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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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

 


“Voices for the Environment: A Century of Bay Area Activism,” an Oral History Center exhibit in The Bancroft Library Gallery

A green, brown, and blue banner that reads "Voices of the Environment: A Century of Bay Area Activism" hangs on a light post outside The Bancroft Library on UC Berkeley's campus
Banner for “Voices for the Environment” exhibit outside The Bancroft Library

We’re 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 of the Oral History Center. 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.

Several people sit and stand in the exhibit space, with some sitting in front of a video display while others stand and look at photographs on the wall of the exhibit
Visitors experience the “Voices for the Environment” exhibit, curated by the Oral History Center, in The Bancroft Library Gallery

Our Voices for the Environment exhibit is the first major effort in The Bancroft Library Gallery to showcase oral history alongside the traditional archival collections of The Bancroft Library, with the oral history collections leading the way. The exhibit still features historic photographs, pamphlets, post cards, and posters selected from several collections of The Bancroft’s physical archives. But for the first time in this gallery, our Voices for the Environment exhibit also includes three installations of special Audio Spotlight technology where you can listen to never-before-heard oral history recordings with Bay Area environmentalists, while simultaneously watching three videos edited by Todd Holmes that feature historic photographs and rare film footage from The Bancroft’s digital collections. Additionally, as a complement to the exhibit, curators Todd Holmes and Roger Eardley-Pryor created an educational workbook, so students of all ages can learn about the environmental movement by engaging with the themes and primary sources on display. Through these efforts, the Oral History Center hopes Voices for the Environment will have a life beyond its yearlong run.

On a blue, brown, and green background is white text that reads "Voices for the Environment A Century of Bay Area Activism, Podcasts for The Bancroft Library Gallery Exhibition, University of California Berkeley, Oral History Center, October 6, 2023–November 15, 2024."
Podcasts for “Voices for the Environment” were produced by Todd Holmes and Roger Eardley-Pryor of the Oral History Center, with help from Sasha Khokha of KQED. The podcast images, and the exhibit space, were designed by Gordon Chun.

For an even deeper dive, you can also scan a QR code in the gallery, or click the following link, to hear three Voices for the Environment podcast episodes produced in partnership with Sasha Khokha of KQED Public Radio and The California Report Magazine. The podcast episode for section 1 of the exhibit, titled “A Preservationist Spirit,” traces the environmental activism that arose amid the rebuilding efforts of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire, efforts that came to target the state’s ancient redwood forests and the beloved Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. The episode features historic interviews from the Oral History Center archives including segments from the “Growing Up in the Cities” collection recorded in the late 1970s by Frederick M. Wirt, as well as oral history interviews with Carolyn Merchant recorded in 2022, with Ansel Adams recorded in the mid-1970s, and with David Brower recorded in the mid-1970s. The oral history of William E. Colby from 1953 was voiced by Anders Hauge, and the oral history of Francis Farquhar from 1958 was voiced by Ross Bradford. This first episode also features audio from the film Two Yosemites, directed and narrated by David Brower in 1955. The podcast episode for section 2 of the exhibit, titled “Tides of Conservation,” tells the story of the Save San Francisco Bay movement and the creation of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), one the nation’s first environmental regulatory agencies. The episode features segments from oral history interviews with Save The Bay founders Esther Gulick, Catherine “Kay” Kerr, and Sylvia McLaughlin recorded in 1985; as well as interviews with BCDC executive director Joseph Bodovitz and chairman Melvin B. Lane, both recorded in 1984. And the podcast episode for section 3 of the exhibit, titled “Environmental Justice for All,” spotlights efforts by communities of color to place the health of people within the environmental agenda, including creation of new environmental organizations like the West County Toxics Coalition, the Urban Habitat Program, and APEN (Asian Pacific Environmental Network), all founded in the Bay Area. The episode features segments from oral history interviews with Carl Anthony, Pamela Tau Lee, Henry Clark, and Ahmadia Thomas, all recorded in 1999 and 2000.

The Voices for the Environment exhibition space was designed by Gordon Chun and is free and open to the public Monday through Friday between 10am to 4pm from Oct. 6, 2023 to Nov. 15, 2024, in The Bancroft Library Gallery, located just inside the east entrance of The Bancroft Library.

We hope you come to campus and experience it!

ABOUT THE ORAL HISTORY CENTER

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library 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. You can find our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. 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.

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Oral History Center if you’d like to see more work like this conducted and made freely available online. While we receive modest institutional support, we are a predominantly self-funded research unit of The Bancroft Library. 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.


A spearhead for the barrio: the educational activism of Ernesto Galarza

From the Archives

By Adam Hagen

UC Berkeley’s Oral History Center houses a number of oral histories that center the lives of Mexican American activists. One such history, Burning Light: Action and Organizing in the Mexican Community in California, contains the recorded speeches and interviews of Ernesto Galarza from the late 1950s through the early 1980s, and provides a glimpse into the life of a man whose commitment to the Mexican American agricultural workers of California never wavered, even when he found himself a continent apart from them.

An older Ernesto Galarza at a book signing, signing a book, with two young women waiting in line; everyone is smiling.
Ernesto Galarza signs one of his books. (Photo: Occidental College)

Galarza’s words, which he imbues with a certain dry poetry, recount a life of extraordinary experience and achievement: Galarza worked as an organizer with the United Farm Workers of America, where he was instrumental in bringing the bracero program to an end; as an educator at the elementary and collegiate levels; and for a time as the chairman of the development of bilingual educational material for the National Committee of Classroom Teachers. He also worked as a consultant for several organizations and institutions, including the government of Bolivia. A recurring theme in Galarza’s oral history, and the subject of this profile, is his efforts on behalf of bilingual education and Spanish literacy advancement in the Mexican American community.

Galarza was born in the village of Jalcocotán in the Mexican state of Nayarit in 1905. But fleeing the tumult of Francisco Madero’s revolution, he and his family came to Sacramento in 1911, when the Central Valley’s patchwork of farm property was not yet its present expanse and its limits did not so easily elude the eye. There, enveloped in a community of agricultural laborers in the Sacramento barrio, a young Galarza would see firsthand the struggles of Mexican Americans and braceros as they tried to navigate the foreign land in which they now found themselves. And, as his family was of modest means—exacerbated by his mother’s death in 1917—he too joined in this work from an early age. One of the recorded talks compiled in the oral history contains a poignant allusion to his communities’ challenges in adapting to life in the United States, and, as it deals with the matter of English language acquisition, reveals the seeds of his future work. In the talk, Galarza recalls that he “became a leader in the Mexican community at the age of eight for the simple reason that I knew perhaps two dozen words of English.”

Ernesto Galarza sitting on a desk, with chalk board in the background, looking serious.
Professor Galarza in a classroom. (Photo: Occidental College)

English proficiency, however, was only one of a number of skills that Galarza exhibited in his youth. His academic prowess was so apparent that Sacramento High School teacher Ralph Everett approached him personally and asked that he reconsider his plan to work at the Sacramento Libby, McNeill & Libby cannery after graduation, insisting that he attend college instead. Everett even went to great lengths to help Galarza gain admission to Occidental College in Los Angeles, the institution he would graduate from in 1927. After Occidental, Galarza would go on to earn a master’s degree in history from Stanford University in 1929 and a doctorate in sociology from Columbia University in 1944.

Galarza’s recollection of his time at these institutions reveals how rare it was for a “Mexicano” to have the opportunity to obtain a higher education in the early twentieth century. He had this to say at a talk for Chicano studies students at UC Berkeley in 1977:

The Chicano students that I knew in the thirties at Columbia and elsewhere were very few in number. At Columbia University I didn’t know another graduate student in the department of history or political science or public law, which is where I did my work. Neither were there many of us in the undergraduate institutions in Southern California where I went to college at Occidental. I remember, I think it was in 1925, out of sheer curiosity I inquired among my friends at UCLA, USC, Pomona, Whittier and all of that cluster of colleges in the south, and I could only identify six of us in all of those places. Of course, possibly that wasn’t a good count because even then there were some Chicanos who had already given up their identity. They had become anything but Mexicans. In those days, we didn’t talk about Chicanos. You were either a Mexicano or you were not.

His skills in English and consequent academic achievements were a relative anomaly among the bracero and Mexican American communities due to there being a dearth of bilingual and English language education resources at the time of his youth. According to Galarza, not until the latter half of the twentieth century did the federal government take the concept of bilingual education and English as a second language (ESL) education seriously and fund it in any substantial fashion. And, as he notes in his oral history, once funding did increase there remained a system that overlooked the intricacies of bilingual education; advisory committees in Washington attempted to regulate the bilingual and ESL instruction from afar, and their distance resulted in curriculum that was incongruent with students’ needs.

Concerned about this oversight, Galarza explains that he and other instructors working in bilingual education were actively challenging the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and the Office of Bilingual Education in the 1970s, and had begun to see success. As he says in the oral history, he felt their work “has been so effective, even modest as it is, that it has created waves that have become very ominous to them.”

mini book, with images of a bottle of milk and a cow, with the wording: Historia verdadera de una botella de leche
An example from the collection of Mini-Libros.

And beyond his pushing for better, more personalized bilingual education curriculum on an institutional level, Galarza—believing that Spanish literacy had to precede English instruction—took it upon himself to craft and publish what he called “Mini-Libros,” easy-to-read Spanish texts that he designed for use in the classroom and hoped would engage young readers. So as to make students as comfortable as possible, the Mini-Libros even contained vocabulary specific to Mexico and the working-class immigrants coming to the United States at the time.

These actions were especially timely because Mexican immigration into the US was greatly increasing in the 1960s and ’70s, a topic thoroughly discussed in the interview. Galarza recognized the wealth of challenges—from housing to employment to education—that came with incorporating such a massive population into the fabric of American society, and identified the issues of literacy and English proficiency as those he was most eager to help resolve.

Each summer in his undergraduate years Galarzo would return to Sacramento to do what he called “bread and butter work” in the farms and the cannery. Later, when he left California to study at Columbia and the path home was no longer so easily negotiated, his community’s want of literacy became a major concern, in part his due to its personal impact:

I began to be disturbed by the lack of news from home. My family and my friends back in Sacramento were not writers. They didn’t know, many of them, how to write…When I realized after my third or fourth year back in the East that this was happening to me, I became very disturbed. And while we stayed in the East another six years, that feeling never left me that what was happening back in California in all the towns that I knew and where I had worked, I was not keeping abreast of.

Galarza believed that the Mexican immigrant children coming into the school system in the mid-twentieth century had to be brought into the fold of American life, to be “acculturated,” in his words, so as to avoid the fate of his own family and community. And such acculturation could not begin with a hard-and-fast imposition of English instruction, something he believed would only further alienate the newly arrived immigrants, accelerate the creation of insular communities, and complicate their path to prosperity in the US. He viewed bilingual education as the obvious answer to this challenge. It would help a child, as he noted in his oral history, to “recognize—to get into—and become familiar with this strange environment into which he’s been dropped.”

