by Zachary Matsumoto
“My mom told me that an old deaf man, Mr. Wakasa, was walking his adopted stray dog around the perimeter of the camp,” recalled Patrick Hayashi. “His dog caught in the barbed wire fence and Mr. Wakasa went to save him and release him. 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.”
This is the story of James Wakasa’s murder, which Patrick Hayashi’s mother told him when he was growing up. Wakasa was one of over 100,000 Japanese Americans incarcerated by the US government during World War II. In the incarceration camp of Topaz in the desert of central Utah, an armed US soldier shot and killed Wakasa. His death sparked outrage among Topaz’s incarcerees. Although individuals in the Japanese American community contest some of the details of Wakasa’s death, it remains a key, painful moment in the incarceration experience that Japanese Americans have passed down to their children.
The story of Wakasa’s death certainly remained an important memory for Hayashi, a Sansei—or third generation Japanese American—who was born in Topaz while his parents were unjustly imprisoned there. Hayashi discussed his life and career with the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley. His interview was conducted as part of the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Project, which explores trauma and healing across generations for Japanese Americans whose families were incarcerated during World War II.
As a young boy, after their release from the prison camp, Hayashi grew up with his parents in Hayward, California. His mother maintained ties to the Japanese American community, largely through church. However, when he was still young, Hayashi’s mother passed away of heart failure. This deeply saddened Hayashi’s father, who now carried the responsibility of raising a family as a single parent. Additionally, according to Hayashi, his father must have felt the guilt and shame from his incarceration experience in World War II. Nonetheless, Hayashi’s father exhibited resistance. He was a “no-no,” meaning he said “no” to two questions in an infamous loyalty questionnaire the US government forced upon the imprisoned Japanese Americans during WWII. The questions asked if one would be willing to serve in the US Army, and if one would swear loyalty to America and rescind loyalty to Japan. This sparked outrage among the Japanese American community, who were asked to serve a country that imprisoned them, and rescind a fealty to Japan that they didn’t have. Hayashi’s father’s “no, no” response was, as Hayashi believed, a “principled stand” against these unreasonable questions.
But his father never mentioned this resistance until Hayashi was an adult. Like many post war Japanese American families, Hayashi’s family did not often discuss their incarceration experiences.
Similar to his father, Hayashi also recalled feeling shame and guilt around incarceration and the war. In high school, he felt particularly ashamed of his identity when his class discussed WWII and the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At that time, Hayashi later recollected, “I was preferring not to be Japanese.” He also experienced a disconnect with the Japanese American community, largely due to his mother’s passing.Nevertheless, Hayashi shared many fond memories of his childhood, from reading Sherlock Holmes and science fiction books as an elementary schooler to becoming a star tennis athlete in high school.
If Hayashi felt shame due to his family incarceration, he channeled it into his work, starting in the 1960s. When reading his oral history, I noticed a theme of activism exhibited across his career in a near continuous fight for justice. After dropping out of college and working as a mail carrier, he found his calling in literature and became a UC Berkeley professor in the newfound Asian American Studies Department—one of the first such departments ever created. These developments for Hayashi came at the time of 1960s social movements in America. In one such movement, student protests in California universities led to the creation of an Ethnic Studies program at UC Berkeley.
Hayashi later became involved as a UC administrator, first working for Cal as the head of Student Conduct. After an investigation revealed that UC admissions were discriminating against Asian American applicants in the 1980s, Hayashi was appointed Associate Vice Chancellor of Admissions and Enrollment. In this position, and later as Associate President in the University of California, Hayashi worked on policy development and acted as an advocate for student applicants. He played a key role in fighting unfair admissions policies, such as the National Merit Scholarship Program (for discriminating against marginalized groups) and the Scholastic Aptitude Test or SAT (for not only explicitly favoring privileged students, but for also being, as Hayashi noted, a “bad test”).
One example of his advocacy came through at a meeting he attended soon after becoming Associate Vice Chancellor. In this meeting, Harold Doc Howe, Lyndon B. Johnson’s former Secretary of Education, communicated views with which Hayashi disagreed. Despite feeling nervous, Hayashi publicly challenged Howe in front of his colleagues. “My hands are actually trembling visibly in front of me and I said, ‘Howe begins with the assumption that a person’s writing ability reflects that person’s thinking ability. I don’t begin with that assumption. Instead I turn it into a question, and the question is to what extent does a person’s writing ability reflect that person’s ability to think?’ I said, ‘When you pose it as a question, the answer becomes obvious, it depends. If a person is new to the country or if the person is poor and has attended poor schools where the quality of education is low, then it’s incorrect and unfair to think that a person’s writing ability reflects that person’s thinking ability. Because oftentimes people just haven’t had the opportunity and the assistance to develop writing ability.’”
This, to me, demonstrates Hayashi’s sense of right and wrong – a fight against prejudiced assumptions in the admissions process.
Over time, too, Hayashi started to come to terms with the incarceration experience that his family hardly discussed and loomed over him like a cloud. One key moment for him occurred during his work as a UC professor. After reading James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son, in which Baldwin discusses his experiences with racism and understanding the good his overbearing father did, Hayashi felt a better understanding both of his own father and his emotions. According to Hayashi, “[Baldwin] helped me understand my rage. And how if you’ve been suppressed constantly by racism, that goes somewhere and then it explodes. That was my pattern, and then it made me realize that it must have been my father’s experience as well. He was a proud man, he was smart, but it was clear, the injustice was clear to him and so it must have gone somewhere.”
To me, Hayashi’s understanding of Baldwin speaks to the emotional scars of incarceration that burdened many Japanese Americans. After experiencing racist injustice during World War II, anger would seem like a reasonable response. Perhaps the silence of many Japanese Americans after the war was the product of the internal, bubbling anger that people of color have felt throughout American history.
As Hayashi continued to come to terms with his family’s incarceration experience, James Wakasa’s story reemerged as an important moment. In the late 1980s, Hayashi visited an art exhibition from the incarceration camps, filling him with emotion. He recalled, “I choked up more and more and then 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. It was terribly embarrassing, but everyone around me was mainly Nisei, they were crying too. That’s when I started revisiting the camps in a systematic way.”
Hayashi held true to his word. Later in life, he became more and more involved in the memorialization of Topaz, the camp of his family’s imprisonment. After retirement from Cal, Hayashi played a role in the creation and work of the Topaz Museum, located near the site of the former incarceration camp. He taught workshops at the museum for teachers in Utah, served as the keynote speaker at a 2016 Day of Remembrance event, and interviewed the Topaz class of ‘45—high schoolers who graduated in 1945 as Topaz incarcerees. Hayashi also took up painting as a major passion and a creative expression of his identity.
Hayashi’s life story is a reminder that one does not need to be defined by internalized pain of the past, but can instead come to terms with that pain and tell its story. The interviews and life stories told throughout the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project illuminate themes of memory, belonging, and healing. Hayashi’s life fully demonstrates each of these themes and serves as an inspiration for Japanese Americans pained by the past but who also want to make a difference.
