is a very positive, successful story. Don’t take the fun out of environmental activism. It gets sometimes too intense, too serious, and we always like to say, “Parks make life better.”

[Soundbed- nature noises]

Farrell: Here’s Jim Felton again.

Felton: As I said, I think the future is going to look different. We’re going to get more involved in the Diablo Range, we’re going to get more involved in education, we’re going to continue to be involved in some of the land-use issues in our geographical area. 

Tewes: Ted is also optimistic about the future of Save Mount Diablo. 

Clement: We’ll have more and more work to do in the next fifty years as we shore up the Diablo Range, make sure that Mount Diablo does not lose its connection. Yeah, there’s a lot of good conservation left to do. 

Farrell: Even with fifty years of land conservation in the rearview mirror, Save Mount Diablo still has a lot of good work ahead. 

[Theme music]

Farrell: Thanks for listening to “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo” and The Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Founded in 1953, the Center records and preserves the history of California, the nation, and our interconnected world. This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Amanda Tewes. 

Tewes: This episode features interviews from our Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project and includes clips from: Seth Adams, Burt Bassler, Ted Clement, Bob Doyle, Abby Fateman, Jim Felton, John Gallagher, Scott Hein, and Egon Pedersen. A special thanks to Save Mount Diablo for supporting this project. Thank you to Andrew Deakin and Anjali George for production assistance. To learn more about these interviews, visit our website listed in the show notes. Thanks for listening and join us next time!




The Berkeley Remix Season 7, Episode 2: “Save Mount Diablo’s Present”

episode 2
Lime Ridge Open Space. Photograph courtesy of Scott Hein. For more information about this image, visit Hein Natural History Photography.

In Episode 2, we explore Save Mount Diablo’s present. From supporting ballot measures and fundraising efforts to cultivating relationships with nature enthusiasts and artists to collaborating with outside partners, Save Mount Diablo continues to “punch above its weight.” This episode asks: now that Save Mount Diablo has conserved the land, how does it take care of it? How does Save Mount Diablo continue to build a community?  How are artists activists, and how do they help support Save Mount Diablo? How does Save Mount Diablo sustain partnerships to conserve land? 

In season 7 of The Berkeley Remix, a podcast of the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley, we head to Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County. In the three-part series, “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo,” we look at land conservation in the East Bay through the lens of Save Mount Diablo, a local grassroots organization. It’s been doing this work since December 1971—that’s fifty years. This season focuses on the organization’s past, present, and future. Join us as we celebrate this anniversary and the impact that Save Mount Diablo has had on land conservation in the Bay Area and beyond.

This season features interview clips from the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project. A special thanks to Save Mount Diablo for supporting this project!

LISTEN TO EPISODE 2 ON SOUNDCLOUD:

 

PODCAST SHOW NOTES:

This episode features interviews from our Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project and includes clips from: Seth Adams, Bob Doyle, Ted Clement, Abby Fateman, Jim Felton, John Gallagher, Scott Hein, John Kiefer, Shirley Nootbaar, Malcolm Sproul, and Jeanne Thomas. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Amanda Tewes, and edited by Shanna Farrell. Thanks to Andrew Deakin and Anjali George for production assistance. 

Original music by Paul Burnett.

Album image North Peak from Clayton Ranch. Episode 2 image Lime Ridge Open Space. All photographs courtesy of Scott Hein. For more information about these images, visit Hein Natural History Photography.

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT:

Amanda Tewes: EPISODE 2: Save Mount Diablo’s Present

[Theme music]

Shanna Farrell: Welcome to The Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center at the University of California, Berkeley. You’re listening to our seventh season, “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo.”

Farrell: I’m Shanna Farrell. 

Tewes: And I’m Amanda Tewes. We’re interviewers at the Center and the leads for the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project.

Tewes: This season we’re heading east of San Francisco to Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County. In this three-part mini-series, we look at land conservation through the lens of Save Mount Diablo, a local grassroots organization. 

Farrell: It’s been doing this work since December 1971—that’s fifty years. This season focuses on the organization’s past, present, and future. Join us as we celebrate this anniversary and the impact that Save Mount Diablo has had on land conservation in the Bay Area and beyond.

