Lawson Inada's Group Activities

Excerpt: Activities 1 and 2 (Full content available in the Viewer's Guide)

  1. Who are you?-Identifying yourself.

    Make a list or write a couple of sentences. Who are you? What are you? What is your identity?

    An example might be, "I'm Vincent Wixon, out of Andrew and Martha Wixon, out of Miles and Florence Wixon and Elma and Grover Cleveland Whitlatch. From the British Isles, via NY, to Iowa, to Minnesota. Farmers mostly. But now I'm a westerner and a teacher." Someone else may write about her gender, astrological sign, her personality; another person might emphasize her uniqueness, her race or nationality, her interests, her friends, her faith.

    After writing, participants share with the group, which leads to a discussion of different ways of presenting an identity. For example, there are many ethnic groups, not just the visible ones. As a result of the discussion, those in the apparent majority realize they are not so "generic," and those in the obvious minority see different ways of connecting with others. All see ways people have of defining or identifying themselves, many of them not as convenient as race. As Inada says, "Everybody is somebody. In a way, all this stuff about different races is kind of a lie, because there's a human race. And actually we're just different breeds." Institutions often find out about people by having them fill in forms and check boxes with terms like White, Black, Asian, but who we are is more complex and personal than that.

  2. What will you carry? - Getting in the historical mode.

    Inada reads parts of the evacuation order ("Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry") reproduced below [click to view Evacuation Proclamation]. Item 2 under "The Following Instructions Must be Observed" states the following:

    Evacuees must carry with them on departure for the Assembly Center, the following property:

    1. Bedding and linens (no mattress) for each member of the family;
    2. Toilet articles for each member of the family;
    3. Extra clothing for each member of the family;
    4. Sufficient knives, forks, spoons, plates, bowls and cups for each member of the family;
    5. Essential personal effects for each member of the family.

    All items carried will be securely packaged, tied and plainly marked with the name of the owner and numbered in accordance with instructions obtained at the Civil Control Station. The size and number of packages is limited to that which can be carried by the individual or family group.

    All items carried will be securely packaged, tied and plainly marked with the name of the owner and numbered in accordance with instructions obtained at the Civil Control Station. The size and number of packages is limited to that which can be carried by the individual or family group.

  3. No pets of any kind will be permitted.
  4. No personal items and no household goods will be shipped to the Assembly Center.

Inada then says, "Pretend that you receive this order, and you know that you've got a short time to get out of here. And you know where you're going to be shipped to first-the county fairgrounds. You can read what you have to carry. So what else are you going to take beyond your basics like toothbrush, your basic toilet articles and bedding, linens, knives and forks. Toy with this. Make a list of, say, three to five things. What else are you going to carry?"

In the ensuing discussion, students tell some of the things they're going to take-CD's and player (Lawson reminds them that record players weren't small in 1942), books (Bible, Shakespeare's works, for example), blank book (journal, diary), musical instuments, balls, picture albums (Inada: "Pictures? Oh, you better believe it. My mom had a stack of albums. You can't replace those. They're not worth anything in a way, but they're invaluable.") Most of the items are for remembering, contemplating, creating, expressing, and playing.

Another step in this activity can be to have participants list five things they will miss. Inada says, "I do this exercise with my class before we read about the camps, because you begin to take it personally. You can relate to it. You take it personally that you can't take your pets. You begin to worry about school. What grade will I be in when I come out? You begin to worry about your addictions-Pepsi, gum, chocolate. And you begin to appreciate what you've got."

Perry Kishaba, who teaches Social Studies/Language Arts to eighth graders at Riley Creek School in Gold Beach, OR, created a hands-on variation of Inada's activity. As part of an internment camp unit, after reading Farewell to Manzanar, the students were given a day to choose items that they could fit into a duffle bag or suitcase. The next day they brought the items into class and presented them.

Another related activity for getting in the historical mode is to talk and write about what Lawson Inada calls your "relocation and dislocation." How many times have you moved? How many schools have you gone to? How does it feel to adjust to a new city, home, school, people? This activity can also be useful after reading "The Legend of Lost Boy" and "The Legend of Home."