To this day, he remains active in preserving the memory of incarceration. In 2016, Nancy Ukai, an activist who fought the auctioning of incarceration art, approached Hayashi with a request to create a painting for a Day of the Dead altar at a Japanese American cemetery. The request? To paint James Wakasa’s soul. His story, a source of intergenerational pain and important in Hayashi’s own life, now lay in the hands of Hayashi: a man who healed.
Zachary Matsumoto is a sophomore at UC Berkeley currently studying History and participating as an Oral History Center URAP apprentice. He was drawn to the Oral History Center after attending a Bancroft Roundtable presentation about the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. American history is a current academic interest of his, including the histories of communities relating to his background as a Chinese and Japanese American. In his free time, Zachary likes to go for runs, watch sports, and play taiko.
The Oral History Center has been as busy as ever this year, publishing hundreds of hours’ worth of interviews online. On top of making this wide range of voices available to the public, my colleagues have also used these collections of The Bancroft Library to interpret, frame and share new stories about our past. In November, the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives project was launched, featuring interviews with the descendants of the incarceration camps during World War II. Not only are the transcripts online, but there is also a podcast and a deeply moving work of graphic illustrations that draw meaning from the interviews. In October, Todd Holmes and Roger Eardley-Pryor designed, wrote, and launched a new museum exhibit, Voices for the Environment: A Century of Bay Area Activism at the Bancroft Library Gallery, which runs through November 2024. There is an accompanying digital exhibit, which will feature podcasts, mini-documentaries, and a curriculum guide for students and teachers that will live on long after the gallery exhibit closes.
Center staff showed great leadership in the field of oral history. There is always lots to say about our oral history education programs, but what was new this year was OHC participation in a pilot historical methods course for undergraduate majors of UC Berkeley’s history program. Oral historian Shanna Farrell took a seat this year on the council of the Oral History Association, and Amanda Tewes and Roger Eardley-Pryor also led panels and gave papers at the OHA annual meeting. Todd Holmes, together with our Advanced Institute alum Emi Kuboyama, won the Autry Prize from the Western History Association for their documentary on the redress of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Communications and editorial lead Jill Schlessinger created, oversaw, and updated our editorial process. On the back end of our production, David Dunham led the team that transferred and preserved almost two thousand hours of audio-video that was trapped on defunct recording formats. Of course, we couldn’t have done this work without the help we get from student employees in production, preservation, and communications. Finally, following a competitive national search, I would like to celebrate the arrival of the new historian of science, technology, and medicine, Liz Semler.
I want to thank every member of the OHC staff for a great year! From all of us, we wish you all a peaceful and magical holiday and a wonderful 2024!
–OHC Director Paul Burnett
OHC Staff Reflections
I am grateful to have celebrated my 21st year with the Oral History Center. It is a privilege to support the efforts of our interviewers in producing the array of oral histories produced this year. I relish the opportunity to work with student workers, undergraduate research apprenticeship program [URAP] participants, and librarian interns. Students are integral to our production and preservation processes, ensuring that our transcripts, audio, and video are accessible and preserved. They also bring new perspectives and insights into our oral histories. It’s a cliche to say win-win, but our student workers and interns consistently share how participating with the OHC enriches their academic, intellectual, professional, and human interests. We could not do a fraction of the work we do without them. Special thanks this year to the following students and interns that contributed in countless ways to the OHC: Max Afifi; Sadie Baldwin; Peter Beshay; Hue Bui; Mina Choi; Georgia Cutter; Jason de Haaff; Nikki Do; Ava Escobedo; Leah Freeman; Samantha Goodson; Meiya Gujjalu; Anthony Lin; Lina Matine; Solomon Nichols; Guisselle Salazar; Mela Seyoum; Joe Sison; Manyi Tang; Kate Trout; Erin Vinson; and Cathy Zhang.
My fifth year at OHC was the busiest yet! I’m especially grateful for exceptional and collaborative colleagues at OHC. This past year, we curated our first oral-history-focused gallery exhibit with videos and a podcast; we promoted our innovative Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives project, including graphic art and a superlative podcast; and we continued conducting and publishing outstanding oral history interviews. I’m also grateful that our new colleague, Liz, joined the OHC team. I hope you and yours celebrate all that’s good at the end of this year, and that next year is even better.
What a year 2023 has been! While I’ve had the privilege of working on several projects this past year, I’m very proud of working with Roger Eardley-Pryor and Amanda Tewes on the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives project, which launched in November. We interviewed 23 survivors and descendants of WWII-era site of Japanese American incarceration, and produced a podcast and commissioned an artist to make graphic illustrations based on these oral histories. It’s been an extremely meaningful project to be a part of, and I’m grateful for the collaborative efforts of my colleagues to bring it to fruition.
Looking back on the year of 2023, I am struck by the power of collaboration. This year the Oral History Center curated the multimedia exhibit, Voices for the Environment: A Century of Bay Area Activism, at The Bancroft Gallery, a collaborative effort that was beyond rewarding. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to do this work and collaborate with an amazing cast of colleagues.
I look forward every year to this opportunity to acknowledge the talented team of student editors that make the pace of our work possible. They do the work of professional editors, create abstracts for oral histories with missing metadata, write articles about our narrators and projects, and provide invaluable suggestions in our department’s quest for continuous improvement of our workflow and processes. We said farewell to some long-term employees who recently graduated: Mollie Appel-Turner, William Cooke, Adam Hagen, Serena Ingalls, and Shannon White; I’d like to say thank you to our ongoing editor, Timothy Yue; and welcome two new staff, Nikhil Jagota and Lauren von Aspen. My favorite memory from 2023 was learning about how the experience of working with oral history has had a profound impact on how our student employees see things. I hope you will enjoy reading about their reflections as much as I did in this article, Connection, Insight, Inspiration, Truth: Berkeley undergraduates reflect on oral history.
This past year has been a wild ride! I said goodbye to multi-year projects, moved across the country, and started a position at the Oral History Center in October. Although it’s only been a few months, I’ve already learned much in my new role, including technical details like how to use video recording equipment and more broadly about UC Berkeley and the surrounding area. As with any big change, sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the new-ness of it all. But change brings opportunity! I’m grateful for the chance to forge a new path as an interviewer and historian here at the Oral History Center and am excited to discover what the upcoming year holds.
In November 2023, I was honored to be a part of a great team (along with Roger Eardley-Pryor and Shanna Farrell) that launched the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project, featuring 100 hours of oral history interviews with 23 Japanese American narrators who are survivors and descendants of two World War II-era sites of incarceration: Manzanar in California and Topaz in Utah. This public launch highlighted the release of most of the 23 oral history interviews, a four-part podcast series based on these original interviews, and graphic art inspired by the stories and themes from the interviews. It has truly been a meaningful experience to be a part of such important work about intergenerational memory and healing. Many thanks to the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant for funding this phase of the project!
