2013 Participant Reflections
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Voices of the New Generation: A Yonsei Reflection
Created by Lane Mita, Anna Takada, and Hatsumi Yoshida
Generations of Community and Activism
Created by Midori Bowen, Robin Kanemoto, and Kenji Negi-Tran
Kansha Project Reflections
By Marc Oda
One of the most important factors in characterizing my personal identity is my cultural heritage and background. Through the Kansha Project, I’ve learned a great deal about Japanese American culture and what my role is in the community as a Japanese American citizen. Before the Kansha Project, there were few areas for me to grow in my understanding of my Japanese studies. Though I had always showed interest in my family history, opportunities to take part in the Japanese American community were rare. My grandparents gave me memorable stories and wise insight concerning their past as Japanese Americans, and I had abundant resources to study my cultural past. However, I lacked a spark to motivate me to be active in the Japanese American community. Through the Kansha Project, several events over the course of the weekend impacted me significantly and changed the way I view my identity as a Japanese American.
Hearing the stories and memories of the 442nd veterans was a humbling and encouraging experience for me. Despite being forced into the incarceration camps and facing harsh racism of the time, many men in the camps had joined the U.S. military voluntarily to prove loyalty to America. Not only did these men volunteer in the face of racism, but they proved to be one of the most successful combat teams in U.S. history. The veterans’ stories revealed the horror of wartimes and the toll it takes on soldiers. But through their stories, my respect for military serviceman of the past and present greatly increased. Not only did the Japanese Americans serve in the European theater of World War II, but they also served in the Pacific. One of the veterans we spoke with, Hitoshi Sameshima, served as an interrogator for the MIS in the Pacific, and he noted that members of his family were fighting on the opposite side of the war as part of the Japanese Imperial Army. His service to America struck me because he was willing to face his own family for the U.S. The success and valor of the Japanese American veterans showed the perseverance and dedication of the JA community and the stories I heard from the veterans encouraged me to take pride in my JA heritage.
During the Kansha Project, I was also able to connect more with my identity as half-Japanese, half-Caucasian, or my “Hapa” identity. Professor Welty discussed the nature of Hapa culture and how it can be very different from Japanese, and even JA culture. Growing up, I knew very few, if any Hapa Americans, but through Professor Welty, I learned that the mixed race community is actually quite large and growing. The increasing number of Hapa people also means the Japanese ethnicity is being diluted through mixed race marriage. However, I learned this dilution of biological heritage does not mean Japanese culture must die out. Instead, as a half-Japanese American, it is my duty as well as the duty of other Hapa Americans to maintain sense of cultural identity and preserve the traditions of our culture. Even if the Japanese culture is diluted in the future, Hapa people can pass on the Japanese culture to future generations as long as they make an effort to learn about their past and connect with the JA community.
Visiting the Manzanar internment camp also had a profound impact on my view of Japanese American culture. The conditions at the camp were physically harsh, and vastly different than the environment of the city. Not only were the physical conditions rough, but the camps also caused emotional rifts in the Japanese American community. In the early years of the camps, riots occurred, family life was dissipating, and distrust built between JA’s in the camp. However, I was greatly encouraged by the determination of the Japanese Americans in spite of the difficulties. A common phrase in the camps was “shikata ga nai,” or “it cannot be helped.” Because their situation in the camps could not be helped, the JA’s made an effort to improve the living conditions. The formed clubs, made gardens, went to school; through the experience, the Japanese Americans showed incredible resilience and diligence. Touring the barracks, exploring the desert, hearing the stories; my experience at Manzanar gave me a taste of what my grandparents had to go through as children, and I developed a much greater respect for the previous generations of Japanese Americans.
My identity as a Japanese American has always been important to me, but I never fully understood the sacrifices and experiences previous generations had to endure in the past, and how those events shaped the JA culture of today. As a result of the Kansha Project, I have a new and reignited respect for my grandparents and other Japanese Americans who grew through the trials of America’s past. I also saw the significant impact of being part of a community through Kansha, and the trip has motivated me to take a more active role in the Japanese American Society. I hope to educate others on the terrible effects of racism as well as the importance of community so America can avoid the mistakes of its past. Thanks to the Kansha Project I have found new meaning and purpose as a Japanese American which I can use to stay involved in the community and instruct others.