by Tamiko Nimura
I met Yonsei Kimiko Marr through social media and an online network of Japanese American activists and pilgrimage organizers. The network has become so active that over the past few years, I forget that we’ve never met in person. So perhaps it’s perfect that this virtual connection led me to this conversation with Kimiko over e-mail, as she’s in the middle of a massive online undertaking in Summer 2020: “Tadaima!,” an online series of events (both live and prerecorded) intended as a virtual pilgrimage for the Japanese American community.
According to the website, Tadaima! is “a collaborative undertaking that brings together representatives from many different parts of the Nikkei community as well as scholars, artists, and educators committed to actively memorializing the history of Japanese American incarceration during WWII.” Participants have been treated to a dazzling array of options for weeks, including an online film festival, cooking shows, lectures and presentations, book club discussions, and more. The partnerships range across the country, collecting the experiences and organizations of Japanese Americans and seeing the Japanese American experience in a multifaceted, wide-angle lens that few “single-camp” pilgrimages can offer. The offerings have been recorded and are available through the Japanese American Memorial Pilgrimages YouTube channel.
Kimiko Marr was gracious enough to speak with me over e-mail about the virtual pilgrimage, which still has a few weeks to go. (Our conversation has been lightly edited and rearranged for clarity.)
Tamiko Nimura (TN): We’re over halfway through the summer and through Tadaima! How has it been for you?
Kimiko Marr (KM): For me, it has been incredibly stressful but also very rewarding. I love hearing the feedback we get about how much pilgrims are learning or how elders are opening up and talking more about their experiences. Connecting with so many Nikkei all over the world has really been amazing!
TN: Can you walk us back a bit—you’ve been working on and with pilgrimages for a few years now. What is it about them that draws you to work on them? Was there one pilgrimage, year, or event that especially gave you the impetus for Tadaima? (I want to know more about the story of this particular project—where you were, if there was a series of a-ha moments or meetings that really sparked this project.)
KM: It took me a couple years to truly understand why I love pilgrimages so much—I simply found my community. Growing up in Missouri, there were no other Japanese Americans around and only a couple of Asian Americans. I always felt on the outside. Being mixed race also adds to that. When I went to my first pilgrimage (Minidoka 2016), I immediately felt like a part of the group. I was accepted and understood on a very basic level and in turn, they helped me to understand myself.
I have to say, the major motivation for “Tadaima!” for me, has been the elders. They are a precious resource that we are losing every day. We cannot take them for granted and we cannot just say “Okay, we’ll wait until next year.” In my experience, a pilgrimage offers two important things to our elders, a chance to tell their stories—knowing we younger generations hang on every word—and hopefully, an opportunity for them to feel appreciated and understood for who they are and what they’ve been through.
TN: You’re in California now—when did you arrive there from Missouri? How long have you been there now, and how did you find community when you arrived?
KM: My family moved to MO from the Bay Area when I was 6. We moved back to CA when I was 15. I really didn’t find my community until I started going on pilgrimages and by that time I must have been 40?
TN: How did the [National Parks Service Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS)] grant come about, and the pivot to all-virtual? Or was it always going to be all virtual, pre-COVID-19?)
KM: We got the grant back in 2018. The original project was to attend the various pilgrimages, record interviews, and post them on our website. We spent all of 2019 traveling, filming, and editing. We had plans to do the same in 2020 until COVID happened and I had to cancel the pilgrimage I put on to the Arkansas camps. One by one, they all canceled. After Tule Lake canceled, I just knew we had to do something. We still had money left in the grant, but couldn’t use it because of the cancellations, so we decided to use that money for the virtual pilgrimage. I got permission from the JACS office to change our focus and then Hanako Wakatsuki and I started furiously planning in early April.
TN: How long have you had the idea for “Tadaima!”? Was it your idea, or did it evolve in conversation with others (and if others, who?)?
KM: I had the idea, but knew there was no way I could pull it off by myself. I mentioned it to Hanako, a fellow pilgrimage junkie, and she said, “Let’s do it!” And that’s basically how it all started. Then we reached out to all our contacts and managed to get 50+ organizations to help. It was amazing!
TN: What has surprised you the most about Tadaima!? What have you learned about the Japanese American community from working on this particular event?
KM: The most surprising thing to me so far is the fact that we have over 40 people registered who are in their 90s! What I have learned is that there is a real yearning out there for Nikkei to connect, whether it’s through art or history or culture. I hope we can continue to do some sort of virtual pilgrimage every year because I want to be able to include elders who may have the desire to go on physical pilgrimages, but are just not up to all the travel.
TN: You mentioned something about these kinds of events happening annually (perhaps not for as long)—any hopes or plans for the future yet?
KM: I am hoping we can do this every year. We are working on getting funding and will apply for more grants. COVID has forced us to think of different ways to engage folks about the Japanese American story and the virtual pilgrimage has exceeded our expectations, so I think it makes sense to try to continue on into the future.
Tamiko Nimura is a Sansei/Pinay writer, originally from northern California, now living in the Pacific Northwest. Her writing has appeared or will appear in The San Francisco Chronicle, Kartika Review, The Seattle Star (seattlest.com), the International Examiner (Seattle), and The Rafu Shimpo. She blogs at Kikugirl.net, and is working on a book that responds to her father’s unpublished manuscript about his Tule Lake incarceration during World War II.
Editor’s note. This article was originally published in Discover Nikkei (www.discovernikkei.org), which is managed by the Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles.
‘Discover Nikkei’ Seeks Sports Articles
Do you enjoy reading “Discover Nikkei” stories, which cover the Nikkei [ethnic Japanese] diaspora, here and online (www.discovernikkei.org)? Do you have a sports story to share? If so, you will enjoy learning that they are starting a new Nikkei sports-article series. The best stories received by Oct. 31, chosen by readers, will be translated into the four main DN languages (English, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish).