In September, a group of 50 mostly Japanese Americans from Chicago headed to Los Angeles to experience JACL Chicago’s highly anticipated Kansha, Too! program.
Kansha, Too! is an adapted version of the Kansha Project for participants over 25. Kansha, Too! explores the history of the Japanese American WWII incarceration and its continued legacy in the Japanese American community.
The itinerary included a reception at the Japanese American National Museum, where JANM CEO Greg Kimura welcomed participants; tours of the historic Little Tokyo neighborhood; workshops exploring different aspects of the incarceration experience; and a day trip to Manzanar guided by the knowledgable NPS Park Ranger Rose Masters. The program sparked ideas, connections, and conversations that will continue beyond the program. Here are a few of our participants’ reflections on their experience.
The Lost Generations – Roy Yamamoto
Kansha, Too! – Elinor Hanasono
You, Me, and the Lessons of Kansha – Karen Kanemoto
A Reflection of Kansha, Too! – Gary Yamagiwa
You can also read their reflections in the November-December 2015 issue of the Chicago JACLer.
by Roy Yamamoto
Our Japanese-American parents and grandparents can probably be considered the lost generations, as they lost their livelihood during World War II when they were rounded up and put into detention camps.
It was as if they were put in jail without due cause, as the camps were in the desert where they could not escape, where they were enclosed by barbed wire, and where they were watched by armed sentries in guard towers. They did not do anything illegal – their only crime was looking like the enemy.
I often wondered why some of our elders seemed to take it all in stride, seldom complaining or being bitter, and being the ‘silent majority’. All I could figure is, that it can be traced to how the people in Japan consider conformity to be the norm. One doesn’t want to stand out and be a rebel.
So our grandparents, the Issei, trusted the US government as doing what it had to do. They were embarrassed that their home country attacked the US. They suffered the consequences of having Japanese ancestry by relinquishing all their belongings, valuables, and savings, giving up their hard earned jobs, and being looked down upon and losing all their friends, neighbors, and customers. After the camps, most would never go back to the west coast.
Our parents, the Nisei, similarly had to take things in stride. Since they lost the chance to get degrees in higher education, they had to take menial jobs, starting all over and working hard to prove they were loyal citizens. At the same time, they also had to put on a good face to their children and raise us to be loyal Americans.
They could not have us being bitter at the country we were being raised in. They had a faith that we could do at least as well as our grandparents did and maybe get into college, get a better education and get good jobs, and go further as they had tried to do. They wanted us to attain the American Dream.
Being a Sansei or third generation, some of us have been shielded from knowing what they endured in their lifetime. Our parents never talked much of what they went through. As a result, we do not fully comprehend what they sacrificed or the discrimination they faced as a result of what is now called racial profiling.
One cannot imagine what it was like, unless it is personal. So, when the Kansha, Too! tour to Manzanar, California was offered this year, I thought this was my chance. Although Manzanar was only one of the ten camps that the 120,000 Japanese-Americans were interned in, I would be able to experience first-hand how my ancestors lived.
Their ‘homes’ were fashioned after army barracks intended for men only. The barracks were divided into 20 x 25 feet quarters where 8 people had to sleep or study in, with members of other families, and no privacy. We learned the barracks were hastily built with green wood which would dry up leaving gaps so big, the stars in the sky could be seen at night. I was barely able to withstand the 100 F heat, the constant blowing of the 50 mph winds, and the taste of dust on my food or the grungy feeling of my dirty skin.
How would you feel after being hoarded away from civilization for years? How would you cope after being released and given only $25 ($350 in today’s equivalent) and told to go find a job and housing even though few would hire you if you didn’t have a degree, or rent an apartment to you because of how you looked? It was a sobering feeling to learn this. It was like going ‘back to my roots’.
During the workshops, I got to hear of JACL’s efforts to prove the injustices the US had done to its own citizens through the Redress Movement. Congressional bills were passed for the US government to issue a public apology to admit its wrongdoing, to acknowledge what it had done was unconstitutional, and to ensure that it will never be done again to any other ethnic group in the future. Senator Dan Inouye and others, along with JACL leaders Bill Yoshino and John Tateishi, and the testimonials of many of those affected, were instrumental in achieving this triumphant, though bittersweet moment.
The significance of this is that since it is not documented in school textbooks, people can now visit a National Park, see exhibits, and experience the internment camps. It is now a part of history.
For me, it was like going home, to understand where I came from, to say thank you to my parents and grandparents, and to realize my responsibility to pass on what I have learned. I found the names of my family members and others who were in the camp. They are now etched forever in stone and in records at the exhibit and in the museum. What they lost will not be forgotten.
by Elinor Hanasono
Sincere gratitude to JACL Chicago for extending the opportunity for some of us from Indiana (Hoosier JACL) to experience Kansha, Too!. It was fun and meaningful to experience Kansha, Too! with a group of Japanese Americans.
The walking tour of Little Tokyo provided deeper insight into its history and importance to Japanese Americans. I gained a deeper appreciation for the crucial role the Little Tokyo community and institutions such as JANM play in preserving and enriching our cultural heritage.