Farrell: In this episode, we explore Save Mount Diablo’s present.

Tewes: ACT 1: Now that Save Mount Diablo has conserved the land, how does it take care of it?

[Soundbed- nature noises]

Tewes: As we heard in our last episode, Save Mount Diablo was successful in accomplishing its original goal of expanding the Mount Diablo State Park from 6,788 acres to 20,000. It was also able to protect 90,000 acres of land that surrounded the mountain. These dreams were hard fought. Now that the organization had saved this land, how did it care for it? As we know, at first it relied on volunteers and supporters. Some of the volunteers who wanted to help beyond giving money found their way to different committees, like Stewardship and Land Acquisition.

Jim Felton: When I first started, we used to get together maybe four times a year, all the stewards, and talk about the problems and things that needed fixing. And of course, I’d go to a site that wasn’t mine to watch and help with the fence or help with some problem that needed fixing. Near Curry Canyon, there’s another property out there where the culvert got full of trees, and we all just had to climb in there and pull them out. 

Farrell: That’s Jim Felton, who was a member of the Stewardship Committee before becoming president of Save Mount Diablo’s board. Each member of the Stewardship Committee is responsible for maintaining a parcel of land. 

Felton: Well, it was once a month to check it out. So most of the time it was checking things out, but then there were jobs to do. We found bamboo or Arundo it’s called, Arundo in the creek in our property, and we wanted to get it out of there because it tends to spread, and it’s a very invasive species. So I spent quite a few hours digging and using a pick just getting that out of the river, and it hasn’t come back. 

[Soundbed- river rushing]

Tewes: Some of the land hadn’t been maintained in some time, so it required a fair amount of cleanup. John Gallagher got involved with Save Mount Diablo in the year 2000. He started on the Land Committee and then moved to the Stewardship Committee. Here he is talking about the work he put in to care for neglected properties. 

John Gallagher: I can’t tell you the number of trailers full of old car tires that we had hauled off, for example. Piles of pipe, barbed wire, and so forth that we’ve hauled off to the recycle center or whatever.

[Soundbed- construction, truck hauling garbage]

Farrell: There was no cost to being involved with Save Mount Diablo in this way. Jim Felton remembers it was just “gas and time.” 

Felton: For old guys, it was pretty messy projects, but no, no cost but just gas, but time, really, and a sore back. 

Tewes: But there was joy in this hard work. John Gallagher says:

Gallagher: And of course it’s all outdoors. You know, we get to go places where other people don’t get to go, and I like that. 

Farrell: As Save Mount Diablo moved beyond its original function as an advocate for land conservation, it realized it needed to build relationships with people who owned property near its land parcels. Here’s land conservation director Seth Adams.

Seth Adams: Well, the unusual thing about Save Mount Diablo is that we started as an advocacy organization and then added acquisition functions. 

[Soundbed- door knocking]

Adams: If we buy a piece of property, we’re going to be in contact with the neighbors, and more likely than not, we’re going to protect land next door to that property because they get to know us, and they see that we’re upfront and responsible and do what we say we’re going to do and we’re nice and we’re not confrontational. And buying a property is always a gateway to the surrounding properties. 

Tewes: These relationships mattered, especially when it came to land acquisition. Here’s board member and former president Scott Hein.

Scott Hein: The idea is to try to develop relationships with long-time landowners who may have property that you would like to acquire at some time, so that when they’re ready to sell they’ll think about you. You know, they might not give you a bargain, but at least they won’t be opposed to thinking about doing a deal with you, and so that’s the sort of general idea. And so it takes developing relationships and maintaining those relationships over time and communicating. It’s something you have to be proactive about. The landowners aren’t going to come and find you; in most cases, you have to go find them, and then figure out what kind of relationship they want to have. 

Adams: When a landowner is going to sell their property, they typically want the highest value. There are some that are really enlightened, and they have come to you because they want to see their properties protected, and that’s growing, but it wasn’t the norm in the early years. There’s a lot of land-rich, cash-poor landowners around Mount Diablo. 