Galarza’s oral history is an invaluable glimpse into the subtle divides of his time: for each acknowledgement of how badly the “American hosts” have treated Mexican Americans, he has another remark on the myopia of Mexican American activists due to their protests against acculturation—something he believed was “largely for the purposes of propaganda.” And beyond these commentaries, he proves to be equally invaluable as a representation of a steadfast activism that lacks glamour and prefers actions to words. Galarza identified the challenges of his time and repeatedly asked the central question: what to do about it?

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.

Adam Hagen recently graduated UC Berkeley with majors in Spanish linguistics and history. Adam worked as a student editor for the Oral History Center and was also a member of the editing staff of Clio’s Scroll, the Berkeley Undergraduate History Journal.

Related Resources from The Bancroft Library

The Bancroft Library has more than thirty holdings by Ernesto Galarza, including poems, books, reports, pamphlets, conference proceedings, and audio of talks and panel discussions. From the UC Library Search, go to “Advanced Search,” select “UC Berkeley special collections and archives,” and in the search field, enter Ernesto Galarza.

The Chicana/o Studies Oral History Project provides a rare, firsthand look at the development of the field of Chicana/o studies over the last fifty years, as well as unique insight into the lives and careers of the pioneering scholars who shaped it.

The Oral History Center digital collection contains additional oral histories of Mexican American activists, such as Hope Mendoza Schechter and Herman E. Gallegos. More can be found by searching “Mexican American community” or “Mexican American activism” on the Oral History Center home page.

Ernesto Galarza’s oral history is part of the Oral History Center’s Advocacy and PhilanthropyIndividual Interviews collection. Read more about the collection in the article by Lauren Sheehan-Clark, “Helping Hands: A Guide to the Oral History Center’s Advocacy and Philanthropy Individual Interviews.”

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library preserves voices of people from all walks of life, with varying perspectives, experiences, pursuits, and 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. You can find our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. 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.


Connection, Insight, Inspiration, Truth: Berkeley undergraduates reflect on oral history

“I was just one of thousands of people over the years who have done the little things necessary to create and to pass on personal narratives of the past.” —Mollie Appel-Turner 

Photo collage where numerous photos that are not individually discernible make up an image of The Bancroft Library, with grass in front and sky above.
Photo collage depicting The Bancroft Library

Introduction: Thoughts on the Production of Oral History and Its Importance

by Serena Ingalls, class of 2023

Like many of my student co-workers at the Oral History Center (OHC), I have recently graduated from UC Berkeley. Graduation from college is a major milestone, and I find myself looking back at all of my different experiences at Cal: classes, clubs, the pandemic, and my job as a student editor and researcher at the Oral History Center. My job in oral history in particular is a point of contemplation, as I’ve spent many hours in this role and it’s a unique experience that only a handful of other students can relate to. I find myself wondering, how has this job impacted me and my view of the world? How has my work in this role contributed to the field of history? 

Before closing the UC Berkeley chapter in our lives and moving on to other post-grad interests, we as the student editors took the time to reflect upon our work at the Oral History Center and what it means to us. We hope that you’ll enjoy stepping into our world as student editors in oral history, just as we have enjoyed the experience of getting to know the many fascinating individuals in our oral history archive. 

Editor’s note: Our team’s 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, writing abstracts, and more. They do the work of professional editors and we would not be able to keep up our pace of interviews without them.  

Mollie Appel-Turner: Oral History and Connection

Mollie Appel-Turner - portrait
Mollie Appel-Turner

Working for the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library while pursuing a history degree was both deeply rewarding and extremely unfamiliar. My area of interest when it comes to history has always been western medieval Europe. While there are plenty of sources from the era where people recount their life experiences, I always had an awareness of the massive separation—temporal, cultural, and physical—between myself and the speaker. At the Oral History Center, I was keenly aware that the work that I was doing on oral histories was with the ultimate goal of preserving knowledge for future generations. But for the time being, that gulf I was used to, which to me practically defined the work I did as history, was simply not present. In my time outside of work, I also spent a fair chunk of time reading people’s personal accounts. While these accounts differed in many ways from the oral histories that I worked on, as time passed, I came to see these different kinds of personal accounts as reflections of one another. I would frequently stop in the middle of my shift, cursor blinking next to a spelling error, and think about how I was just one of thousands of people over the years who have done the little things necessary to create and to pass on personal narratives of the past. The immediacy, and modernity of the accounts that I worked on at the Oral History Center, rather than widening the distance I felt between me and the medieval people I studied, made me feel closer to them in a way that I did not expect.

Mollie Appel-Turner joined the UC Berkeley Oral History Center as a student editor in fall 2021. She recently graduated with a degree in history with a concentration in medieval history. 

Shannon White: Oral History and Inspiration 

In my time at the Oral History Center, I have worked on and witnessed the publication of interviews from an innumerable variety of narrators, including artists, writers, curators, academics, conservationists, and otherwise “ordinary” people with extraordinary stories to tell. I recall the first oral history I worked on upon joining the Center: Thomas Gaehtgens, former director of the Getty Research Institute, whose interview was not only incredibly detailed but also quite interesting to read. More recently, I have helped edit interviews from the Chicana/o Studies Oral History Project, the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project, and the California State Archives State Government Oral History Program.

 As a member of the OHC’s editorial team, most of my work is behind the scenes and prior to publication. I see these interviews at almost every stage in production. By the time an oral history transcript is finalized, I have generally read through it in its entirety several times and am quite familiar with the contents; as such, I interact with oral history at multiple levels. This experience has ultimately helped form and maintain my view of oral history as an inherently dynamic, interactive record—a form of living history.

The final oral history is a labor of many people to produce, with several rounds of edits and review that heavily draw from the narrator’s own input, and as such possesses a strong sense of the narrator’s personal style: how they speak, what they consider important or even essential for understanding their stories, their sense of humor, and what elements of the initial oral interview they would prefer to keep private.