The Oral History Center is pleased to welcome Liz Semler, our new historian of science, medicine, and technology!
Liz comes to the UC Berkeley Library from the University of Minnesota’s Program in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine. Elizabeth Semler is a medical and business historian and received her PhD from the University of Minnesota’s Program in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, where her academic work focused on the relationship between chronic diseases and diet in the United States and the Nordic countries. Her dissertation interrogated the intersections of epidemiological research, American business interests, and the development of public health prevention policies in the twentieth century. During her time at the University of Minnesota, Elizabeth taught undergraduate and community education courses on medical and technological history. She also participated in numerous public-facing history projects, including museum exhibits, educational websites, and film documentaries. Taken together, this work has fed Elizabeth’s passion for collecting, preserving, and making history accessible to broad audiences.
We sat down with Liz for a Q&A to get to know her better, which is below.
Q: When did you first encounter oral history?
A: I first encountered oral history in the first year of graduate school – I had the opportunity to participate in a project documenting the history of cardiovascular innovations at the University of Minnesota. This involved interviewing practicing clinicians, research scientists, and academicians about their contributions to cardiovascular care. It was a very different experience than studying archival documents and other static sources. Although I enjoy archival work, it was exciting to be able to ask questions and directly interact with narrators!
Q: What role did oral history play in your previous work?
A: I have worked on numerous public history projects over the past decade that have contained oral history components, with topics ranging from medical to the history of computing. Oral histories were also an important component of my dissertation project, which focused on the relationship between coronary heart disease and diet in the mid-to-late twentieth century.
Q: Which interviewers have been your biggest influences, oral historians or otherwise?
A: I really enjoy listening to Anna Sale’s interview podcast Death, Sex & Money. She does a great job of discussing challenging subjects with folks and I have learned a lot about how to tackle difficult, sensitive topics from listening to those conversations. I just learned the podcast may end in December, 2023. Who knows what will happen to archived episodes, so I recommend people give it a listen while they can!
Q: What projects are you most excited to work on at the OHC?
A: I’m still in the process of familiarizing myself with upcoming projects at OHC but I’m already very excited by the resources here at University of California, Berkeley as well as in the broader UC system. As a medical historian, the collections at UCSF have grabbed my attention – I’m looking forward to building connections across campuses and, hopefully, bringing together the resources of the Bay Area in collaborative projects.
Q: What is your dream oral history project?
A: Before COVID-19 shuttered things in 2020, I was in the process of interviewing folks who had worked at the midwest-based supercomputer company Cray Research. The company’s history is really interesting but extant archival materials are minimal and little has been written about Cray from an historical perspective. I’d like to finish capturing people’s experiences at Cray, if possible!
Zachary Matsumoto is a sophomore at UC Berkeley currently studying History and participating as an Oral History Center URAP apprentice. He was drawn to the Oral History Center after attending a Bancroft Roundtable presentation about the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. American history is a current academic interest of his, including the histories of communities relating to his background as a Chinese and Japanese American. In his free time, Zachary likes to go for runs, watch sports, and play taiko.
Reflections on Work with the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Project
by Zachary Matsumoto
This fall of 2023, I became a URAP student at the Oral History Center under the guidance of Shanna Farrell, Amanda Tewes, and Roger Eardley-Pryor. My work throughout this semester largely consisted of researching, analyzing, and writing about the oral histories of the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Project, as well as the Japanese American Confinement Sites Project. These oral histories highlighted a historical event that greatly affected my own family.
In 1942, the United States government, at the beginning of its involvement in World War II, issued Executive Order 9066. This order imprisoned Japanese Americans living on the West Coast and placed them in remote prison camps across the country. My paternal grandparents and their families were among them. Growing up, my parents told me of my grandparents’ histories as incarcerees, stressing the wrongdoing and unfairness done to them by the US government. As I grew up reading and watching material on Japanese American incarceration, I began to understand the details of the incarceration experience: how truly unfair it was; the crippling effects of losing a home for a remote prison camp; the silence of incarcerees afterward; and how themes of incarceration endure today.
Fast forward to 2023, when I joined the OHC as a URAP student and explored the oral histories of Japanese Americans. One component I learned from these oral histories was the traumatic intergenerational effects of incarceration: the pain and guilt that incarcerees passed down to their children, and at times even their grandchildren. This was a very eye-opening experience for me, as I personally felt as if the incarceration of Japanese Americans was an important, but almost distant historical event in my own life. Reading these oral histories, as well as listening to a podcast series “From Generation to Generation: The Legacy of Japanese American Incarceration,” based on the very same interviews, was at times an emotional experience. Hearing of descendants losing their sense of belonging, feeling disconnected with their culture, and living without the knowledge of their families’ incarceration experiences was heartbreaking to hear.
But what really struck me about these oral histories was not only the intergenerational pain and sorrow, but the agency exhibited by the project narrators after incarceration. This is something I knew but not really understood the scope of. This agency, as recounted in the oral histories, was both public and private. Patrick Hayashi, a man born in the incarceration camps and whose oral history I studied extensively, demonstrated activism as one of California’s first Asian American Studies professors and by fighting against prejudiced admissions practices. But more privately, he vowed to reexamine the trauma of his family’s past through creating artwork and educating Utah teachers on incarceration. Other individuals, in the 1970s and 1980s, participated in the redress movement, in which Japanese Americans questioned the wrongdoing of WWII incarceration and successfully drew attention to this experience. This eventually led to a formal apology and reparations paid by the US government.
Even in more recent years, the agency and activism of individuals in the oral history interviews shines brightly. Ruth Sasaki, an author, joined an organization named Tsuru for Solidarity: a group that fought against the forced incarceration of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border. After the Trump administration detained migrants at the US-Mexico border, including children, as part of the Zero Tolerance Policy, Sasaki and twenty-six other Tsuru for Solidarity members flew to Oklahoma to protest, along with a large number of Native American, Latino, and African American activists. Sasaki’s story, in particular, served as a reminder for me of the living memory of Japanese American incarceration and how that community in particular could serve as a key fighter: a guard against the unjust, unprovoked incarceration of marginalized groups today.
One moment of agency, in particular, was very personal for me and my interests. Roy Hirabayashi, a longtime San Jose resident and the descendant of Topaz survivors, recalled the founding of San Jose Taiko, a taiko (Japanese drumming) performance group. As San Jose Taiko began its performances and found its sound and style, Hirabayashi realized he did not know many traditional Japanese themes and rhythms for playing taiko; instead, he took rhythmic inspiration from music he was exposed to in the Bay Area, such as R&B and Latin soul. According to Hirabayashi, “We felt we were establishing pretty much early on that we, in Asian American sound, using what we called the Japanese drum, the taiko, our version.” For Hirabayashi, taiko was not just a performance instrument but an intentional expression of his developing Asian American identity. This, to me, shows his agency and sense of self. Reading Hirabayashi’s oral history also highlighted my personal connection to this interview. As a child, my mom drove me forty minutes to Santa Rosa so I could learn and practice taiko. Now, as a sophomore in college, I am a current member of Cal Raijin Taiko, UC Berkeley’s taiko organization and performance group. The fact that an instrument that occupies an important place in my own life is wrapped in the history and agency of Japanese Americans captivates me and brings me closer to the history of the Japanese American experience.