Farrell: That was Seth again. The organization has to prioritize which properties it wants to acquire. Here’s Seth talking about how to consider those decisions.

Adams: Let’s say we know that our priority list has 180 properties on it, and we have a Landowner Outreach Subcommittee that meets monthly, and we go over to the top twenty of those priorities.

Tewes: The volunteers in the Land Committee still play a big role in acquiring land. Here’s John Gallagher again.

Gallagher: We keep a list about that and then try to decide if the cost of the property is worth it. Just as you and I might decide to buy a new couch or something like that, you just have to make that calculation. Well, I really like it, but is it worth it, do I need it that badly? And the Land Committee makes those decisions and recommendations. “Hey, listen, there’s a nice piece of property, but it’s totally surrounded by houses, and even though it adjoins a state park, it will never be a place for access or anything else, it would just be another parcel. If it’s really cheap, let’s go for it.” Or we say, “We need this one, this is something we’ve looked at, it’s been on our list for twenty-five years.” 

Farrell: Here’s Seth again. 

Adams: And then you wait for those times in people’s lives when they either put it up on the market or you know something is going to happen. This landowner’s husband died and so that’s a life change, which probably is going to result in opportunity. It’s the four D’s: death, divorce, disaster, disease, [laughs] and those are the times when conservation is most likely to happen. 

Farrell: Jim Felton also explains that building relationships with neighbors is part of Save Mount Diablo’s stewardship model.

Felton: We’ve had events for neighbors, some of our sites, and barbecues and things. And some people really like Save Mount Diablo in the neighborhood and some people just don’t like them at all, and they were really nasty. It’s too bad because, I mean, what we’re doing is preventing somebody from building ten houses next door to them, but they didn’t like it. They saw it almost as government intrusion, that type of behavior. 

Tewes: The organization knows how to strike when the iron is hot. In the late 2000s, during the recession, it saw an opportunity. John Gallagher remembers:

Gallagher: We didn’t have very many properties anyway, and then during the recession, we acquired a whole bunch of them, bang, bang, bang, bang. And they were often distressed properties that had junk on them or gates that didn’t work or fire abatement that wasn’t being done.

Farrell: Save Mount Diablo doesn’t just acquire new lands, it supports political action as a way to conserve open space. This means it also backs local ballot measures that limit growth of new development in Contra Costa County. Here’s Scott Hein.

Hein: Prior to the establishment of the urban limit line, there was a lot of speculative development going on around the County in all the cities in the County, and it was really difficult for Save Mount Diablo or anyone interested in protecting that land to get their hand around it.

[Soundbed- construction]

Tewes: Urban limit lines are important. They stop development from happening, which can in turn, protect plants and animals. 

[Soundbed- bird noises]

Tewes: In 1990, County voters approved Measure C, the 65/35 Ordinance, which required at least 65 percent of land be preserved for agriculture, parks, and other open space. In 2006, Contra Costa County residents voted to extend this limit for up to another 30 years.

Farrell: As Save Mount Diablo got more involved with local politics, it became more visible. As a result, it drew more people to the organization.

[Theme music]

Farrell: ACT 2: How did Save Mount Diablo continue to build a community?

John Kiefer: I love the mountain, but in reality, it’s more accurate to say I love the people that love the mountain.

Tewes: That’s longtime Save Mount Diablo supporter John Kiefer. It takes a whole community to rally around the organization, and this includes those with varying interests in the natural space. One group that loves the mountain include those who support wildlife like falcons. 

[Soundbed- peregrine falcons]

Farrell: The chemical DDT had been a commonly-used insecticide since the 1940s. It was sprayed all over, mainly to kill mosquitoes. But DDT caused a lot of damage, including around Mount Diablo. It destroyed bird populations because it thinned the eggshells of baby birds like peregrine falcons, killing them before they could hatch. By 1950, peregrines had disappeared from Mount Diablo. And in 1970, they were listed as an endangered species in California. DDT was nationally banned in 1972 after the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson brought its dangers to light. That same year, there were only 2 nesting pairs of peregrine falcons left in the entire state of California. 

