Collecting Nisei Stories


The Collecting Nisei Stories project serves to inspire Nisei, younger generations, and others to write their family stories.  Our hope is to share with future generations the injustice of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans to ensure that history not repeat itself ; and to learn from the strength and courage of those who experienced it.

Collecting Nisei Stories seeks to encourage other former camp prisoners to tell their own stories; and to gather the incarceration and resettlement stories before they are forever lost.  It  reflects the successful community-based workshop model in the publications From Our Side of The Fence (Kearny Street Workshop 2001) and Making Home from War (Heyday, 2011) – demonstrating that twelve Nisei with little writing experience could develop powerful and well-crafted memoirs.

This collection of stories, published here on-line for the first time, offers fleeting memories rediscovered by community writers and reflections of the impact the wartime incarceration had on their lives.  The stories were developed through intergenerational writing workshops facilitated by Brian Komei Dempster that were held in Berkeley and San Jose in 2011-12.  The workshops provided participants with the structure and guidance they needed to excavate their memories and describe them with elegance and skill,  and the benefit received from the support of community in this emotionally demanding yet empowering process.

Younger family members were encouraged to participate as collaborators, strengthening bonds and communication between generations. The project showcases the power of collaboration – between community organizations, former camp prisoners, and their families – as a model by which participants can unearth long silenced histories, heal from the telling, and record history for future generations. We offer writing tools, visual imagery suggestions, and educational tools to support writing collaboration in families, in community settings, and in the classroom.

In the aftermath of World War II, more than 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry – roughly two-thirds of whom were American citizens – were released from forced imprisonment in U.S. concentration camps. But released to return where, after being taken from their homes along the West Coast? When they were finally allowed to leave the internment camps, they faced a new challenge: How do you resume a life so interrupted.