Doing oral history interviews with Japanese American elders is a favorite part of my work. An interview gives me the opportunity to go back in time as narrators share their stories, thoughts, and feelings when they were children, teenagers, and young adults. Not only do I get to hear great stories, but I learn so much from their wisdom of living a life into their eighties or nineties.
Last month, Lillian Horita welcomed a Densho camera crew into her home and shared memories of being incarcerated at the age of twelve. Stories and emotions that she had guarded and kept to herself for decades emerged. It was a difficult, but powerful interview and I commend Lillian for her courage in opening up to us. I also celebrate Lillian’s interview because it marked the 900th one that Densho has collected. Thanks to these 900 brave souls, we’ve created a collection of powerful testimonies that will be used for generations to come.
In the past month, I’ve also seen some very concrete ways that these interviews are making a difference in the world today. In preparing for the gala, we solicited testimonies from the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of our interviewees. The responses we received were incredibly moving--and showed that the stories we recorded teach important lessons about racial justice and equity. Take this one, for example:
“With the racial profiling that occurred in WWII and what my grandparents have told me, I am more aware of racial profiling today. In high school I had a lot of friends that are Muslim and with the racial profiling that was going on, I was more aware of the situation and more sensitive about it.” - Carly Yamaichi, 24, granddaughter of Densho interviewee Jimi Yamaichi
We’ve made similar discoveries in our efforts to create curriculum for students. In that work, we have collaborated with other Seattle-area heritage organizations and through a series of intensive workshops have come to the clear conclusion that personal stories and narratives need to be at the heart of anti-racist curriculum. Why? Because hearing first-person stories from victims of discrimination and racism is simply the most effective way to help children understand the impacts of racism.
900 powerful community stories available from our website to anyone in the world is a wonderful testament to our work over the past 20 years. We hope you agree.