The result is a distinctively humanizing portrayal of the narrator that arises from the nature of oral history as a lightly edited, audio-based interview format. The reliance on the “oral” aspect of oral history means that, bar serious editing, the published transcripts of interviews from the OHC tend to preserve a great deal of the tone of the original audio recording, including quirks of speech unique to each narrator. My personal favorite detail is always the bracketed notes included by the transcriber to indicate when someone is laughing, a phenomenon that often accompanies the conversation between interviewer and narrator and, in my opinion, highlights the deeply personal nature of these interviews.

Shannon White in front of trees
Shannon White

By sheer virtue of the volume of in-progress oral histories I interact with, I find that in time they become almost a part of you—there are so many narrators whose words and stories I remember, and whose work I have actively sought out after encountering their oral histories. For example, I became interested in Bay Area arts institutions after reading the interview of a San Francisco Opera board member; my own undergraduate research has been informed in no small part by border theory, a concept I was first introduced to by the narrators of the Chicana/o Studies Oral History Project; and my work on the oral histories of California politicians has contributed to my awareness of the history of the state’s politics. Oral history is intimate and alive, and its existence has the unique ability to inform and inspire those who engage with it.

Shannon White is a recent UC Berkeley graduate in the Department of Ancient Greek and Roman Studies. They were an undergraduate research apprentice in the Nemea Center under Dr. Kim Shelton and a member of the editing staff for the Berkeley Undergraduate Journal of Classics. Shannon worked as an editorial assistant for the Oral History Center.

Serena Ingalls: Oral History and Insight

Before working at the Oral History Center as a student editorial and research assistant, my interactions with oral history were limited. As a history major, it was a topic occasionally mentioned in my classes at Cal. I could understand the value in oral history as a way of filling in gaps in the historical record and giving a voice to those who were excluded from the written record. After I began my work with the OHC, however, I gained a new appreciation for oral history. This change in perspective came after seeing firsthand the immense effort that goes into producing oral histories to be shared with the public, and from reading the oral histories in our archive.

At the Oral History Center, I’ve worked in two roles. One of my roles is as a research assistant. In order to promote our archive and share our interviews with the public, we post on social media about relevant historical anniversaries (25th, 50th, 75th, 100th). I research these anniversaries and then search the archive to see if we have content that references these historical events. It’s surprising how many specific events are mentioned by interviewees, so I never discount an event without checking first with the archive. If there is one event that is very historically significant and has several interviews that reference it, sometimes I’ll write an article on the subject for the OHC. My other role is as an editorial assistant. Editorial assistants are part of the process of readying an oral history for publication. Student editorial assistants have a range of responsibilities during the editorial process which include inputting corrections from narrators, writing the table of contents, and more. Editing the oral history is a collaborative process, and it can take months or even years before an oral history is fully ready for publication. Once an oral history is completed and shared with the public, all who have worked on a particular oral history know the narrator inside and out. 

The OHC has an enormous archive of interviews with narrators who have incredible insight on the history of California and beyond. Their voices provide knowledge, but more critically, they add life to these historical periods. The interviews are at times surprising, heartbreaking, and even funny, and no two interviewees have the same story. Each interview is a unique combination of the mundane and the extraordinary, just like the life of any person. 

“Each interview is a unique combination of the mundane and the extraordinary, just like the life of any person.” —Serena Ingalls

Serena Ingalls recently graduated UC Berkeley with majors in history and French. She is an editorial and research assistant for the Oral History Center. Serena came up with the idea for an article about what it’s like to work on oral histories when she worked on an article about the seventy-fifth anniversary of the tape recorder. 

William Cooke: Oral History and Truth

A few short months ago, I graduated from UC Berkeley. I have completed 12 political science courses; written dozens of sports articles for Berkeley’s independent student newspaper, The Daily Californian; struggled my way through one too many required science classes; and penned more than a few essays en route to a minor in history. 

As a journalist and student, determining and advancing truth was at the heart of everything I did. For example, in order to make a sound political science argument about the role of agency in a democracy, I could not reinvent what Harriet Jacobs wrote in her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Desiderius Erasmus had something specific to say about tyranny. What was it, exactly? Did Cal’s football team run or pass the ball more often on third down? If the United States federal government really did assume a different position towards organized labor after World War II, what evidence supports that claim? 

The answers to my own questions, or the questions my professors asked of me, had to be completely truthful. I certainly couldn’t say that I didn’t have an answer to an essay prompt.  

Oral history is a little bit different. When I first began working here last year, I couldn’t help but be skeptical. An interviewee in her eighties cannot with absolute accuracy remember her childhood years during the Great Depression, or her immediate reaction to the assassination of President Kennedy. Memory fails people all the time. A story might be true on the whole, I thought to myself, but the details might not. And what use was the answer “I don’t know?” That might be the truth, but what good is an oral history in which there are gaps? 

In short, how could a researcher possibly find use in an incomplete, possibly inaccurate story told by someone fifty years after the fact?

Of course, these questions are not on my mind as I write a table of contents or fix formatting issues on a transcript. My work can be tedious at times. As someone whose mind likes to stay busy, I don’t mind. But every now and then I will stop and think critically about what I’m reading and how it relates to my role as a student, journalist, and assistant at the Oral History Center; namely, promoting truth. 

I soon came to terms with the fact that oral histories cannot be totally accurate and that in an important way they are true. While the historian attempts to explain how people in the past saw themselves, their situation or others in very broad terms, the oral history provides insight into how a creator of history currently thinks of her past self, a valuable perspective for social scientists of all stripes. An interviewee might have felt more anxious than nervous at a certain moment in history, but how he remembers the past is also an important part of history. What good is there in knowing the true happenings if we do not know how the living, breathing makers of history think about what happened? 

