How to Use Our Website and Books in Classrooms
To highlight the significant features of the Nisei Stories website and our books, From Our Side of the Fence and Making Home from War, we share suggested approaches and strategies for teachers and students in the classroom. The books have been used in Asian American studies, literature, and writing courses at colleges and universities, including DeAnza College, Diablo Valley College, U.C. Berkeley, and the University of San Francisco.
I. Humanizing History: The Power of First-Person Narratives
History courses that have changed the lives of students not only present relevant facts and statistics of a certain historical period but also highlight stories of those who were part of that history. The collection of stories on this website offers first-person narratives of the Japanese American experiences before, during, and after World War II and expands access to a treasure trove of incarceration and resettlement stories.
- Our stories give a human face to the facts, show the impact of imprisonment and resettlement on multiple levels: individual and familial, financial and geographical, emotional and psychological.
- Our stories reach a young audience, because the pieces are written by those who were children and teenagers during the World War II era.
- Moreover, through the writers’ development of plot, character, setting, and interior conflict, the stories transport the reader through place and time into buses and trains, barracks and camps, dust storms and blizzards, unwelcoming neighborhoods and uprooted homes.
- The pathos of these stories creates an emotional pull; we don’t merely understand history; we feel it, envision it, and become immersed in it.
II. Reimagining History: From Past to Present
One powerful way to use this book is as a tool for reimagining history. The following example gives one classroom scenario that can serve as a template for others:
You are an instructor of a history, literature, or some other type of course and are interested in demonstrating the consequences of incarceration on Japanese Americans. In particular, you want your students to understand the material and emotional impact of Executive Order 9066 on Japanese Americans and, consequently, of being uprooted from their homes.
As a first step, have your students read the following stories: “My Dog ‘Teny'” (From Our Side of the Fence, p. 52-53) and “The Tanto” (Making Home from War, p. 102-105) by Yoshito Wayne and Sally Noda Osaki along with Mary Ann Furuichi’s “Lucky and the Horned Toad” (from her longer story “To Topaz and Back”) and Sumiko Higaki’s “Everything Gone” on this website.
After your students have read these stories, discuss how and why they were effective. Ask your students about what moments and details moved them and why. See if your students can make any connections between the writers’ experiences and their own. For instance, you can ask if they have experienced the loss of a pet or significant object and if that affected them and/or their families as it did the writers.
Once you have discussed the reading, you can then use this prompt for writing and/or in-class discussion:
Imagine you, like the narrators of these stories, are told that you have to leave your home in the next twenty-four hours. You will be taken to an unknown destination for an unknown amount of time. You can bring only what you can carry in two suitcases. What would you choose to bring and why? What would you be forced to leave behind and why?
In the process of doing this exercise, you can have students work individually, writing down their answer to both questions in two separate columns, or you can place your students in small groups in which they must answer these questions as if they were a “family” confronting these decisions.
Once your students have finished, you can reconvene the whole class to discuss their answers. Certain answers will often overlap and you can discuss the implications–for example, if a number of your students say that they would bring photos, journals, or clothing, you can discuss why those would be high priorities. You can also point out complications that might ensue, for example, if one of your students wants to bring a luxury item like a computer or cell phone. For one, those items didn’t exist during World War II! But, even more significantly, your students need to consider if there will even be the basic survival necessities in their new “homes,” such as electricity, laundry, and running water.
III. Exploring History: Further References and Research
Beyond providing helpful readings and dynamic classroom exercises, our books and this website offer other important resources: maps and photographs that accompany the stories and give a visual representation of the writers’ journeys; video clips of the writers reading their stories; tables that consolidate important historical information; and annotated bibliographies that outline extensive resources on both incarceration and resettlement. These resources offer multiple avenues for both instructors and students to pursue further research on projects and essays and offer visual aids that can be incorporated into classroom presentations.