Over the course of my URAP experience in the Oral History Center, I felt my eyes further opened to the individual experiences of the descendants of incarcerees. What stands out was not just their guilt and attempts to cope with the scars of incarceration, but instead their strength through identity and activism. As a Japanese American myself, I feel proud to be part of this legacy of strength. In the future, I hope to continue exploring my identity, and what it means to be a descendant of the incarceration camps. As I explored the oral histories in the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Project, I encountered personal questions: why am I not feeling the same burden as the descendants of incarceration? Why do I feel as if incarceration was a memory without a strong effect on my own life? These questions remain in my mind, and I will continue to seek answers to them throughout my life.
The Oral History Center is proud to announce the launch of the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Project, featuring 100 hours of oral history interviews with 23 Japanese American narrators who are survivors and descendants of two World War II-era sites of incarceration: Manzanar in California and Topaz in Utah. The majority of these oral histories are live on the Oral History Center website, where you can learn more about the project and the interviews themselves.
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.
Even as the intergenerational impacts of World War II-era incarceration still touch many Japanese American descendants today, some Americans remain unaware of this history. It was in the spirit of illuminating the wounds of incarceration that OHC interviewers Roger Eardley-Pryor, Shanna Farrell, and Amanda Tewes embarked on this series of oral histories to record the stories of child survivors and descendants. 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.
The project began in 2021 with funding from the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant. The interviews were conducted remotely via Zoom due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The OHC team gathered a group of stakeholders with ties to the community to advise the project. Dr. Lisa Nakamura, a clinical psychologist who is herself a descendant of the Topaz incarceration camp, led Healing Circles for the project narrators after their interviews to process the experience without the interviewers present.
In addition to the oral histories, the OHC team produced a podcast as Season 8 of The Berkeley Remix to highlight the narrative themes that emerged from the interviews. They also commissioned artist Emily Ehlen, who created ten illustrations based upon stories and themes recorded in the interviews.
The podcast, “‘From Generation to Generation’: The Legacy of Japanese American Incarceration,” is a four-episode season featuring stories of activism, contested memory, identity and belonging, as well as artistic expression and memorialization of incarceration. It was produced by Rose Khor, Roger Eardley-Pryor, Shanna Farrell, and Amanda Tewes, and narrated by Devin Katayama. All four episodes are live on the OHC’s SoundCloud and in your podcast feeds.
Emily Ehlen’s artwork can be found on the OHC’s blog website and is available for download for educational purposes. Roger Eardley-Pryor sat down with Emily to learn more about her background, her work, and her process of creating these graphic illustrations.
Please explore the oral history transcripts and videos, listen to season 8 of The Berkeley Remix, and view Emily Ehlen’s artwork for more about the OHC’s Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Project.
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.
ABOUT THE ORAL HISTORY CENTER
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The Oral History Center is excited to announce the opening of Voices for the Environment: A Century of Bay Area Activism, a Bancroft Library Gallery exhibition that was curated by Todd Holmes, Roger Eardley-Pryor, and Paul Burnett. Voices for the Environment traces the evolution of environmentalism in the San Francisco Bay Area across the twentieth century. In three sections, it highlights how Bay Area activists have long been on the front lines of environmental change—from efforts to preserve natural spaces in the wake of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, to the midcentury fight for state regulations to protect San Francisco Bay shoreline, to more recent demands for environmental justice to address the disproportionate burden of pollution that sickened communities of color around the Bay.
We sat down with Eardley-Pryor and Holmes to ask them about their experience curating the exhibit, bringing the OHC’s interviews to life in The Bancroft Library’s gallery, and what they learned along the way.
Q: When you were originally thinking about this exhibit, which spans a century of Bay Area environmental activism, what topics, themes, or events were important for you to include?
TH: As historians, both Roger and I approached the exhibit through the lens of change over time, essentially asking the question, “How did what we’ve come to recognize as environmentalism evolve and change in the Bay Area over the twentieth century?” Combining our knowledge of both the oral history collection – which was to stand at the heart of the exhibit – and the environmental history of California, we selected the three stories we wanted to highlight fairly quickly.
First, we wanted to tell the story of Hetch Hetchy, the valley in Yosemite National Park that was dammed for San Francisco’s water system. This is a seminal event used in history classes across the nation to highlight the battle between two schools of environmentalism, preservationists like the Sierra Club’s John Muir, and conservationists like Gifford Pinchot of the U.S. Forest Service in the first part of the twentieth century. For the exhibit, we sought to use the Hetch Hetchy story to introduce visitors to preservation as the first form of environmentalism that took root in the Bay Area.
Second, we wanted to tell the story of Save The Bay, the movement initiated by three women from Berkeley to halt bay fill. Ultimately, that movement led to the creation of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), a state government agency to regulate development on the bay. Here we wanted to highlight how environmental concerns became embedded within the fold of government by the mid-century. BCDC stands as the first environmental agency in the United States, providing a precedent for other regulatory agencies on the state and federal level in the years that followed, such as the California Coastal Commission. Moreover, BCDC also operated within a framework that sought to balance environmental protection with economic development.
Third, we wanted to tell the story of environmental justice, a movement in the last part of the twentieth century that sought to put the health of people – particularly communities of color – within the environmental agenda. While environmental justice is fairly common today in discussions of environmental policy, the story of how it developed is not well known, and the Bay Area was one of the central places in the nation from which the movement took root.
REP: Todd and I worked to ensure that, in this exhibit, environmental activists could speak for themselves, and that visitors to the exhibit could actually hear the voices of activists recorded in their oral history interviews. The Audio Spotlight technology that allow people to hear interview clips in the gallery, the three videos Todd created with rare film footage and photographs, and the three podcast episodes we made with Sasha Khokha of KQED all make this exhibit something special that has never been done before in The Bancroft Library Gallery. For me, the people-power of communities of color demanding environmental justice, and the longtime leadership of women working for environmental protection were really important themes to include. Often, environmental history is told through the actions of men like John Muir, who does deserve credit for his early advocacy to protect nature through its preservation. The legacy of Muir and the ongoing work of the Sierra Club are important, and they remain so today. But Todd and I wanted to tell a deeper and broader history of Bay Area environmentalism, which shows how women and people of color have been central to the expansion and the evolution of environmental action over the course of the 20th century. I hope the stories shared in this exhibit help contextualize and make current environmental issues more meaningful—be it present-day preservation issues in 30 x ’30 campaigns, or conflicts over coastal regulations amid sea-level rise, or ongoing challenges to empower people of color in mainstream environmental movements.
