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The 2017 participants and organizers of the JACL’s Youth Legacy Program gather for a picture along with National Park Service staff in front of the monument at the Manzanar National Historic Site in California’s Owens Valley.

Enthused by the experience of taking part in JACL’s newly established Asian Pacific Islander Youth Legacy Program, one of the participants said, “This experience has been more amazing than I could have imagined. Although I am not Japanese American, I have felt so welcomed in this community and program.” Another participant exclaimed, “An impactful, very important lesson and story that needs to be shared, taught and remembered.”

On July 25-28 and again on Aug. 8-11, 40 Asian American youth from throughout the United States ventured to Los Angeles to take part in the JACL Asian Pacific Islander Youth Legacy Program (YLP), which was held at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.

The program provides Asian Pacific Islander youth with the opportunity to learn about the World War II incarceration experience through four days of classroom presentations and tours that includes a trip to Manzanar. The 40 participants were selected from a pool of 67 applicants from 19 states.

The YLP classroom sessions included a presentation on the history of incarceration by former JACL Midwest Regional Director Bill Yoshino, the impact of incarceration and the Redress campaign presented by Go for Broke President and CEO Mitchell Maki and personal accounts of the camp experience by June Aochi Berk. In addition, Alison De La Cruz presented a workshop on storytelling to prepare the participants to present their reflections about the program and the Manzanar visit during a debriefing session on the program’s last day.

Tours were arranged to acquaint the YLP participants with aspects of Japanese American history. Alan Nishio from the Little Tokyo Service Center and Stephanie Nitahara, interim assistant executive director of JACL, led the group on a historic tour of the Little Tokyo neighborhood. Kanji Sahara guided participants through the displays at JANM, and the participants also took a self-guided tour of the Go for Broke National Education Center.

The day trip to Manzanar proved to be a highlight of the program. The four-hour bus ride to the Owens Valley was supplemented with videos about Manzanar and the incarceration. Manzanar Superintendent Bernadette Johnson arranged the itinerary for the participants.

Following lunch at the Manzanar mess hall, Alisa Lynch from the National Park Service provided commentary and information about two reconstructed barracks and the newly installed women’s latrine and shower facility.

The participants also had an opportunity to tour the Interpretive Center prior to visiting Merritt Park (Pleasure Park), the largest of the gardens constructed by the incarcerees. The tour ended with a visit to the cemetery and monument.

One participant, Kristy Ishii, provided an insightful account of her visit to Manzanar.

“ … I wanted to learn more about the incarceration outside of my family’s limited views, and I did. I didn’t come here to feel hollow, sad and angry, but I did. Hollow because the physical spaces in which these prison camps existed are completely barren. Sad because of how many hearts were broken or torn apart within one single camp. Angry because I can see how the camp mannerisms have been instilled in my family customs and passed down the generations. Don’t make waves, don’t waste food, don’t speak Japanese, become a lawyer or doctor. These characteristics describe my parents’ generation. But, what will become of the fourth, fifth, sixth gen?” she asked.

Yoshino, Nitahara and Rebecca Ozaki planned, coordinated and facilitated the YLP, which was funded through a $100,000 grant from the National Park Service.

Also in attendance during the program were George McDonald, manager of NPS youth programs based in Washington, D.C., and Amanda Rowland, NPS coordinator for youth programs in the Pacific West region.

The 2018 YLP will be expanded to offer a paid internship at Manzanar.