And for that reason, I have come to realize that oral history isn’t impure, or less true. I do still read the oral histories I work on with a wary eye. But I don’t worry about their truthfulness like I first did back in the spring of 2022. Instead, each time I complete my portion of a project, I feel a sense of gratification for having helped keep history alive. Because true history is not a fixed thing. It lives in the minds of everyone who has experienced it. 

William Cooke recently graduated UC Berkeley with a major in political science and minor in history. In addition to working as a student editor for the Oral History Center, he is a reporter in the Sports department at UC Berkeley’s independent student newspaper, The Daily Californian.

Related Works

Serena Ingalls, Saving the Spoken Word: Audio Recording Devices in Oral History 

Mollie Appel-Turner, Shirley Chisholm, Women Political Leaders, and the Oral History Center collection

William Cooke, Title IX in Practice: How Title IX Affected Women’s Athletics at UC Berkeley and Beyond and Heavy hitters: the modern era of athletics management at UC Berkeley

Shannon White, “I take this obligation freely:” Recalling UC Berkeley’s loyalty oath controversy

Jill Schlessinger, editor, A peaceful silence: Berkeley undergrads reflect on remote employment during the pandemic

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library preserves voices of people from all walks of life, with varying perspectives, experiences, pursuits, and 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. You can find our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. 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.


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.

 


Oral History Center Releases Documentary on Famed Yale Social Scientist James C. Scott

In A Field All His Own: The Life and Career of James C. Scott

 “James C. Scott is regarded by many as one of the most influential thinkers of our time.” 

The Oral History Center at UC Berkeley is proud to release, In A Field All His Own: The Life and Career of James C. Scott, a documentary that offers an unprecedented look at the famed Yale political scientist. Created and produced by UC Berkeley Oral History Center (OHC) historian Todd Holmes, the film draws from nearly thirty hours of oral history interviews with Scott and affiliated scholars at Yale and UC Berkeley to trace the intellectual journey of the award-winning social scientist from his childhood in New Jersey through each of the ground-breaking works he produced throughout his accomplished career. Overall, the film presents an intellectual biography of one of the world’s preeminent academics, a feature that will serve as a treasured resource for students and scholars around the globe.

Graphic of James C. Scott and his books

While intellectual biographies may not be a typical genre, Scott is far from a typical academic. Over the last fifty years, few scholars have achieved such prominence within the American academy as James C. Scott. The Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University, with appointments in anthropology and the school of forestry and environmental studies, he is regarded by many as one of the most influential thinkers of our time. Throughout his career, his scholarship became a series of major interventions that impacted dozens of disciplines across the humanities and social sciences. From the strategic rhythms of peasant life to notions of resistance and the functioning of the modern state, his work continually shaped and reshaped research agendas and discourses in the academy. By his retirement in 2022, Scott stood as one the most widely read social scientists in the world – an influence and distinction that placed him, as the film title suggests, “in a field all his own.”

The idea for the documentary developed out of the Yale Agrarian Studies Oral History Project, which Holmes conducted between 2018 and 2020. The focus of that project was to document the career of James C. Scott, as well as the thirty-year history of the renowned Yale Agrarian Studies Program he founded. Those oral history interviews, which the OHC released in 2021, served as the basis for the film. Holmes had worked for both Scott and the Agrarian Studies Program during his graduate studies at Yale. His motivation for both the project and documentary was to capture Scott’s story—in his own words—for future generations. As Holmes recalls, “I had the privilege of meeting and working with Jim Scott before ever reading Jim Scott, a unique vantage point that allowed me to develop a deep appreciation for the brilliant scholar behind the books—his limitless curiosity, his wit and humor, and the welcoming nature of his intellect. I wanted to capture these qualities in telling his story. His books will be read for generations to come; it was my hope that this film could serve as a companion and allow students and scholars to get to know James C. Scott and the inspiration behind his work.” 

The film was made possible through the generous support of Yale University’s Program in Agrarian Studies, InterAsia Initiative, and Council on Southeast Asia Studies. It was produced by Todd Holmes in association with the UC Berkeley Oral History Center and Teidi Productions, a digital creations label he operates with his partner Heidi Holmes. The film is available to the public via YouTube.

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library 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. You can find our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. 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.


Saving the Spoken Word: Audio Recording Devices in Oral History

By Serena Ingalls

Seventy-five years ago, in April 1948, Ampex began to sell the first audio tape recorder commercially to the public, the Ampex Model 200. This product, a rather large and bulky unit, was first marketed towards local and regional radio broadcasters and promised to be well worth the cost due to its utility. As time went on, audio recording technology only became less expensive, smaller, and more widely available, notably with the creation of the cassette tape by Philips. The invention of audio tape recorders made a huge mark on the world, and it impacted the daily lives of many, particularly those who spent much of their time interviewing and taking notes. In the archive of the UC Berkeley Oral History Center, there are many casual mentions of tape recorders that reveal the importance of these devices, and how people thought about and experienced the recording of interviews. 

A hand turns a knob on the tape recorder. The text reads: "Presenting the new Ampex (True-to-Life Fidelity) Magnetic Tape Recorder. The great new unit that put the Crosby show on air."
Original 1948 ad for the Ampex 200 tape recorder. Image: Museum of Magnetic Audio Recording.