[Soundbed- sad sounds of birds]

Tewes: Over a decade later, in 1989, peregrine falcons were reintroduced to Mount Diablo by wildlife biologist Gary A. Beeman. Seth Adams and Save Mount Diablo played a key role in this work by gathering volunteer supporters and helping to fund it. Here’s Shirley Nootbaar, who lives near the mountain and loves peregrines. 

Shirley Nootbaar: [laughs] The Peregrines, you know, were first started back on the mountain back in the end of the eighties. They tried to encourage nesting. They would have prairie falcons incubate the vital eggs of peregrines that they had produced in probably zoos, and that was the way they finally got the wild peregrines to start in Pine Canyon, which is right near where I live.

Farrell: These falcons have an ardent group of supporters, including the Peregrine Team in Pine Canyon, which was founded in 2015. This is a natural history group that assists park rangers during nesting season. Thanks to its efforts, there are now about 400 pairs of peregrine falcons in California, which matches estimates from pre-DDT levels. Shirley is actively involved with this group.

Nootbaar: Last year, they did not produce any chicks. This year, they did, and it was exciting. The Peregrine Team was overjoyed. The pair of peregrines had four eggs that blossomed into chicks, and everybody was so excited, but a great horned owl came along and ate them.

[Soundbed- peregrine falcons]

Malcolm Sproul: Everybody loves peregrine falcons; you know, it’s a sexy, you know, dynamic bird.

Tewes: That was Malcolm Sproul, who works in environmental planning. He was also Save Mount Diablo’s board president when the organization started to participate in BioBlitz. BioBlitz is a day-long event where naturalists and citizen scientists inventory all species of plants and animals living in a designated area. Malcolm plays a big role in Save Mount Diablo’s BioBlitz.

Sproul: I’m a participant, a very willing participant. You go out to an identified area, and you’re trying to document as many species as you possibly can in a twenty-four-hour period. And my expertise is birds and mammals, you know, a little bit of plants. If I see something interesting, I can record it and tell people. But primarily, I’m out there because of wildlife, and it’s just fun to get out in the field. And it’s a chance to get together with other people with similar backgrounds and interests, and share that. Then the organization loves to use it as a way to say how valuable properties are. 

[Soundbed- birds and frogs]

Farrell: During BioBlitz, the group often identifies over 700 species that live in the Diablo Range. 

Sproul: To me, that’s the real value of it. It’s when you find something that you didn’t know was there, and you can find maybe why it’s there, but that’s a little piece of information that we didn’t have before. 

Tewes: BioBlitz brings new people to the mountain. They also act as a gateway to another Save Mount Diablo educational event: Four Days Diablo. Here’s Scott Hein talking about this.  

[Soundbed- gravel crunching, people walking through dirt]

Hein: So it’s, you know, thirty to forty miles, depending on the side trips we take. Three nights we hike entirely on public lands the whole way, except for in more recent years we’ve detoured onto our Curry Canyon Ranch Property, and we get permission to hike out through a private ranch on that day. You can hike from Walnut Creek to Brentwood and immerse people in the work that we and our partners have done for, you know, the last fifty years. There’s no better way to expose people to the work we do and the importance than getting them out on the land. 

Tewes: John Gallagher says:

Gallagher: At the time, Seth was leading every hike, so he was able to brag and brag and brag about what Save Mount Diablo had done with this property and that property.

Sproul: We take people out for four days. They get spoiled—I mean, they have to hike. It’s hot sun and things like that, and you get blisters, and some people can’t make it. It’s some work. But it’s taking people out into the areas that have been protected, and showing them what they have helped protect.

Tewes: That was Malcolm Sproul.

[Soundbed- people walking]

Farrell: Indeed, this event also helps develop relationships with potential donors. Another event that brings these donors back to the land is Moonlight on the Mountain. This fundraising dinner every September takes place at an area called China Wall. And it takes effort to get out there.