Q: Did the themes you wanted to highlight change during the course of your research?
REP: We worked hard for over a year to bring this exhibit to life and to my memory, we agreed fairly early on about the three main narratives featured in the exhibit—the preservation of nature, reconciling environment and development, and environmental justice for communities of color. Over the course of our research, we changed the details of which particular oral history segment we might include here or there, or which image or document would best compliment the oral histories featured in each section of the exhibit. But as I recall, the exhibit’s main story arc remained steady from early in our curation process.
TH: Surprisingly, there was no change in the main topics / stories we wanted to highlight in the three sections of the exhibit. What our research did do was help expand on the themes within each to add more depth and nuance around community activism. For instance, in the first section we not only focused on the story of Hetch Hetchy, but connected it to activism around Save the Redwoods, which in turn highlighted the vital – yet often overlooked – role of women in the early preservation movement. Men like John Muir may have become the figureheads of environmentalism, and voted for such policies in government, but it was women who provided the grassroots momentum that put environmental concerns on the table. The same could be said for the third section on environmental justice. Our research uncovered a lot of different groups and experiences in the Bay Area grappling with environmental racism, from toxic sites in Richmond and what became known as the Silicon Valley, to debates with white environmental groups about even using the term “racism.” So in all, our research gave us a number of themes to spotlight and weave together throughout the exhibit
Q: The exhibit begins with the 1906 earthquake. Why did you decide to start there?
TH: This is another example of how research expanded the themes and stories of the three main topics we sought to feature in the exhibit. We wanted to highlight the story of Hetch Hetchy in the first section. Our research of the Hetch Hetchy battle forced us to upstream to the root cause – the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed 80 percent of San Francisco. At the time, San Francisco stood as the largest and richest city west of Chicago. In the wake of the disaster, the rebuilding effort posed a tremendous threat to the natural resources of the state. Ancient redwood forests throughout the Bay Area and along California’s north and central coast were targeted for timber, just as the Hetch Hetchy Valley was eyed for water and hydro-electric power. Thus, these rebuilding efforts proved the impetus of the early activism to preserve California’s environment.
REP: The drowning of Hetch Hetchy Valley—despite it being located within Yosemite National Park—is such a powerful and classic story in environmental history, and it occurred because the 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed San Francisco. Amazingly, Todd found several oral histories in our collection with survivors of the earthquake and fire who recall their experiences of it when they were children. In The Bancroft Library, Todd also found historic film footage, recently digitized, that shows San Francisco still aflame just after the earthquake. Putting those oral histories together with this footage make for a captivating start to the exhibit.
But what I didn’t realize until working on the exhibit was how the preservation of redwoods was also connected to how the earthquake and fire destroyed San Francisco. After the fire, lumber companies promoted California’s fire-resistant coastal redwoods as a means to rebuild the devastated city. In turn, environmentalists redoubled their efforts to preserve special groves of those ancient redwood trees. It suddenly made sense to me how Muir Woods National Monument was established in Marin County just a few years after the 1906 earthquake. Additionally, we wanted our exhibit on Bay Area environmentalism to highlight the Sierra Club, which was founded in San Francisco in 1892 and has since become one of the most influential environmental organizations in the nation. The Oral History Center has conducted oral histories with Sierra Club leaders since the early 1970s, and several activists, like William Colby, Ansel Adams, and David Brower, discussed in their oral histories how the fate of Hetch Hetchy continues to inform ongoing preservation efforts. So, in many ways, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire helped ignite the spirit of preservation that still informs environmental activism, both in the Bay Area and across much of North America.
Q: What role does oral history play in the exhibit?
REP: Oral history is the beating heart that gives life to this exhibit! We scoured several scores of Oral History Center transcripts for captivating stories about Bay Area environmental activism. David Dunham helped us obtain digitized versions of those oral history recordings. We then used The Bancroft’s traditional paper, photograph, and film collections to complement the oral history narratives that we featured in the exhibit. Christine Hult-Lewis and Lorna Kirwan helped us explore several of those archival collections, and Theresa Salazar pointed us to the excellent Urban Habitat Program Records, 1970-2001, which are displayed in our exhibit. Ultimately, the exhibit offers a multi-sensory experience where visitors can engage audio recordings, film footage, oil paintings, photographs, pamphlets, posters, descriptive text, and they can even hold the hardbound oral history transcripts featured in the exhibit. But certainly, oral history is the centerpiece of the exhibit.
TH: In short, everything! This is the first exhibit curated by the Oral History Center, and the first in-depth effort to showcase both the oral history and other archival collections of The Bancroft Library. Each section features oral histories about the main topic in three ways. Edited oral history segments are played in each section through an Audio Spotlight speaker, and accompanied with a video that shows captions as well as related photographs and archival footage. The oral histories are also available through a three-episode podcast, narrated by Sasha Khokha from KQED San Francisco. The podcast episodes, available online and in the gallery by scanning a QR Code, offer a deeper dive into the stories of each section. Lastly, we used oral histories quotes in the labels of the exhibit material to add further detail and context.
Q: The 1960s and ’70s were two very productive decades in terms of environmental activism. Did the oral histories that you encountered from the OHC’s collection make you think differently about this period, or illuminate something new?
TH: In my view, the oral histories we used in the exhibit helped place the activism of the 1960s and 1970s in better context. For instance, we often think of the “environmental movement” as arising around the late 1960s / early 1970s. Yet, this view completely overlooks the activism of men and women around preservation in the first couple decades of the twentieth century. It also overlooks the vital work of Sierra Club executive director David Brower, whose activism throughout the 1950s and 1960s staved off numerous developments and led to the establishment of ten new national parks. In many respects, I think the oral histories featured in this exhibit pushed me to think about a “long environmental movement” that gained traction in the halls of government during the 1960s and 1970s. I think the exhibit also highlights how the Civil Rights Movement and environmental movement came to intertwine by the end of the decade to form environmental justice, which was an area I felt fortunate to learn more about through this project.
REP: Actually, rather than the 1960s and 1970s, the oral histories we included in the exhibit helped me realize the importance of the 1980s and 90s to the expansion and evolution of environmentalism. Without a doubt, activity surrounding Earth Day in 1970 was a key inflection point in environmental history, inspiring new environmental laws and a new generation of environmental activists. But the oral histories in our exhibit tell how Bay Area activists laid the early groundwork at least since the early 20th century for later environmental regulations, and how activists in the final decades of the 20th century worked to include all people in environmental protections, especially communities of color who suffered the most from industrial pollution.
Q: You put together additional material, like a podcast and class workbook, to accompany the exhibit. How do you hope people will use these materials?
