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April 2017

eTorch

Hanashi Oral History Project: A Different Perspective

Hanashi
As a member of the archives department at Go For Broke National Education Center, I recognize that the Hanashi Oral History program is one of the pillars on which this organization was built. My position at Go For Broke would not exist without the Hanashi program. It is a direct part of my daily routine, in one way or another. I have largely functioned behind the scenes by cataloging, indexing, and working to ensure the interviews are preserved for centuries to come.

Recently, however, I gained some hands-on experience with the Hanashi Oral History program. On March 11, 2017, I joined long-time Hanashi volunteers Robert Horsting, Tim Yuge and Erika Jones in Santa Fe Springs to interview 442nd RCT veteran Fernando Sosa along with his brother and Army 1st Cavalry Division veteran, Frank Masuda, at Fernando's home. With my car full of camera and AV equipment, I drove towards Santa Fe Springs having little idea of what to expect. I felt as though I knew the Hanashi interviews front and back from my work with them. I remember the backdrops, the questions, and it had even gotten to the point where the voices of some of the more frequent interviewers were burned into my memory. Yet, I felt inexperienced and out of place next to Robert, Tim, and Erika. The three of them had worked hundreds of interviews prior to this one, and it was apparent. While I fumbled in "helping" with the equipment, they plugged away with preparing both the equipment and the interviewees for the occasion. Joining Fernando was his daughter Joanne, while Frank was accompanied by his daughter Maureen. Rounding out the group was a niece, Judi, who Joanne dubbed "the family historian."

We eventually packed ourselves and all the equipment into a cozy room in Fernando's home and began the interview. Over the next seven-plus hours of interviewing, the atmosphere in the room ranged from uplifting to emotionally overwhelming, and the two overlapped for much of the time. While I recognize that this interview was a bit of an anomaly in terms of story, background and family involvement, I was still caught off-guard by the sheer, raw emotions that were expressed in that room.

Tears would lead to laughter and vice versa. While I had heard on so many occasions that these oral history interviews involved the veterans sharing so many stories and memories that their loved ones had previously never heard, seeing the revelations in person was more powerful than I could have imagined. Frank shared the few memories he had of his father, who died when he was a child. He even sang a few of the Japanese nursery rhymes he remembered his father singing to him as a child. Fernando choked up while recalling securing projector parts to help German prisoners watch a movie because he felt sorry for them. He then revealed that after this act, one of the officers shook his hand and handed him Corporal stripes, which was his best memory of the war.

Judi Masuda (Frank and Fernando's niece) summarized the interview best. Exasperated and wiping tears from her eyes, she uttered, "I think I will need at least two days to rest after this."

Hearing Fernando tell the story of finding out he had Japanese ancestry while enlisting in the military is something that jarred me. I knew that fact prior to the interview, but it struck me even more to hear him recall his expectation to be assigned to the Navy or non-segregated infantry like his older brothers to only be told that he was joining the 442nd because he had Japanese ancestry. The real gem was the detail he included about a friend asking him why he was walking towards a group of Japanese American enlistees; he could only reply by simply shrugging his shoulders and responding that he was told to join that group. Overall, I think it is astounding that a man learned such a shocking fact about his ethnicity, a huge part of our identities as people, and then immediately went off to war, not knowing if he would come back.

When I left Fernando's home that evening, I had gained a new perspective on what encompasses one of the Hanashi oral history interviews. In my role as an archivist, I had mainly come to view the interviews as a collection because my responsibility is to preserve and share all of the interviews. This time, however, I had the privilege of making a special memory with a single interview and all of the great people involved with it, and I believe I am all the better for having experienced it.


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