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Sharing Stories of Manzanar, J-Town and All Relations
by Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida
Rafu Column June 16, 2004

Stories, stories, stories! Much of my community involvement over the past 12 years revolves around J-town, my volunteer work with the Manzanar Committee, and Great Leap, a nonprofit theater organization where I happen to work.

I recently noticed that the common link in my activities is in the sharing of personal stories and experiences. Allow me to give a short plug for three projects, including two publications that debuted this Spring, and a story-gathering theater project that culminates in July.

Stories of Manzanar:

For the past two years, I've been working to publish a 47-page poetry ‘zine, “Keep it Going... Pass it On: Poetry Inspired by the Manzanar Pilgrimage.” Topics range from the impact of incarceration at Manzanar, experiences at the Manzanar After Dark evening program, to racial profiling following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This project was funded in part by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program (CCLPEP) and Japanese American Community Services (JACS).

Included in the ‘zine are 23 contributing poets, songwriters and community people whose poems, song lyrics and spoken word pieces come from well-known poets Lawson Inada, Al Robles; and talented spoken word artists such as traci kato-kiriyama and Yukiya Jerry Waki. Voices of former camp internees include Jim Matsuoka, the Rev. Paul T. Nakamura, and Mo Nishida. Camp-related song lyrics include “On Mars” by Lee Takasugi of Visiting Violette and “Manzanar Bushi” by Nobuko Miyamoto.

Sharon Yamato and Martha Nakagawa joined the editorial team, helping to complete the ‘zine, beautifully designed by Randall Momii. Sharon, Martha and I spent the last year soliciting and tracking down poets, editing poems, collecting bios, selecting photos, and the like. We are planning upcoming poetry readings, book signings and a public program at the Japanese American National Museum on September 18.

To order a copy, please make checks payable to the Manzanar Committee and mail to P.O. Box 9489, Marina Del Rey, CA 90295. The anthology is $10 per book. Shipping and handling is $3.00 for the first copy and $1.00 for each additional copy if shipped to the same address. For more info, email manzcomm@yahoo.com or visit www.manzanarcommittee.org.

Stories of J-Town:

The second project is a 158-page collection of personal stories and experiences about LA’s J-town, called “Nanka Nikkei Voices III: Little Tokyo - Changing Times, Changing Faces,” published and edited by the Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California (JAHSSC).

The book is the third publication of the JAHSSC and includes 56 stories, capturing anecdotes and slices of Japanese American life in Little Tokyo, and records personal stories and voices of Nisei, Sansei and Yonsei. Stories range from Nisei memories growing up on First Street before and after the war, small family businesses in Little Tokyo, development of community churches and institutions, and, redevelopment in the 70s, just to name a few. My own story, is about my childhood memories of eating at the revered Far East Café, which I published in a previous column last Fall.

It was such an interesting project for me to be involved with, because it is a living collection of history, written by people that I know personally, much more vivid and touching than what you might find in a fact-filled history textbook of Little Tokyo, if there was such a thing! It is a broad spectrum of stories that show the birth of Little Tokyo over the last 100 years, and its evolution to what it has become today.

To order a copy, send a check to JAHSSC, P.O. Box 3164, Torrance, CA 90510-3164. The price is $17 each plus $3 shipping, plus $.50 for each additional copy up to 6 copies. For more info, call (310) 324-2875.

Stories of Relocation, Repatriation and Deportation:

The third project is “To All Relations: Sacred Moon Songs.” It is a theater piece created by Great Leap and directed by Nobuko Miyamoto, that has evolved out of story gathering workshops with members of the Japanese, Mexican, African, and Muslim American communities.

The theme of this project surrounds the middle passage of Africans, the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II, the repatriation of Mexican Americans, and the current deportation and detainment of American Muslims since 9/11. The project is a collaboration of community and professional performers and aims to find the spiritual traditions that sustain us.

What I love about this project is the way it empowers everyday people to become involved in the creative process. From writing exercises that create poetry, to movement exercises that create theater, it is such a liberating experience for people who might not necessarily consider themselves to be performers, but who light up a stage with their personal stories and experiences.

This 3-phase project began in Fall 2003, and culminates with a full moon on July 30, 31 and August 1 at the David Henry Hwang Theater in Little Tokyo. Ticket prices are $50 VIP donor tickets (includes Opening Night reception and reserved seating), $20 general admission, and $15 discount tickets for children under 12, students with ID, seniors (65+) and groups of 10 or more. Tickets are available online at www.greatleap.org/tar/tar03_sms/tickets.html. For more info, contact vidhya@greatleap.org or call (213) 250-8800.

I hope that your interest in any of these stories might be piqued from these quick descriptions. I believe that by sharing stories with future generations, we can understand the past, and use those experiences to learn from in the future. If you have questions, or would like to talk to me about any of the projects, feel free to email me at kuidaosumi@yahoo.com.

Jennifer “Emiko” Kuida is an arts advocate, activist and writer in the Japanese American community, and is the Managing Director of Great Leap. Opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo. © 2004

Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, June 16, 2004.

Updated: 9/5/04

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