TH: For the past couple years, the Oral History Center has been working on ways to get our collection into the K-12 education space. We developed additional materials, such as the class workbook and podcast, to serve as educational resources for K-12 classrooms, as well as undergraduate courses.
REP: The podcasts and educational workbook can be used anywhere—while visiting and experiencing the exhibit in person, or at home or in classrooms. We hope people use those additional materials long after the exhibit closes in November 2024!
Q: What do you hope that people take away from the exhibit?
REP: I hope exhibit visitors sense the importance, power, and potential of oral history. I hope they see how the Oral History Center’s work to record the lived experiences and reflections of people through oral history creates invaluable records that helps us better understand where we’ve come from and helps us make sense of our experiences today. I also hope visitors realize the importance of Bay Area activists in shaping the evolution of environmentalism over time. And I hope visitors hear how the actions of Bay Area people in the past, as told in their own words, helped define our experiences in the Bay Area today. Given today’s grave threats to our environment and to our democracy, I hope visitors appreciate how environmental activism remains an ongoing process that is shaped and renewed by average people like them who engage in civic activism. I also hope the oral histories featured in this exhibit—and the many, many more that are preserved in the Oral History Center collection—help inspire people to shape and renew environmentalism today and in the future.
TH: I hope visitors come away from the exhibit with a better understanding of how environmentalism evolved and changed over the century, and that it has a long history in the Bay Area. Moreover, I hope the oral histories featured in the exhibit highlight the change brought on by everyday people. It was the activism of men and women that led to protected redwood forests and the creation of state and national parks. It was the unwavering dedication of three women from Berkeley that stopped fill projects in San Francisco Bay and led to the nation’s first government-run environmental agency. And it was the collective action of communities of color that put justice within the environmental agenda, and on the dockets of policymakers. Ultimately, I hope visitors, young and old, walk away with the idea that change comes about through everyday people.
Spring is a time of year when things begin anew. Flowers bud new petals, days have new length, and college graduates embark on new careers. It’s also a time when we at the Oral History Center celebrate an exciting phase of our narrators’ lives: a new life in our archive, where their story will live on in perpetuity. Not only can a narrator’s loved ones, friends, and colleagues access their interviews for years to come, students, researchers, and scholars can learn something about a time and a place, illuminating an aspect of history they might not have previously considered.
One way the UC Berkeley Oral History Center (OHC) likes to usher in this new phase of a narrator’s life is to have a “graduation” ceremony to honor their participation in the oral history process. Traditionally, we did this in person at the Morrison Library here on UC Berkeley’s campus, but like many things, we’ve had to adjust in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, we like to list their names and the projects for which they were interviewed online and in our newsletter so that all those in the OHC’s community can celebrate their contributions with us from near and far.
Please join us in expressing our appreciation for our latest cohort of narrators, spanning from fall 2021 to spring 2023. We are grateful to have their voices in our collection and their stories a new part of the historical record.
We also want to thank the OHC team—Paul Burnett, David Dunham, Roger Eardley-Pryor, Shanna Farrell, Todd Holmes, Jill Schlessinger, and Amanda Tewes—for their work in making these interviews come to fruition, along with the support from our student employees, who are a valuable part of our process: Max Afifi, Mollie Appel-Turner, Hue Bui, Mina Choi, William Cooke, Georgia Cutter, Nikki Do, Adam Hagen, Jordan Harris, Vivien Huerta-Guimont, Ashley Sangyou Kim, Ricky Noel, Deborah Qu, Mela Seyoum, Lauren Sheehan-Clark, Joe Sison, Erin Vinson, Shannon White, Serena Williams, and Timothy Yue.
Bravo, Oral History Center Class of 2023!
Anchor Brewing Co.
Bay Area Women in Politics
California State Archives State Government Oral History Program
Adele de la Torre
East Bay Regional Park District
Mary D. Nichols
Getty Research Institute’s African American Art History Initiative
William T. Williams
Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives
Carolyn Iyoya Irving
Naomi Kubota Lee
Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder
Steven Shigeto Sindlinger
Rev. Michael Yoshii
James C. Gaither
National Park Conservancy
Resources and Planning
San Francisco Politics
Randy H. Katz
As another year draws to an end, the OHC team looks back on an eventful year. Here are some of top moments from 2022.
In June 2022, I helped plan and lead a session about university-community relations in the “Race and Power in Oral History Theory and Methodology” Symposium, of which the Oral History Center was a co-sponsor. This symposium was a great opportunity to hear from oral history practitioners from many fields as we move toward best practices for culturally responsive and anti-racist oral history. I was grateful to be a part of this work!
Also in June, I had the opportunity to co-interview D.C.-based artist Sylvia Snowden for the Getty Research Institute’s African American Art History Initiative. Being so close to some of Snowden’s large-scale, textured, and vibrantly-colored pieces was truly a highlight of my year.
I was also very pleased this year to partner with Shanna Farrell to produce a podcast called “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo,” based on our oral histories about Save Mount Diablo, an East Bay land conservation organization. Learn more here about this three-part podcast series on the OHC feed The Berkeley Remix.
-Amanda Tewes, Interviewer/Historian
The Oral History Center relies on a talented team of student editors and I’d like to use this opportunity to highlight their contributions. A big thank you to editors Mollie Appel-Turner, William Cooke, Adam Hagen, Shannon White, and Timothy Yue, and researcher/editor Serena Ingalls. The student editors serve critical functions in our oral history production, analyzing entire transcripts to write discursive tables of contents, entering interviewee comments, editing front matter, and writing abstracts. They do the work of professional editors and we would not be able to keep up our pace of interviews without them. Serena also conducts research for our social media outreach, maintains our editorial calendar, and suggests ideas for articles based on historical events. The student team has also helped me evaluate our process, training, and documentation, and provided invaluable suggestions in our department’s quest for continuous improvement. Excellent writers in their own right, the student employees also research and write articles featuring themes in our archive, which this year included Cal Athletics, the Cold War, urban development, and women in politics. These articles have enabled us to better share the wealth of our collection with scholars and the public. Please keep an eye out for their work in future editions of the newsletter.
–Jill Schlessinger, Communications Director/Managing Editor
2022 proved to be another exciting year at the Oral History Center. In April, we released the Chicana/o Studies Oral History Project. I started this project in 2017 with the aim of documenting the history and formation of Chicana/o Studies through in-depth interviews with the first generation of scholars who shaped it. Thanks to the generous support of universities throughout California and the West, the collection includes over a hundred hours of oral histories with the most prominent scholars in the field. You can read the project’s release article here.
Our work with State Archives on the California State Government Oral History Program also proceeded apace. In October, we celebrated the careers of Senators Loni Hancock, Lois Wolk, and Fran Pavley in an online an online event hosted by Secretary of State Shirley Weber, and publicly released their oral histories. I also had the amazing opportunity to conduct the oral history Bill Lockyer, documenting a forty-six-year career in California politics that included offices such as Senate Pro Tem, Attorney General, and State Treasurer.
