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ESSAY: Mari Okumoto

by Mari Okumoto
April 2020, Volume 70, Issue 4

[NOTE: Mari Okumoto is one of the 2020 recipients of a Shiro Kashino Memorial Scholarship. She is the daughter of Angela and Yuji Okumoto and the niece of Rian Ebesugawa.   Mari attends Shorewood High School and plans to attend either USC or UW to major in Business Finance.]

Nisei veterans are very important to me and where I come from. As a Japanese American, I educate myself on the history of World War II. My grandparents were a part of the Japanese internment camps as young kids; hearing their stories and the struggle they faced drove my curiosity even further. In every history class, when World War II came up, I would jump at the chance to ask as many questions about the Japanese Americans. Doing many of my school projects got me more involved in this community. Hearing the descriptions of the conditions the Japanese Americans lived in made me imagine how bad it must have been for my grandparents. 

My uncle Rian was a big reason for the spark of interest. I remember helping him with all of his projects for the NVC museum. Each item he introduced to me came with a great story. Ever since then, I have always gone the distance to learn everything I could about Nisei Veterans and their family’s lives. 

As time goes on, there are fewer veterans alive to tell their stories. Coming from experience, I asked my grandma about her experience with relocation and living in camp as much as I could when her memory began to disappear and eventually, she passed away. I think it is crucial that the Nisei veterans share their stories to continue the “legacy.” The more stories we can get to pass on to future generations will allow us to preserve the honor of the men that sacrificed or risked their lives for this country.

Along with the fighting they did for the US, they forever changed the definition of what it means to be a Japanese American. Receiving so much hate and prejudice from society but continuing to humbly fight to gain respect for themselves is something I am beyond grateful for. While their families were stuck behind barbed wire, their loyalty for the US never wavered. That generation put everything on the line so that generations like mine could have such a great life.