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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THE ORAL HISTORY CENTER

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LISTEN TO EPISODE 1 ON SOUNDCLOUD

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tsuru for Solidarity protesters: sounds fade out.

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

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

Theme song fades in.

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

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

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

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

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

Theme song fades out.

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

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

Soundbed: Tsuru for Solidarity drumming fade in.

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

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

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

Soundbed: bells fade out. 

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in.

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in.

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in.  

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

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

Katayama: Redress helped break these intergenerational silences. 

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in.

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out.

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in.

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out.

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in.

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out.

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in.

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

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theme song fades in.

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

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

Theme song fades out.

END OF EPISODE

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LISTEN TO EPISODE 2 ON SOUNDCLOUD

 

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

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

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

Theme song fades in.

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

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

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

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

Theme song fades out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

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

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in.   

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M. Takahashi: So no wonder they were tense. 

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

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

Ukai: That is just burned into my childhood memory. 

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

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

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

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

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

Vox pop:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katayama: Here’s Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder again. 

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

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

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

Katayama: But not everyone agrees. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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END OF EPISODE




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LISTEN TO EPISODE 3 ON SOUNDCLOUD

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katayama: So Susan found belonging elsewhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katayama: That’s Miko Charbonneau. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vox pop:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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END OF EPISODE




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LISTEN TO EPISODE 4 ON SOUNDCLOUD

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Katayama: But this can bring complications, too. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katayama: This didn’t sit well with Nancy. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

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

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

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

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

Vox pop:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

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

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

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

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

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

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

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

Katayama: Here’s Hanako again. 

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades in. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soundbed: instrumental music fades out. 

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

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

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

Theme song fades in.

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

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

Theme song fades out.

END OF EPISODE

 


“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.