Manzanar: What You Get, Only If You’re There

By: Eri Kameyama, PSW District Staff

I woke up at 5AM this past Saturday to get ready for the long drive to Manzanar, the incarceration camp that held thousands of Japanese Americans from the Los Angeles area.

I was partaking in the Annual Pilgrimage program organized by the Manzanar Committee and the National Park Services, being a participant along with the rest of the Bridging Communities Program. Bridging Communities, now in its fifth year, has always made a trip to Manzanar; bringing the Japanese American and American Muslim high schoolers to this historical site. This year, there were 9 Bridging Communities students, 3 program leaders, and 5 family and friends who went together as a group. We caravanned in 3 cars and made the four hour journey from Little Tokyo…

When I first learned about the Japanese American camps, I was a junior in high-school, and I recall seeing this photo of children behind the barbed wires. In the background were the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Since then, I’ve learned so much more about the history and heard personal stories of Manzanar. I’ve probably seen a few dozen photos of the camp and always noted the beautiful mountain range that sat at the backdrop of this prison camp.  Therefore, it didn’t surprise me that I knew exactly when we were near Manzanar because I recognized these mountains from miles away.

I was the most moved when I saw the monument in the cemetery because it was no longer just a story or a just a picture in a textbook. It became a lived experience being at Manzanar in near 100-degree heat. As I sat through the program in the beating sun, I thought, “for me, it is just one day, for the incarcerees, it was as long as three years.”

Wilbur Sato, a former incarceree, gave us a tour of what was left of Manzanar. He showed us a site where a garden used to grow and where a small pond used to be. A garden! In the middle of the desert! To me, this was the sign of resilience of the Japanese Americans. To thrive and the make the best of what is given. The Japanese mentality of shikataganai turning into the will power to survive, ganbarou.

Wilbur Sato leading us on a tour of Manzanar

Wilbur Sato leading us on a tour of Manzanar

Although it was not easy driving almost 8 hours round-trip to be a part of this pilgrimage, I do not regret the experience. Many things can be learned through textbooks and oral-histories but physically being at a site where history occurred is an emotional experience that can only be understood by being there. I truly hope that the Bridging Communities participants gained something valuable from this mini road trip. I sure did.

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Tuna Canyon Preservation Efforts

“Two minutes please”

By: Nancy Takayama, PSW District Staff

tunacanyon

Last month I was asked by a former CSUN student who was asking on behalf of a California State University at Northridge (CSUN) faculty member, if the San Fernando Valley had a Japanese American history tour.

It was an interesting thought and I answered, No. I had met this student while working on a research grant with the CSUN Asian American Studies, the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center and the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Citizens League.

We interviewed 20 Japanese American Nisei (second generation). The project was to uncover, research, collect and document the lost and forgotten existence of the Japanese and Japanese Americans in the San Fernando Valley, prewar and post war: The lost and forgotten history

Try going to the library or public records. You will find little or no records that the Japanese lived the San Fernando valley. It was through the oral histories collected and the research that were we able to discover that there were 132 Japanese American produce and flower farmers. Since they couldn’t own the land (Alien Land Law), they had to lease it, thus no records.

After WWII broke out, the Japanese and Japanese American families were removed from their homes. It was decades later, 3 decades for my family before they would talk about the removal, the relocations camps and the assembly centers. It took 60 years before the 20 oral history interviewees agreed to talk and record their personal stories about life before, during and after camps. With the discovery of the detention station internees are coming forward.

This detention station is part of our forgotten, lost history. This detention station and the stories that go with it are an integral part of U.S. history from 70 years ago. Let’s remember to not lose or forget the Japanese American part of U.S. history.

The San Fernando Valley has no historical sites representing the Japanese and the Japanese Americans in the valley.”

On Thursday, April 18th in Room 1010 of the Los Angeles City Hall the Cultural Heritage Commission met to vote on the Historic-Cultural Monument Application of the Tuna Canyon Detention Stations site.

The Tuna Canyon Detention Station “operated as a gateway to internment for civilians of Japanese, Japanese Peruvian, Italian and German descent. From its opening until May 1942, 1,490 Japanese males passed through the camp and were transferred to other internment camps…” (http://www.rafu.com/2013/04/commission-to-vote-on-monument-status-for-tuna-canyon-detention-station/)

More than a dozen community members came out to speak in support of designating the site as a Historical Cultural site. JACL Pacific Southwest District Governor, Ken Inouye, PSW District board member, Kanji Sahara and San Fernando Valley JACL board member and SFV Japanese American Community Center President, Nancy Oda.

Ken Bernstein, AICP, Principal City Planner Office of Historic Resources summarized the Los Angeles Department City Planning Recommendation Report stating “That the Cultural Heritage Commission not declare the property a Historic-Cultural Monument”.

The Cultural Historical Commission voted to support the City Planning Report not to support designating the Tuna Canyon Detention Station as a Cultural Historic Monument. The Cultural Historical Commission will now take their recommendation to the City Council for their vote. The application for designation will require 10 votes to pass.

What’s our next step if council votes against the Cultural Historic designation?

-Working with Councilman Alarcon in finding ways to create an educational and appropriate display of the detention station. The Cultural Historic Commission has required him to meet with the property owners.

-Check on other Historic Cultural designations on a State or Federal level.

JACL Pacific Southwest District and the San Fernando Valley Community Center will continue the efforts to save Tuna Canyon Detentions Station history.

For more information about the Tuna Canyon Detention Station, please view the following websites and documentation.

View a documentary short by John Newcombe on the Tuna Canyon Detention Station, “Rancho La Canada” (http://www.gcvoice.org/current-projects/vhgc.htm)

What Does Historic-Cultural Monument Status Mean?
http://www.preservation.lacity.org/commission/what-does-historic-cultural-monument-status-mean

Katarou Histories Session Progress

by: Eri Kameyama

The brand new inter-generational oral history program, Katarou Histories, is off to a great start! On June 14th, as students were finishing up classes and finals and getting ready for summer, 14 participants gathered on the hot evening at San Fernando Valley’s Japanese American Community Center for their first session of the program.

On the first day of the program, 8 high school and college youth as well as 6 adults (ages 40+~89!), kibei-nisei, sansei, yonsei, gosei, and shin-issei came together in one space to discuss and share their identity as Japanese-Americans. As they listened to others’ stories and defining moments in their lives that brought them to this program, participants were able to connect with one another despite the age differences.

My personal favorite moment of the day was when the oldest member of our program shared memories of his female friends playing with hagoita (new year’s badminton-like game) in kimonos. He said, “the girls had to hold their kimono sleeves so that it wouldn’t get in the way when they hit the birdie!” Can you imagine having to play badminton in a tight kimono with long sleeves and wearing a geta on your feet?! I thought it was such a cute memory to share with us.

I am so excited to see this program develop! It’s our first EVER multi-generational program and it looks like it’ll be a great success. This week’s session is on API/JA history where they’ll place their own family histories into the larger API narrative for a non-traditional way of learning our communities histories! Will keep you all updated on the sessions so check back soon!