How can lived experiences of bearing witness for educators inform and enhance a more lived curriculum for their students?
“It is important to remember that this is the story of our community…This unique opportunity to retrace and relive the interment journey with survivors goes right to the heart of developing a social studies curriculum with depth. It is with a background of having relived the history with those who have lived it that we can authentically bring it to life for our students.”– Bill Covert, Wilkes Elementary
“It has been a very meaningful experience, and I know the images, the sense of place, the sharing of experiences, and my growing awareness and insights will enhance my teaching of this history. I am very grateful for having had this opportunity.”– Shelley Minor, Sakai Intermediate School
What might this journey mean to the participating Japanese American citizens who experienced exclusion?
“Standing at the exact spot where our family lived in Block 3 and to see the surrounding archaeological remnants of our one-square-mile concentration camp helped me fill in the missing pieces. To see and feel the empathy and dedication of those who were not incarcerated who were with us, gives me hope for the future when we, as primary sources, are no longer physically here, that our stories will live on.” – Frank Kitamoto
“To see and visit Manzanar….I better understand the burden my mother, and other adults, carried to keep the children content, and most of all to leave us with no bitterness.” – Lilly Kodama
Our 2009 delegation included teachers from Wilkes and Briedablik Elementary Schools. Our second delegation involved a partnership with Sakai Intermediate School. Our team of four from Sakai was accompanied by returning community members Kazuko “Kay” Sakai Nakao, who was 22 years old at the start of the internment, along with Frank Kitamoto and Lilly Kodama, who were 3 & 7 year old siblings, and Mary Woodward, daughter of former Bainbridge Review editors, Walt and Millie Woodward. Her book, “In Defense of Our Neighbors”, like last year, served as a valuable local source for our teachers. We were also honored to have retired BISD teacher, Hisa Matsudaira, join our delegation.
This year we partnered with Sakai, not only because of the school’s namesake, but because, at 90 years of age, Kay Sakai Nakao was returning to Manzanar for what might be her last time. The team from Sakai included Principal Jim Corsetti, 6th grade teachers Shelley Minor and Kris Hotchkiss, and school librarian Kathy Ellison. Accompanying Kay on this trip were Jo Vander Stoep, former Sakai Principal, and Kay’s son Bruce, his son Zack, and his wife Marilynn, who all had not been to Manzanar. Jonathan Garfunkel of Global Source Education, and Katy Curtis from the BI Historical Museum, organized and facilitated the delegation. We also received the incredible support and involvement of the National Park Service Staff at the Manzanar Historic Site.
The different mix of individuals has made each journey unique. At the Manzanar Historic Site, Sakai educators followed Kay, Frank, Lilly and Hisa as they walked the steps from where the site of their barracks at Block 3 were, over to where the shower room, laundry room, and toilets had been. Hisa, who speaks of how protected she was by her parents, (she recalls playing despite the circumstances) crouched down low into a little ball to demonstrate how she remembered trying to avoid the harsh wind and stinging sand. She led a few educators on a mission and found tumbleweed to roll, and chased the prickly ball across the dusty path. During our time two days at Manzanar, our community members gave a public presentation to visitors and the local community of Independence, CA about life on Bainbridge before internment, and life at Manzanar, and its impact on their lives.
In the presence of her family, and current and former Sakai staff, Kay Nakao shared her memories of leaving Bainbridge and her family being incarcerated at Manzanar. Bruce said before this trip he had not been as connected to Manzanar since he was born in Minidoka. Afterwards, he felt part of the story. He said that “hearing the colorful comments like of the weather, and the dust storms …(and) understanding what my parents and their friends went through, was an enlightening and moving experience.” Kay’s grandson, Zack shared that his visit brought up feelings of anger about the injustice his family experienced. When he put himself in his grandparents’ shoes, Zack said he thinks he would have been furious. When asked what the students of Sakai should be learning about the internment experience, Zack said, the sense of “dignity, and the strength of his grandparents as they endured this hardship.” Bruce was glad to have had the chance to be there with Zack and Marilynn, “We feel so blessed to have been there with my mother. She has such stamina!”
This delegation was special in the way it helped to strengthen the Sakai School legacy. As one of the few schools in the country to have a Japanese American namesake, and a namesake so tied to the Island’s history and heritage, it was quite special to have the direct descendents of the Sakai Family on this journey. Sakai School educators brought home powerful lessons learned from this shared experience of bearing witness. All of the members of the delegation felt fortunate to experience this journey, and bring their passion, these stories, and an enhanced awareness back to Bainbridge. As Shelley Minor shared, “It has been a very meaningful experience, and I know the images, the sense of place, the sharing of experiences, and my growing awareness and insights will enhance my teaching of this history. I am very grateful for having had this opportunity.”