Behind the Scenes of “The Monterey Welcome”
June 2, 2022
In Fall of 2021, Dr. Chrissy Yee Lau taught a class, SBS 364: The Japanese American Internment Camps, that focused on podcasting as an avenue for telling stories about the incarceration experience of Japanese Americans during World War II. For their final project, students created a podcast episode on a topic of their choosing and based upon research of primary and secondary sources. CSUMB students Amanda Gaffney, Christian Rota, and Sat Kartar Khalsa completed a podcast entitled “The Monterey Welcome” that was published in the Otterpod in March of 2022. Below is an interview between Dr. Lau and the student podcasters in the spring of 2022.
CYL: Please introduce yourselves to our readers. What is your name, your major, and why did you decide to take SBS 364: The Japanese American Internment Camps?
Amanda Gaffney, Marine Science. I took the class because I had only briefly heard about the internment camps in the past and I was interested in learning more about them because it always seemed like the topic got swept under the rug in history.
My name is Christian Rota. I’m a Mathematics major with a teaching concentration. I decided to take SBS 364 because I wanted to learn more about Asian American history in California and the United States. The camps as Amanda noted weren’t as discussed in high school, so I wanted to know more about the more shameful side of American history.
Sat Kartar Khalsa, SBS major. I took the class to both fulfill requirements and because it sounded like an interesting part of recent history with a local connection. I also enjoy learning about Japanese art and culture.
CYL: How did you decide on the topic of your podcast project? Why a focus on formerly incarcerated Japanese Americans returning to Monterey after WWII?
SK: I was initially interested in the connection between the incarcerees, wartime translators, and the local language institute. Through our research and the local historians we connected with as part of the project, the focus changed. Through the interviews we learned about the farmers and the fishermen. The historians had so many interesting stories; it was difficult to edit down to what became the finished product.
AG: I agree with Sat. I was initially interested in the topic because we were able to speak about local history, but after meeting with the historians and learning about the fisheries and the farmers, the story became much more interesting.
CR: There was definitely an initial desire to focus on the local area and history. It would make stuff more interesting with events taking place in the local area, and we thought it would connect better with the CSUMB audience. The story itself was suggested by Dr. Lau, but we became deeply invested in the events of the time as we researched more and more.
CYL: Tell us about your research process. What was your favorite part or most difficult part of the research process?
SK: The Monterey County Free Library has a number of books that are relevant to this topic, including books featuring local families. MCFL also has microfilms of some publications at the Seaside Library. There were some technical limitations to that process, including open hours and the limited patience of my new baby. I then learned that there is also a free catalog of historic papers available on-line through the Monterey Public Library (I believe it is California’s first free public library). I would love to see a digitally searchable version of these resources some day.
Even with this easier online access, it helped a lot to have the publication and date of the welcoming petition as a starting point. From there I could search forward and back to find relevant related articles. It was fascinating to see the war news condemning the ‘Japs’ on the front page, then further on in news clips and letters from locals defending the more local Japanese Americans, especially those enlisted. I found the overt writing about harassment and racism surprising - my assumption being that these were unpopular opinions at that time and therefore would be even less likely to be published. Seeing the editor jump in when the fight went to the letters to the editor, I felt a little proud that this local publication was on the ‘right’ side of history. https://monterey.org/services/library/education___research/historical_newspapers.php
AG: My favorite part was being able to virtually meet with historians who had so many different stories and so much knowledge on the topic. I was able to first get in touch with Tim and Larry by contacting Sandy Lydon, who had written a book on the topic called The Japanese in the Monterey Bay Region: A Brief History. He ended up being unable to meet with us due to a timing conflict, but he encouraged us to reach out to Tim Thomas, the curator of the museum at the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) Hall in Monterey and Larry Oda, the former national JACL president, because they are both experts on the topic
CR: I agree with Amanda. The interview with Tim Thomas and Larry Oda that we had over Zoom was the most exciting part of the research process since they were so knowledgeable and had so much to share with us. Larry was a former JACL president and had a lot to share about the Japanese presence around the Monterey area, while Tim was a fisheries historian and really helped us understand how important the Japanese were to Monterey’s fishing industry. We’d gone in with some general questions prepared about the petition, but as the interview went on we delved deeper into the life of Japanese Americans and the other residents of Monterey way back then. Our questions just kind of developed as we listened. We asked stuff like, What happened to this person after this event? How did they feel when this happened? How did this affect the wider community? It was all super spontaneous and exciting.
CYL: What were some challenges as well as positive aspects when creating the podcast script and audio?
AG: Shortening the podcast was definitely the biggest challenge for us, but we also occasionally had a hard time getting everyone’s schedules to line up. The original zoom recording was almost two hours long and we had to go through it multiple times to find the most significant pieces so that we didn’t use more than about 8 to 10 minutes of their audio.
CR: I did a lot of the audio editing, so learning how to do that with Audacity was definitely a challenge. As for scripting, looking through all the information we’d acquired and trying to organize it all together was a fun process and a good test of our storytelling skills. A lot got left on the cutting room floor, but I’m really proud of the podcast episode that we made with what we kept.
SK: I think the biggest challenge was getting the final recording short enough. There were so many interesting stories and resources to explore. We wanted to share it all. Given the time requirements, however, we had to really narrow down our topic and focus on just one smaller part of the story. Hopefully future groups will be able to shine light on some of the details we had to omit or gloss over.
CYL: What do you hope listeners will take away from your research on Japanese American Incarceration? Or, what are some lessons from your research that can be applied to today?
AG: A lesson I learned from working with this topic is how moving it was to find out that people from our own community put themselves at risk so that the Japanese Americans could return home. Especially having the opportunity to speak with historians who specialize on the topic and have ties to the community, it gives you hope that if anything like this were to ever happen again, there will always be people willing to help.
CR: I hope that our episode succeeds at getting listeners as interested in the story of Japanese Americans in the United States as I am now. The United States is super diverse, and its people all have different backgrounds and histories that are all unique and worth hearing about. They should take the opportunity to listen to the stories about the past because it might help keep them more informed for the future.
SK: Be flexible. Sometimes the research takes you somewhere unexpected, and not sticking to your original idea and using the new direction you’ve discovered can make the end product better. As far as lessons from the movement go, I think it’s interesting to look at a movement (like the petition) that is both far enough in the past to allow perspective and current enough to… still be relatable, understandable. I think people try to judge social movements as right or wrong, successful or unsuccessful before there is adequate time and perspective. They can give up too soon, or be dismissive of the counter-argument and dig-in without really trying to understand the big picture. I think there are people that can afford to take risks and then there are people who understand when we can’t afford NOT to take risks. Either way, seeing people putting the time in to publicly take a position, to take that risk, is inspiring. I think, especially in circumstances like these, it’s important for those in a position to be able to speak up to do so.