Sports journalist and UC Berkeley alum Glenn Dickey began his career before tape recorders were generally used in the field, so he became very skilled at taking shorthand notes. His ability to take notes and remember conversations verbatim was so remarkable that others doubted that he didn’t use a tape recorder. In his oral history, Dickey talks about tape recorders and reflects on a personal experience. “One time when Garry St. Jean was an assistant coach for Don Nelson, he had a bet with Don Nelson that I have a tape recorder hidden,” explained Dickey. “Because he’d be there when I was talking to Nelson, and he knew that what I was writing in the column was what Nelson said—he says, ‘He can’t remember all that.’”

“It is easy to say now that I can narrate the story of my life on a tape recorder before writing these memoirs down, but for millennia it was impossible and everything hinged upon the spoken word, and all traditions and all the knowledge gradually accumulated by humanity depended upon this knowledge.” — Alexander Paul Albov

Others took full advantage of the tape recorder as a memory aid. Jo DeJean, the personal assistant to Gary Rogers at the Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Company, was one such person. She recalls in her oral history that “on my ride home I would talk into a tape recorder about things that I needed to do. We didn’t have cell phones back then. Because I had all these things swimming around in my head, so I needed to record them. So that’s what I did.” This strategy is now employed by many through the means of “voice memo” features on smartphones. 

George Waters
George Waters. Photo: Pacific Horticulture.

When tape recorders became inexpensive and easily accessible, they were used consistently by interviewers. Tape recorders were incredibly useful tools for longer interviews. Sometimes during the oral histories conducted by the Oral History Center, the methodology of the interviewers makes its way onto the record through the mention of tape recorders and other tools. 

One interviewee, George W. Waters, former editor of Pacific Horticulture, became curious about the tape while his interview was being conducted. While chatting about interviewing techniques, Waters asked about what would become of the tape after the interview was done, and the interviewer, Suzanne Riess, replied “You can ask that the tape be destroyed, if you really wish.” This remark seemed to surprise Waters, and he replied, “Well, I appreciate the fact that somebody else has accepted the job of transcribing it. No, there are advantages and disadvantages [to using the tape recorder], and well, I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. It’s so rare, isn’t it, that one gets an opportunity to talk about himself to someone who’s actually interested in staying?”

Robert Harlan
Robert Harlan. Photo courtesy the UC Berkeley School of Information.

Sometimes, however, the presence of a tape recorder could create an awkward barrier between the interviewer and interviewee. Robert D. Harlan, professor of the UC Berkeley School of Librarianship (later the UC Berkeley School of Information), who also conducted oral history interviews for the Oral History Center (then the Regional Oral History Office), was asked about his experience in his own oral history. Harlan reflects that “Having been both the interviewer and the interviewee, it’s easier to be the interviewee, I think. It’s more reactive. You know, I don’t have to change the tapes and that sort of thing. [laughter]” At the same time, he recalls that one of his interviewees had difficulty in opening up because “he found the process intimidating, sticking this thing [tape recorder] in front of him, so I had to work at it. And well, you’re certainly aware of this. It can be a problem. I wish he’d been a little more forthcoming.”

Even if they sometimes initially hindered the flow of conversation between the interviewer and the interviewee, tape recorders and more modern recording devices are invaluable to the creation of oral histories. They allow for relaxed conversations that can be transcribed at a later date by someone who wasn’t present at the original interview. Recording devices and the transcripts that are produced are more accurate than one’s memory and shorthand notes as well. 

More than anything, these recording devices allow us to do what we’ve always done: pass down stories of one generation to the next. Today, the Oral History Center not only records their words, but we also record videos of the narrators. This allows us to capture the sound, rhythm, and accent of someone’s voice, which will make a new viewer of an oral history video feel as though the story is being told to them directly. Although the transcripts usually contain photos of the narrator, the additional video content shows the person in motion and the nuances of their expressions. The combination of oral history transcripts and video recordings, only possible now due to advancements in technology since the first tape recording device, preserves the stories of those in our past and present for future generations. Like a fossil preserved in amber, these histories are immaculately preserved, but rather than being a gift from nature, the preservation of oral histories is a product of evolving technology — and the extensive work of all of the interviewers, transcribers, and professional and student staff of the Oral History Center.

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

Serena Ingalls is a fourth year student in History and French at the University of California, Berkeley. She works at the Oral History Center as a research and editorial assistant.

Related Resources from The Bancroft Library

For sources related to athletics, see the Oral History Center’s project, Athletics at UC Berkeley. The Bancroft Library also holds several books written by Glenn Dickey, including Glenn Dickey’s 49ers : the rise, fall, and rebirth of the NFL’s greatest dynasty ; Bancroft (NRLF) ; GV956.S3 D518 2000.

For sources related to Dreyer’s ice cream, see the Oral History Center’s projects, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream; Food and Agriculture — Individual Interviews; and Commerce, Industry, and Labor — Individual Interviews. See also: Dreyers: history in the making. Bancroft Pamphlet Folio ; pf HD9281.U54 D7 1997.

For sources related to horticulture, see the Oral History Center’s project, Natural Resources, Land Use and Environment — Individual Interviews. See also: California’s horticultural statutes with court decisions and legal opinions relating thereto, also county ordinances relating to horticulture and list of state and county horticultural officers corrected to March 1, 1908. Bancroft ; F862.21.C2.1908. Read the Oral History Center article, “U.S. Forest Service, California Water History, and Horticulturalists in the Natural Resources, Land Use, and Environment Oral History Project,” by Ricky J. Noel.

For sources related to University History, see the Oral History Center project, Education and University of California — Individual Interviews. See also: Robert D. Harlan papers, 1947-2000. BANC MSS 2003/225 c.

About the Oral History Center 

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library 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. You can find our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. 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.