The welcome reception and workshop presentations helped prepare us for our visit to Manzanar. Each of us who lived during WWII owns very personal and unique stories and experiences of that period, and our perceptions of Manzanar were seen through the lens of individual recollections and emotions as well as what we’ve heard and read. As we walked the dusty grounds, ate in the hot mess hall, and visited bleak barracks, I was most struck by the constancy of discomfort, indignities, and uncertainties faced by those who lived here during the war. Although there was little relief, little control, and little hope in the harsh, desolate setting, I witnessed evidence of the tenacity and strength of human spirit in creating beauty (like gardens) and in making the best of a terrible situation.
Our final stop at Manzanar was the cemetery. I was reminded that much was lost here, including lives. Also lost were precious time, freedoms and civil rights, property, relationships, and dreams. We owe thanks to those who came before us, left an admirable legacy, and endured.
by Karen Kanemoto
A Chinese American friend from Minnesota once told me that when she first arrived in Chicago, she looked around and thought, “Wow! So many Asians!” Her sister, who lived in Oakland, came to visit a few months later and exclaimed, “Wow! Where are all the Asians?”
So where are all the Japanese American Chicagoans? Here in the Midwest, we are a stealth ethnic group; we leave very little physical evidence of our presence. Japanese Americans typically have to make an effort to interact with other Japanese Americans. Thus, it was mildly discombobulating to spend a few days in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, this September to participate in the Chicago JACL’s Kansha Too program, a full-immersion overview of Japanese American history, community, and activism. Where, one mused, are all the non-Asians?
A comparison of LA and Chicago may be one of apples and oranges, but that’s what we do. A walking tour of Little Tokyo revealed both the power of place and the power of a concentrated community. Here’s a building erected by a Japanese American church; there’s a residence rehabbed by a Japanese American community service organization. Underfoot, embedded in concrete, is a timeline tracing the history of the neighborhood. One wonders where in Chicago might Japanese American real estate acquisition, construction, and public pedagogy occur on a comparable scale. Given our numbers, demographics, and history, would we be able to muster the unity of vision – not to mention the cash – required to undertake a major project of any magnitude?
Nevertheless, it’s good to be reminded every so often what unity of vision can achieve. Workshops on camp life and Japanese American identity explored what we share and what should bring us together. A fascinating workshop on the Redress movement was an in-the-trenches case history demonstrating how dogged work and steady focus brought a historically significant goal into reality.
Then there was Manzanar. You think about the Isseis and Niseis in your life – moms, dads, grandmas, and grandpas – at home in Chicago, mowing the lawn, going to church. Then you envision their younger selves among the barracks and mess halls of the anti-Japantowns that were Manzanar and the other WRA camps. Was it resignation or resolve that kept them going? Was it resignation or resolve that compelled them to furnish their meager living quarters, recalibrate their perceptions of normalcy, and go on to build parks and monuments in the wilderness? Can you really chalk it all up to “shikata ga nai”?
Channeling kansha – gratitude – into action is not easy. We have much to think about and much to be thankful for. Here’s the easy part: expressing appreciation for the organizational work of Christine, Bill, and the Kansha Too committee; the contributions of our LA hosts and facilitators; and the encyclopedic knowledge and generous spirit of Ranger Rose Masters of Manzanar. The hard part will be figuring out how we, as individuals and a community, can draw from our shared experiences and make our presence in Chicago and the nation known in a lasting way.
by Gary Yamagiwa
Way back in the early ’80s, I really had little knowledge of redress or reparations for the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans. I was just trying to figure out the teenage mind as a teacher at Senn High School. But I was fortunate to become good friends with Alice Esaki, who began to teach me about the redress movement and one day told me, “You’ve got to go to Northeastern and listen to the hearings. This is a great opportunity! Don’t miss it.” Well, I did what I was told and stood in the back of the hearing room and listened and learned. As I walked away, my head was spinning and I was exhausted. But I was pretty sure of one thing, “Nothing will become of this all…”
On the way to Kansha Too!, I was excited. As a parent of Kansha Project participants, I had heard fabulous stories about the entire experience. It turned out to be all that and more.
After an informative walking tour of Little Tokyo led by six all-star guides, we settled in to hear the words of June Berk and Min Tonai about their relocation experiences. It was so very real, listening to their stories about camp life. It was inspiring to be with people who lived the incarceration experience and took the time to share themselves with others. And it took me back some thirty years and shook loose some long-forgotten memories.
The fourth presentation of the day was John Tateishi’s journey through JACL’s Redress Campaign. He presented a detailed, personal account of the strategies and actions of many of the key players as they worked their way through the labyrinths of governmental bureaucracy. I was sitting on the edge of my seat, mesmerized by the description of the process as it unfolded. Although I already knew the ending, John’s story was as exciting as any I’d ever heard. I soon realized that in my youth, I begrudgingly believed that the government that imprisoned JAs had tried to right a wrong. Through John’s story, I learned that the apology was really due to a dedicated group of people who would not take “No” as an answer. It made me grateful for the efforts of all those people that worked on the Redress Campaign.
The next day we left for Manzanar. I had been reminded of much already and as our trip transitioned from the mind to the spirit, this pilgrimage gave me opportunity for personal reflection. As I walked the grounds, I realized that I could be walking the same path that my father walked in 1942. I looked out towards Mt Williamson like many others did in ages past. I discovered the names of persons I knew in the camp rolls. It had been a great trip! And I became more appreciative of all who lived in the camps and left the camps and then showed us how to live life with dignity and grace.