Felton: So it’s on a flat mesa area on this ridge right next to what’s called China Wall, which is a geological formation that’s pretty unique, a lot of just outcroppings. We’d light that up with spotlights, so as the sun goes down, it is all beautifully lit, and the visuals are really amazing. And of course some years, you get the moon, some years, it doesn’t always work out that way.

Tewes: That’s Jim Felton. Here’s Scott Hein again.

Hein: So the idea with Moonlight on the Mountain is: bring 500 of our closest friends up onto the mountain and have a white tablecloth sit-down dinner, sitting outside, not under tents or anything like that, and have an evening of, you know, learning about the organization and making contributions and bidding on artwork and experiences and things like that. So it’s completely unique, right? I don’t know of any other events like it in the Bay Area, where you bring that many people outside in the environment, sitting in front of the mountain.

Tewes: This is a beloved event. It draws volunteer support from many. For instance, John Gallagher helps set up for the event. The night before, he sleeps in his truck on the mountain. 

Gallagher: Once in a while, the cows will come around and stick their nose in my nose while I’m asleep, you know, in the bed of my truck.

[Soundbed- cow noise]

Gallagher: [laughs] And of course I hear the coyotes calling, which is always a delight. But you know, the wind comes up and the fog comes in or something like that, and it’s just nice and quiet and serene. 

Farrell: While some of these events bring in money, they all build community around Save Mount Diablo. Another way the organization does this is through educational efforts. If you don’t know about the land, you can’t love it enough to preserve it. Here’s executive director Ted Clement talking about the program on Mangini Ranch Educational Preserve, where community groups and schools can explore the land.

Ted Clement: I started to hear more and more from teachers that were doing our Conservation Collaboration Agreement Program that it was powerful for the students. And they really liked that students were out on our properties having these intimate experiences in nature and there was no one else there, not like a state park with lots of outsiders and other people wandering around. The teachers said it just felt very safe and intimate. And we want to make it as easy as possible and as affordable as possible for all these different groups of people to get out there and have a really special, intimate experience in nature. It’s their property for the day.

[Theme music]

Tewes: ACT 3: How are artists activists, and how do they help support Save Mount Diablo?

[Soundbed- river flowing]

Tewes: Mount Diablo is a beautiful place, with its sprawling vistas and rolling hills, where grasslands give way to wooded areas. It’s been a source of inspiration over the years for many artists. And Save Mount Diablo has been lucky to attract a community of these artists, like Shirley Nootbaar, Scott Hein, Stephen Joseph, and Bob Walker, who care about the mountain enough to capture it in their paintings and photographs. 

[Soundbed- camera clicking]

Tewes: These pieces illustrate the beauty of the range, and why it’s worth preserving. 

Farrell: Shirley Nootbaar, who lives in Walnut Creek, started painting the mountain in the 1970s. She sees the landscape through an artist’s eyes.

Nootbaar: The trees are a rich green and right now the grasses are golden and the sky is blue, I mean those colors, green, kind of a raw umber or raw sienna kind of color, and the beautiful blue of the sky. So as far as the colors of painting the mountain, it kind of depends on what your mood or your idea at the time is, and it changes all the time. 

Tewes: Shirley taught watercolor classes and brought her students to the mountain to paint what they saw. She also got involved with the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association. 

Nootbaar: In 1983, I think it was, they were able to open up the museum at the top of the mountain after it was closed for a number of years. We formed an art committee through the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association, and the art committee created these various shows, probably four times a year, and hung work of the various people that would submit work, and it was different themes of either a particular area or maybe it was a high school group or whatever; could be photography, as well, of course. Yeah, I thought it was very successful. 

Farrell: Photographs are also an important part of Save Mount Diablo’s advocacy. Scott Hein is a nature photographer and takes photos for the organization. Seth Adams even sends him out on assignment to photograph land around the mountain.

[Soundbed- more camera clicking]

Hein: Not all the lands we protect are easily accessible, and not every person has the time or the ability to get out on the land, and so photographs are the next best thing. They’re the way that we can communicate that beauty to people who can’t experience it in person, and conservation photography has been a critical tool going almost all the way back to the beginning of land conservation.

Tewes: Scott’s work has many admirers, like Shirley. 