Highlights from the Natural Resources, Land Use, and Environment Oral History Project

By Ricky J. Noel

U.S. Forest Service, California Water History, and Horticulturalists in the Natural Resources, Land Use, and Environment Oral History Project

The UC Berkeley Oral History Center has a large collection of oral histories documenting the history of natural resources, land use and the environment within California and worldwide. The oral histories in the subject area record the experiences and reflections of individuals who have participated in some of the most impactful organizations within this field, such as the United States Forest Service, the East Bay Regional Park District. Additionally, this collection contains interviews detailing the history of the California wine industry, California water wars, forestry, and horticulture within the United States and abroad. 

Forestry

A glade with a wooden walkway in the foreground and stone retaining walls in the background, with a man standing in the middle of the frame, looking toward the ground.
Botanical garden, with Everett Stanford. 1952. Fritz, Emanuel, Photographer. Fritz-Metcalf Photograph Collection. Bioscience, Natural Resources & Public Health Library.

One of the highlights in this expansive and broad collection includes several interviews with individuals from the early days of the United States Forest Service. The interviews detailing the history of forestry could be very useful to someone who wants to trace the evolution of the forestry industry. In addition, if one is working on something involving University of California history or the history of the U.S. Forest Service, particularly in the first half of the twentieth century, these interviews, among the many others present in the collection, would be an invaluable resource for that research.

My personal recommendations for this area would be an interview with Emanuel Fritz, who was a very early practitioner of the forestry field in the United States. He attended Yale School of Forestry and eventually made his way to the University of California in the 1920s, where he became involved with redwoods and assisted the U.S. Forest Service with their second-growth investigation along with other projects of that nature. He also discusses his political experience, particularly his involvement with the California Forest Practice Act of 1945 and his work as a consultant for the Legislative Forest Study Committee in 1944. Another recommendation would be our interview with Edward Kotok who was a researcher for the U.S. Forest Service as well as the assistant chief in charge of state and private forestry work. Some of the highlights of his interview involve him discussing his role as the assistant chief, relationships with Congress, ties between American and European forestry, arguing against the transfer of the U.S. Forest Service to the Department of the Interior, and helping to keep forestry at UC Berkeley. 

Water

Harvey Banks stands near Governor Brown, who has a shovel. Both are wearing suits and standing amidst shrubs, with a valley and hill in the background.
Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown tossed the traditional first shovel of dirt during the 1959 groundbreaking ceremony for the Whale Rock Dam Project – the first major dam constructed and designed by the Department of Water Resources (DWR). Director Harvey O. Banks (left) joined him for the event. Photo: DWR

Another incredibly useful and relevant resource in this collection has to do with the history of the struggle over California’s water. Anyone interested or researching the history of California, the impact of the Los Angeles Aqueduct on the Lone Pine region, the California Water Project, irrigation, the United States government’s involvement with water in California and the evolution of the California Water Wars would do well to check out some of these interviews in this collection. Some of the ones I find most interesting and useful would be an interview with Frank Adams, a irrigation specialist who was the author of Bulletin 21, Irrigation Districts in California but also was part of the investigations into the irrigation of California from 1910 to 1924 and was involved in the redrafting of the Soil Conservation Act and the Central Valley Project. In regards to the California Water Project (1955–1961) there is an interview with a key developer of the project, Harvey O. Banks, who reflects on the development and financing of this endeavor, as well as his term as director of the California Division of Water Resources and his work on water-related legislation, such as the Davis-Grunsky, Burns-Porter and San Luis acts. 

Horticulture

Gerda Isenberg coming out of a doorway of a small wooden building. There’s a sign that says “office,” and plants in pots along the side of the building.
Gerda Isenberg at the Yerba Buena Nursery. Photo: Yerba Buena Nursery

A unique aspect of this collection involves the interviews with horticulturalists. While these interviews might at first glance seem a bit niche in their focus, they offer valuable insights into small businesses in California, horticulture in California in the mid century, California regional history, and the development of plant societies such as the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens. Interviews that stand out to me in this collection include Edward Carman who ran Ed and Jean Carman’s nursery beginning in 1946 and was an active member of the Los Gatos community, Wayne Roderick, a senior nurseryman for the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden from 1960 to 1976 and Gerda Isenberg, a humanitarian and owner of the Yerba Buena Nursery. 

These interviews are among the many that are excellent resources for researchers looking to understand more about the environment, particularly the environment in its relation to conservation groups, water, and education. The Oral History Center’s Natural Resources, Land Use and the Environment – Individual Interviews  is a collection of roughly a hundred interviews ranging from oral histories regarding the Sierra Club, United States Forest Service, California Wine Production, California Water Rights and the East Bay Regional Parks District, among many other unique, insightful personal commentaries that give insight into some of the most important aspects of the environment in the United States and abroad.

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

Ricky J. Noel is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, with a major in history with a Latin American concentration. During his time at Berkeley, Ricky worked with the Oral History Center as an editorial assistant. 

Related Resources from The Bancroft Library

Newton Bishop Drury and the Legacy of the Save the Redwoods League” by Deborah Qu.

Gerda Isenberg papers, 1931-1990. Consists of correspondence, writings, speeches, reports, interviews, subject files, clippings, a scrapbook, photographs and ephemera. BANC MSS 94/210 c.

Harvey O. Banks. Federal-state relations and the California water plan. Bancroft ; 1956?? ; F862.25.I49.

Emanuel Fritz papers, circa 1900-1988. BANC MSS C-B 728. 

Forestry photographs from the Emanuel Fritz papers. BANC PIC 1987.057–PIC.

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library 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. You can find our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. 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.


