Issei Gossei Carlene
Carlene Tinker has been collaborating with the Special Collections Research Center on projects centered around stories of Japanese internees.

Carlene Tinker could have never imagined that her grandfather’s old newsletters would inspire a series of intriguing projects with the Special Collections Research Center in the Henry Madden Library. It all started back in 2010, when Tinker donated newsletters that had been collected by her grandfather when he was interned at the Granada War Relocation Center (Also known as Camp Amache), in Granada, Colorado following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

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The Granada Pioneer, was a newsletter distributed among internees at Amache. Since donating the newsletters, Tinker has collaborated with the Special Collections Research Center on projects that help tell the remarkable stories of those internees.

Issei to Gossei LogoIn the Spring of 2017, Tinker took part in an exhibition entitled 9066: Japanese American Voices from the Inside, which centered around the World War II internment of Japanese Americans by the United States government. Tinker and the Special Collections Research Center are currently working on a new project entitled Issei to Gossei, an oral history project about Japanese Americans in the Central Valley. Tinker has interviewed both former internees, as well as their relatives.

Tinker’s intent is for the stories to be preserved online not only for scholars but for the families of the internees. The name of the project is a term that is used to describe generations of Japanese immigrants. Issei refers to the first generation of Japanese immigrants and Gosei to the fifth. Tinker belongs to the Sansei, or third generation.

Tinker and her family were interned when she was just three years old. They were placed in an assembly center at the Santa Anita racetrack in Los Angeles. Despite her young age at the time of internment, Tinker can remember details such as the small barracks that she and her family were forced to inhabit. Recalling her family’s living space, Tinker said, “I can actually remember where my parents slept. The rooms were very small, 20(ft) by 12(ft) maybe. In order to create a bedroom, there was an army blanket draped over a rope, and that separated the bedroom from the living room.”

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One of the many people that Tinker has interviewed is Diane Honda, who’s parents met in the Amache internment camp. Honda helped to reproduce her father-in-laws’ yearbook from the Manzanar internment camp he was in.

That yearbook was an attempt to give the outside world a glimpse into the daily lives of the highschool students in Manzanar. “Within the pages of the yearbook there were photographs of the extracurricular activities, sports, clubs and school dances that they took part in. They wanted to make the best of a bad situation so, they wanted their yearbook to reflect what they thought their yearbook would look like if they were normal high school students in that time.” says Honda.

Manzanar Yearbook
A high school yearbook from the Manzanar internment camp.

Another one of Tinker’s interviewees is Kerry Yo Nakagawa. His grandparents and parents were placed in an internment camp in Arkansas. He now dedicates his life to research and publications on the history of Japanese Americans in Baseball. “I have two books that I wrote on the subject. Baseball has been in my family for generations. I had uncles that played with Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson. So, I recorded it with an exhibit, book, and documentary, that’s my journey.” says Nakagawa.

By interviewing Nakagawa and others, Tinker was able to gather differing accounts of being a Japanese American in the United States, during World War II. As a result, she came to realize that some had not experienced the same racism that she had after the war.  

Ultimately Tinker, Honda, and Nakagawa hope that they can contribute to a narrative that will help people better understand the significance of Japanese internment. They all feel that this topic is as relevant today as it was 77 years ago. With Issei to Gossei, their wish is to keep these stories alive for generations to come.

Tinker hopes to continue the project with two more interviews in the works. If you would like to make a donation, or to learn more about this incredible project, visit the library’s site. https://guides.library.fresnostate.edu/current-projects