Nootbaar: Scott Hein in the Save Mount Diablo organization does a beautiful job with photographs. 

Farrell: Before Scott was Bob Walker. Remember him from episode one? 

Hein: Bob Walker was involved with the organization and doing nature photography and conservation photography from 1982 to 1992, when he passed away. He was a real environmental advocate, who was also a fantastic photographer. He was just relentless in photographing, and taking people out there to hike and learn about it. 

Jeanne Thomas: His photography told a story. And the mountain, you looked down and could see development coming up and say, “Oh, if it weren’t for the park, the development wouldn’t stop.” 

Tewes: That’s longtime volunteer and donor Jeanne Thomas. She also loves to take photographs on the mountain, including of local wildflowers. There’s a strong connection between Mount Diablo and these artists. Here’s Shirley Nootbaar again, talking about what the land has meant to her. 

[Soundbed- bird and animal noises]

Nootbaar: I love where I live, I love to hear the birds, and I love the animals, and when I go up into the park, I’m always aware of that. I’m not a botanist, I’m not a biologist, I’m not a zoologist, I’m not a geologist, but I do appreciate all of those things. It’s much my therapy and my love.

[Theme music]

Farrell: ACT 4: How does Save Mount Diablo sustain partnerships to conserve land? 

Farrell: From the beginning, Save Mount Diablo has been an organization that’s worked collaboratively with outside partners. This has become an even more important part of its model. The organization works with the California State Park system, as Mount Diablo is a state park. It also collaborates with the East Bay Regional Park District and the East Contra Costa Habitat Conservancy to accomplish its goals. 

Tewes: In 1988, Save Mount Diablo original member Bob Doyle started working for the East Bay Regional Park District. Though he was working for the Park District, which was founded in 1934, he never forgot about his roots with Save Mount Diablo. Bob and Seth Adams worked together to pass a local bond measure that would provide funding to both entities. Here’s Bob discussing the impact of that measure and the longevity of that relationship. 

Bob Doyle: As the state got less and less money for expanding the state park system, the Park District was getting more. In 1988 was the big change, and Bob Walker and along with Seth and everybody else, really worked to pass the first bond measure in the history of the Park District, and I co-wrote it and wrote the acquisition section. And you don’t invent it, you create it with people who are going to fight for it. And so I made sure that there were money for those regional parks surrounding Mount Diablo and for new ones. And I think we need every environmental group, every land trust to be walking in the same direction to get more money not just for their cause, but for everybody’s cause, which is called saving this planet.

[Soundbed- nature and animal noises]

Farrell: Another of Save Mount Diablo’s significant partners is the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy. The Conservancy was formed in 2007 and grew out of the Habitat Conservation Plan, or the HCP. Planning for the HCP began in the late 1990s. It was written as a way to satisfy the federal Endangered Species Act, with a lot of help from John Kopchik, director of conservation and development for Contra Costa County. 

Tewes: The nuanced goals of the HCP are to protect open space, enhance over 30,000 acres of habitats and natural systems, and to streamline wetland and regulatory compliance. The Conservancy was formed to help make these goals a reality. The way it accomplishes these goals is by buying, restoring, and protecting large parcels of land in East Contra Costa County that are home to hotspots for biodiversity. It issues permits for the land it owns and reinvests the money in buying even more land to protect. Often, the Conservancy will buy land in the Diablo Range and work with Save Mount Diablo to manage and preserve it. 

Farrell: Abby Fateman, who is now the executive director of the Conservancy, works closely with Save Mount Diablo. She was hired by John Kopchik in 2002 to help with the next steps of writing the HCP and forming the Conservancy. Here she is talking about how instrumental John Kopchik was in forming those partnerships. 

Abby Fateman: I think one of the reasons why the HCP worked or was adopted was really because he was able to build trust with all these different groups. He had relationships with the private landowners, with the developers, with Save Mount Diablo and other groups, and they were genuine.

Tewes: One of the ways that Save Mount Diablo and the Conservancy work together is by looking at maps and assessing which parcels of land are most critical to preserve. They start small and build from that foundation. 