Hon. Kevin Murray: California State Assembly (1994-1998) and California State Senate (1998-2006), oral history release

New oral history: Hon. Kevin Murray

Video clip from Kevin Murray’s oral history about his political role models and becoming more a legislator than a politician:

Black and white photograph of Senator Kevin Murray wearing a suit and tie
Hon. Kevin Murray in the early 2000s as a member of the California Senate

 

Kevin Murray represented regions of Los Angeles as a member of the Democratic party in the California State Assembly (1994-1998) and in the California State Senate (1998-2006), until he retired due to term limits. Murray and I recorded over five hours of interviews about his life and career in May 2021 as part of the Oral History Center‘s contributions to the California State Government Oral History Program. Murray’s oral history reveals ways he capitalized on opportunities as they arose throughout his life. In the process, he became an influential leader in the California Legislature, including as chair of the state’s Democratic Caucus and the California Legislative Black Caucus.

Many of Kevin Murray’s life stories reflect a kind of American dream narrative for Black middle-class families in Los Angeles. Murray was born in the spring of 1960 in the westside community of View Park, where he still lives and now raises his own family. Both of Murray’s parents graduated from college, and around the time of his birth, Murray’s father transitioned from work as an aerospace engineer to working in Los Angeles city politics and eventually in state politics. Around that time, their View Park neighborhood experienced white flight, which according to Murray resulted with an influx of middle and upper-middle class Black families of doctors, lawyers, dentists, and political figures who became his role models. At his parents’ insistence, Murray attended elite Los Angeles middle and high schools. During college, while earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from California State University, Northridge, Murray began booking music and entertainment acts on campus. After graduating in 1981, Murray’s college entertainment experiences led to him start work in the infamous mail room at the William Morris Agency in Beverly Hills. While working at William Morris, Murray earned a Master’s in Business Administration from Loyola Marymount University in 1983, and in 1987, he earned a Juris Doctor from Loyola Law School. Prior to his political career, Murray provided consulting and management services to artists in the entertainment industry while also practicing law in the areas of entertainment, real estate, insurance, and dependency.

Due to his father’s work in L.A. politics, Murray recalled as a child attending barbecues and breakfasts at the homes of legends in California politics like Big Daddy Jesse Unruh and Black political leaders like Mervyn Dymally, Julian Dixon, and Tom Bradley. From his young exposure to powerful politicians, Murray learned they were simply people, not intimidating icons. Eventually, Murray came to believe, rightfully, that he, too, could become a political leader. When an opportunity to run for the California Assembly arose in the early 1990s, Murray seized that chance and won his first election to the California Assembly in 1994. His father was, by then, also serving in the Assembly, which made them the first-ever California Assemblymembers to serve as father and son.

Video clip from Kevin Murray’s oral history about California’s North-South power politics:

Murray described himself as more of a legislator than a politician. In the Assembly, Murray worked with Speaker Willie Brown and quickly became a leader who, over the next twelve years, served in both the California Assembly and Senate. Murray was elected as a Democratic member of the California State Assembly from the 47th District in Los Angeles from 1994-1998, where served as Chair of the Transportation Committee. In the California State Senate from 1998 to 2006, Murray represented the 26th District based in Culver City, California, and served as chair of the influential Appropriations Committee, the Transportation Committee, the Democratic Caucus, and the California Legislative Black Caucus. Murray also served on the California Film Commission.

Most of Murray’s oral history explored his years of political work in Sacramento where he passed numerous bills, including one of the nation’s first laws on identity theft (AB 157, the Consumer Protection: Identity Theft Act); bills on “Driving while Black”; education bills to address the digital divide and ensure California students had access to the internet (then called “the information superhighway”); bills protecting victims of domestic violence; a bill protecting houses of worship from hate crimes; and many others, including a bill eventually vetoed by Governor Pete Wilson that would have enabled Californians to register to vote online, to sign a petition online, and to vote via the internet as early as 1997.

While Murray’s oral history details his legislative efforts, he also reflected broadly on a variety of topics, including key differences between the California Assembly and Senate; on influential committee assignments; on intra-caucus relationships between the Black Caucus, Latino Caucus, API Caucus, and the Women’s Caucus; on North-South power politics in California; on his distaste for term limits and the importance of legislative staff; and on his political role models. Murray concluded his oral history with brief a discussion of his post-legislative life in Los Angeles with his wife and their two children, including reflections on the 2008 election of Barack Obama and the Black Lives Matter marches of 2020.

Video clip from Kevin Murray’s oral history about intra-caucus relationships in the California Legislature:

About the California State Government Oral History Program

Kevin Murray’s oral history was conducted in collaboration with of the California State Government Oral History Program, which was created in 1985 with the passage of AB 2105. Charged with preserving the state’s executive and legislative history, this state Program conducts oral history interviews with individuals who played significant roles in California state government, including members of the legislature and constitutional officers, agency and department heads, and others involved in shaping public policy. The State Archives oversees and directs the Program’s operation, with interviewees selected by an advisory council and the interviews conducted by university-based oral history programs. Over the decades, this collective effort has resulted in hundreds of oral history interviews that document the history of the state’s executive and legislative branches, and enhance our understanding of public policy in California. The recordings and finished transcripts of these interviews are housed at the State Archives. Additionally, Kevin Murray’s oral history is available online in the Berkeley Library Digital Collections.

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library 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. You can find our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. 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.

Video clip from Kevin Murray’s oral history about California Senate and Assembly differences and good committees:

Video clip from Kevin Murray’s oral history about term limits for California legislators and the role of legislative staff:

Hon. Kevin Murray, “Kevin Murray: Member of the California State Senate from the 26th District, 1998–2006.” California State Government Oral History Program. Conducted by Roger Eardley-Pryor in 2021, Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2022.