Last year, we released the oral history of famed Yale Political Scientist James C. Scott, as well as affiliates of his Yale Agrarian Studies Program. I am thrilled to announce that this year we finished work on the OHC’s first, full-length documentary film featuring the life and career of James Scott. You can watch the film’s trailer here. The documentary will be released in Spring 2023.
Here’s to an even more eventful and exciting 2023!
-Todd Holmes, Interviewer/Historian
This has been a big year for me, both professionally and personally. I had the privilege of helping organize a “Race and Power in Oral History Theory and Methodology” Symposium, of which the Oral History Center was a co-sponsor. After months of planning, our committee brought together scholars and oral history practioners from around the country for three days of thoughtful, reflective, and inspiring conversation. I had the opportunity to interview people for several projects, including for the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives, Anchor Brewing Company, the Getty Research Institute, the East Bay Regional Park District, and Save Mount Diablo. I co-producted a podcast celebrating the 50th anniversary of environmental conservation organization Save Mount Diablo with Amanda Tewes. I also became a mother, giving me a new perspective that I will bring to discussions of family and motherhood in my interviews. As ever, I grateful to be able to do this work, ask questions, and connect with the larger oral history community.
-Shanna Farrell, Interviewer/Historian
Three series of interviews in 2022 were especially memorable for me. First, fellow oral historians Shanna Farrell, Amanda Tewes, and I had the privilege to record over one hundred total hours of interviews with numerous narrators for the OHC’s new Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives (JAIN) oral history project. The JAIN project explores, preserves, and shares family narratives and traumatic legacies of the US government’s unjust confinement of Japanese Americans during World War II through oral histories with descendants of those who survived the race-based prison camps. The stories these narrators shared with us about the intersection of their family histories and their own experiences as Americans were both powerful and deeply personal.
Oral histories with three exceptional women—all exceptionally wise, accomplished, and active in environmental issues—were also among my most memorable moments from 2022. Doris Sloan helped stop a nuclear power plant from being built atop the San Andreas fault at Bodega Head and Harbor in the early 1960s, which later helped inspire her to return to school in her forties and earn an MS and PhD in geology and paleontology from UC Berkeley. Carolyn Merchant became a Distinguished Professor of Environmental History, Philosophy, and Ethics at UC Berkeley, where her research and writings over the past half century significantly influenced the fields of the History of Science, Women’s Studies, and Environmental History. And last summer, Mary Nichols and I finished recording an extensive 26-hour oral history of her life and storied career as an environmental lawyer and public servant, including her appointment as chair of the California Air Resources Board from 1979-1983 and again from 2007-2020, where she implemented vanguard regulations to make California a world leader in improving air quality and reducing emissions that cause climate change.
A third set of memorable interviews for me in 2022 was expanding the OHC’s long standing Sierra Club Oral History Project to record new climate and justice-focused narratives with three activists and organizers—Rhonda Anderson in Detroit, Verena Owen in Chicago, and Bruce Nilles in Oakland—all of whom worked on the Sierra Club’s transformational Beyond Coal campaign. Since its grassroots origins two decades ago, the Beyond Coal campaign stopped more than 200 new coal plants from being built across the United States and secured retirement of two-thirds of the nation’s existing coal plants. This work prevented untold tons of carbon emissions and other toxic pollution from poisoning our air, land, and water, and in doing so, it prevented tens of thousands of premature deaths in communities living near coal plants, often disinvested communities of color. In addition to its commitment to racial justice and grassroots power-building, the coal campaign supported a robust economic transition for coal communities at the state and national level, and it helped midwife our new era of clean energy solutions to further combat climate change.
Throughout 2022 and into this new year, it has been and remains my great honor at the Oral History Center to continue conducting inspired and intriguing interviews with such incredible narrators. I wish you and yours much love, peace, and power at the end of this year and throughout the next.
-Roger Eardley-Pryor, Interviewer/Historian
by Charles Faulhaber, Interim Director of The Bancroft Library
As we bid farewell to 2021, I’ve been thinking about the power of first-person accounts and the meaning of oral history within The Bancroft Library’s collections. Bancroft’s Oral History Center was founded in 1953 by Robert Gordon Sproul, President of the University of California, as the Regional Oral History Office, “regional” because there was one at Berkeley for northern California and one at UCLA for southern California.
In fact, however, Bancroft’s oral history roots lie much deeper than that. As early as the 1860s, San Francisco bookdealer Hubert Howe Bancroft, the founder of The Bancroft Library, was traveling extensively up and down the Pacific Coast and back to the East Coast in order to record “dictations,” his interviews with the men, and some women, who had made the West their home. In Utah he interviewed Mormon leaders while his wife, Matilda Griffings Bancroft, interviewed their wives. On a trip to Pennsylvania he interviewed John Sutter, bitter over the failure of the federal government to compensate him for the loss of his extensive land grants in the gold-rich foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
Later, as Bancroft’s plans for a monumental history of California and the American West—eventually 39 massive volumes—crystallized, he hired staff to record dictations with the Californios, the Spaniards and Mexicans who had colonized Alta California from 1769 onward, men like Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, the last Mexican commandant of the Presidio in San Francisco, as well as with native Americans, like Isidora Filomena, the wife of chief Solano of the Suisun tribe.
Bancroft believed that these contemporaneous oral accounts provided an essential complement to the written sources in his library, which he eventually sold to the University of California in 1905. This is the same philosophy that informs the activities of the Oral History Center today. The thousands of oral histories that have been recorded in the almost seventy years since the Center was founded inform and enrich the printed and manuscript documentation collected by Bancroft’s curators.
Thus the series of oral histories of Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II has proved to be a fundamental resource for Bancroft’s current exhibition, “UPROOTED: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans,” which also draws from Bancroft’s extensive collection of documents, photographs, and family and personal papers. This exhibition commemorates the 80th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which ordered the incarceration of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast, including American citizens, some 113,000 individuals.
I invite you to visit this powerful exhibit at The Bancroft Library Gallery when it re-opens briefly from January 10-21 and then again from February 17, 2022 through June 30, 2022, and hear first-hand the words of the uprooted, preserved for posterity through oral history.
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. The Oral History Center preserves 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.
As we transition from 2021 to 2022, the Oral History Center staff reflects on a year that moved both fast and slow and was full of change, yet much of the same. I asked our team to share their highlights from the past year. Join us as we look back on the moments in which our team found hope, joy, and inspiration in over the past twelve months. — Martin Meeker, OHC Director
“This year, we received so much good news about new endeavors, and projects that had been on hold in 2020 came roaring back. I am ever grateful to all our project partners who saw the potential of these remote oral history projects, and for narrators who were willing to be flexible and try new technologies for recording interviews. One such project is the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project. Shanna Farrell and I have been working on this project to document the history of this Contra Costa County land trust organization in celebration of its fiftieth anniversary on December 7, 2021. We will be turning these important interviews into podcast episodes of The Berkeley Remix, so stay tuned for more to come on this project!”