Fateman: We like to bite things off in smaller pieces and understand them and work on them and then that’s an achievable goal. And then when that’s sort of handled, then we can expand our understanding of our goals. And “Save Mount Diablo” as a slogan was something that people could relate to. They could see the mountain, they could see development, they could see people trying to develop on the mountain, and they could rally around that. 

Farrell: The partnership between Save Mount Diablo, the East Bay Regional Park District, and the Conservancy is crucial. All three entities bring different strengths to the table to accomplish a common goal.

Fateman: Properties become available once a generation, and if somebody wants to sell it to you, if you have a willing seller or you’re able to compete for it, then you should go for it. Save Mount Diablo plays a huge role in actually executing on those things, making land acquisition happen, as does the East Bay Regional Park District. And they move very differently. You know, Save Mount Diablo is a nonprofit organization that can move very quickly and they’re much more nimble than my agency or East Bay Regional Park District. We might have more money available in the longer term, but we can’t show up at a land auction and bid on something. We can’t, there’s no way that that could happen, but Save Mount Diablo can.

Tewes: These strengths benefit all three partners, though sometimes with differing points of view.

Fateman: Save Mount Diablo fights certain development projects that they think are bad, and just because we have an HCP and just because they are our stakeholder doesn’t mean that they don’t fight those. We still provide permits for projects that they don’t agree with, and that’s okay, they don’t give that up, there are people fighting that fight. What we’re saying is we’re removing this one place, which is in compliance with the Endangered Species Act and how people mitigate for that from that battle. 

Farrell: Here’s Bob Doyle again, talking about it from the Park District’s perspective.

Doyle: Even though I was in charge of the Land Acquisition Program for the District, and it had money at that time, there were things that I just couldn’t do as the manager or the public agency side. Save Mount Diablo and Greenbelt Alliance and People for Open Space were all doing those things. The landowners always accused us of a grand conspiracy, and to some degree, there was an effort to work together, absolutely, to preserve as much property as possible. 

[Soundbed- nature noises]

Tewes: The partnership between these three entities benefit the cause of land conservation in Contra Costa County. 

Doyle: You can’t do these things, no matter how great the effort is and the talent is in an institution, without activism and public support. 

[Soundbed- nature noises]

Fateman: We have a successful, active, engaged nonprofit like Save Mount Diablo that is well funded and positioned; and we have this larger, regional agency, East Bay Regional Park District; and then the Habitat Conservancy. And I think we have managed to be able to work together in a way where we really thrive on each other’s strengths. You know, we don’t coordinate on every single action or movement we make, but we know when we can tap each other’s superpower and use it, and I think that separates us from other regions, it really does. And that’s why we see so much conservation happening in Contra Costa County versus other regions is that we sort of have it dialed in. It’s not perfect, but it’s way better than not having each other to work with. 

Doyle: That collaboration is the only way that we can take on such a difficult, difficult task politically and economically of climate change.

Fateman: We haven’t finished that goal of saving the mountain, but gosh, we’re so much closer than we were fifty years ago when all this started. It’s kind of amazing. 

Tewes: Save Mount Diablo also appreciates these relationships. Here’s executive director Ted Clement thinking about the importance of working in teams, even within the organization. 

Clement: Ultimately, good land conservation is good teamwork, and it’s only going to last long term if it is about a team, and a strong team that can carry the work on going forward. 

Farrell: Join us next time as we learn about the future of Save Mount Diablo.

[Theme music]

Farrell: Thanks for listening to “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo” and The Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Founded in 1953, the Center records and preserves the history of California, the nation, and our interconnected world. This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Amanda Tewes. 

Tewes: This episode features interviews from our Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project and includes clips from: Seth Adams, Bob Doyle, Ted Clement, Abby Fateman, Jim Felton, John Gallagher, Scott Hein, John Kiefer, Shirley Nootbaar, Malcolm Sproul, and Jeanne Thomas. A special thanks to Save Mount Diablo for supporting this project. Thank you to Andrew Deakin and Anjali George for production assistance. To learn more about these interviews, visit our website listed in the show notes. Thanks for listening and join us next time!