This year I am an intern for the South Bay JACL and have been tasked with revamping and revitalizing the South Bay Oral history project. 16 years after its initial start, not much has been done with these oral history interviews. My job includes finding additional platforms for these interviews to be accessed, posted, and shared. I would like to expand the collection of oral histories that the South Bay JACL has by interviewing and recording more stories of Japanese Americans living in the South Bay. Similar community organizations have their own versions of oral histories and making these interviews more widely available is important in the preservation of the history of Japanese Americans
This entire process has been a great learning experience. Many of the interviews touch upon life in the concentration camps during World War II. These interviews, coupled with additional research has taught me a lot about Japanese American life before, during, and after the war. I think that the highlight of this whole project was finding the oral history of my great grandmother. Although I’ve heard a few stories from her and other family members while growing up, I didn’t really remember much about them. I was able to really paint my own picture of her life and experiences while also learning more about Japanese American history. I found out that my great-great grandpa was one of the first publishers of the Rafu Shimpo and also helped start the Japanese hospital in East Los Angeles. I also discovered that my family’s legacy with USC started with my great-great grandpa and continued on to my aunts and uncles. After the war, my family was lucky enough to return back to their hometown where one of their neighbors stored the family belongings in their basement, and they were able to readjust pretty quickly. The oral history continues on to talk about my great-grandma’s life, her growing family, and her community involvements. Listening to my great-grandma’s oral history made me feel closer to her because I never really got to ask these questions and learn about her life while she was alive.
Learning more about my family’s past has given me a greater appreciation of everything my family has done as well as a better understanding of what Issei/Nisei Japanese American life was like. I am fortunate enough to have my great grandmother’s oral history to listen to and share with my family. However, those who lived in the camps are getting older, so it is even more pertinent to hear, record, and preserve their stories. Not only are these interviews important for remembering family history, they serve as a learning tool to educate people about Japanese American lifestyles as well as the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. The incarcerees experienced a critical aspect of Japanese American history and those stories need to be shared.