–Amanda Tewes, Interviewer/Historian
“2021 has been a remarkable year for the Oral History Center, and I am as thankful as ever to be a part of such a uniquely talented organization. I listened on as interviewers conducted more oral histories than ever through a carefully planned combination of remote and in-person interviews. I marveled at my good fortune to work with a talented team of student workers who process, preserve, and edit our video oral histories in a variety of formats. We continued our rich collaboration with University of Southern California MMLIS interns to enhance access via improved metadata for oral histories from our archives. Student workers and interns provide significant contributions to the Oral History Center year in and year out, but their navigating academics, work, and daily life through the challenges of a pandemic was especially inspiring. Thanks are due to the contributions of recent graduates Yarelly Bonilla-Leon and Abigail Jaquez; continuing mentors Max Afifi, Tasnima Naoshin, and Lydia Qu; and newest team members Mina Choi and Vivien Huerta-Guimont. I am excited to see what the Oral History Center will accomplish in 2022!”
–David Dunham, Operations Manager and Project Manager, Rosie the Riveter / WWII Home Front Oral History Project
“This year I’d like to highlight the stellar work of the undergraduate student employees on the editorial team. They maintained their professionalism and high-quality work throughout the pandemic and I’m impressed with how much they’ve been able to accomplish. A big thank you to my team of student editors, spring graduates Jordan Harris and Ricky Noel; current employees Mollie Appel-Turner, Adam Hagen, Ashley Sangyou Kim, and Lauren Sheehan-Clark; and research assistants Deborah Qu and Serena Ingalls. The student editors serve critical functions in our oral history production, analyzing entire transcripts to write discursive tables of contents, entering interviewee comments, editing front matter, and writing abstracts. They do the work of professional editors and we would not be able to keep up our pace of interviews without them. The research assistants conduct research for our social media outreach and other projects. Excellent writers in their own right, the student employees also research and write articles highlighting individuals and projects in our vast archive. These contributions have enabled us to better share the wealth of our collection with scholars and the public. You can read about their experiences working remotely during shelter-in-place in this newsletter, and keep an eye out for their insightful articles in future editions.”
–Jill Schlessinger, Communications/Managing Editor
“In our second pandemic year, we continued some remote interviewing while resuming our traditional in-person recording for certain projects. Although there was a period of adjustment, and though there is still no substitute for sitting together in a room to share a story, the fact is that we now interview people across the country and around the world in a way that would not have been possible just a decade ago. I’m grateful for in-person interviewing, but I’m also thankful for the opportunities to do remote interviewing and to do more online, interactive teaching. Among my 2021 interviews, there are too many highlights to name, but what stays with me is the description of a formative moment, the life experiences that were rich and meaningful, the way a crescendo of a voice raised in excitement brings a point home, or the way a pause gives space and time to let the meaning of what has been said sink in.”
–Paul Burnett, Interviewer/Historian
“For me, “home” has been an important theme throughout 2021, particular as this year ends. Home can mean different things to different folks, but it often involves the people and places with the greatest mutual influences in our lives. My oral history interviews in 2021, which totaled nearly 100 recorded hours with a mix of academic, political, and environmental actors, included Zoom calls beamed into a narrator’s home as well as face-to-face recordings physically inside their homes. Whether conducted online or in person, our narrators invite us into their homes in various ways. Narrators often share stories of where they lived and with whom throughout their childhoods and in their personal lives. These memories of “home,” as it’s evolved over time, are replete with rich and complicated human and more-than-human relations that recall moments of happiness and heartbreak, dissonance and discovery, and emotions sometimes unresolved or rarely recalled but still surprisingly powerful. The stories a narrator chooses to tell, or not tell, can say a great deal about their sense of home, as well as who, what, or where gets included there for them at different times. In 2021, both my narrators and I also experienced how the ongoing COVID19 pandemic has reified and refracted the role that home plays in our lives. The blessing of vaccines helped many of us expand—at least for a moment or two—the realms we’ve called home since the pandemic began. Additionally, during these final months of 2021, my family and I experienced the blessing (and complications) of purchasing and moving into our own first home. As the year ends, I remain deeply grateful for the privilege and responsibility of joining narrators in their homes, of hearing about the evolving influences that home has played in their lives, and also reconciling and reconstituting the many meanings of home in my own life.”
–Roger Eardley-Pryor, Interviewer/Historian
“There’s a lot to celebrate as 2021 draws to a close. I’ve been able to work on new oral histories and continue existing projects with the help of remote recording technology. I’ll be forever grateful that the OHC has been able to adapt our model using Zoom so that some semblance of normalcy persists through the continual waves of uncertainty. I was able to interview people I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to for ongoing projects like the East Bay Regional Park District oral histories and start the pre-interview process for our newly funded project about Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives. As we enter 2022, we’ll likely have a mix of in-person and remote interviews, but I (and my narrators!) appreciate the flexibility and options that are now integrated into our interviewing process. Also with the help of Zoom, we were able to continue our Introductory Workshop and Advanced Summer Institute, so that we could train those who wish to enhance their oral history skills. Lastly, I published my second book, A Good Drink: In Pursuit of Sustainable Spirits, and was able to do a number of virtual events, including a roundtable with The Bancroft Library. Lots to celebrate, indeed! Here’s to a healthy, productive, and successful 2022 with much more to toast!”
–Shanna Farrell, Interviewer/Historian
“After a tumultuous 2020, the past year ushered in much to celebrate and be grateful for at the OHC. Thanks to the resilience of many narrators, projects new and old were put into the books. The Yale Agrarian Studies Project, featuring the oral histories of famed social scientist James C. Scott and affiliates of his Agrarian Studies Program were officially released in September. The Chicana/o Studies Oral History Project, which was launched in 2017, also finally reached the finish line. Composed of in-depth interviews with nearly two dozen scholars who played a vital role in the field’s formation and development, the project will be released in early 2022. Our partnership with the California State Archives also grew to new heights this past year. Building on the oral history we conducted with Governor Jerry Brown, we initiated a new project on Governor Schwarzenegger’s signature climate change program: The Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32). We were also able to conduct a new round of interviews for the State Government Oral History Program—a program I’m happy to report has been given a multi-year renewal by the state legislature. Lastly, I completed a short documentary film on Japanese American Redress with Emi Kuboyama at Stanford University, who is also an alumni of the OHC Summer Institute. The film features oral histories we conducted with community leaders and former staff of the Office of Redress Administration. Thanks to a grant from the Takahashi Foundation, we will be reediting the film in the coming year for classroom and television use. Here’s to a productive 2021 and an even better 2022.”
–Todd Holmes, Interviewer/Historian