Manzanar National Historic Site ranger Rose Masters (foreground right), during a presentation at the site of the Manzanar Reservoir during the 2018 Katari weekend. (Photo by Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee)

Rose Masters, a ranger at the Manzanar National Historic Site, was awarded the 2019 National Freeman Tilden Award on Nov. 14 in Denver.

Masters, who specializes in oral history, was recognized for her vision in creating Katari: Keeping Japanese American Stories Alive, a youth education project in which the National Park Service partners with the Manzanar Committee and the Nikkei Student Unions at California Polytechnic University-Pomona, CSU Fullerton, CSU Long Beach, UCLA, UC Riverside and UC San Diego.

With the exception of her college years for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Masters has worked at Manzanar since 2002, when she was a 17-year-old Youth Conservation Corps member. After a second year of YCC, she worked as an administrative clerk, archival Intern, Friends of Manzanar contractor, Manzanar History Association sales associate, and seasonal park guide. In 2013, she was hired as a park ranger through the Pathways program.

Rader Lane, a park ranger and dark-sky advocate at Grand Canyon National Park, was also recognized with the Freeman Tilden Award. The award, which comes with a $4,000 prize, recognizes leaders in interpretation and education, and rewards creative thinking that results in positive impacts upon the preservation of the parks and the visiting public.

The Manzanar Committee, sponsor of the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage going on 51 years, as well as the Manzanar At Dusk program since 1997, congratulated Masters.

Katari, which means to tell stories in Japanese, seeks to bridge the generation gap that has made it much more difficult for young Japanese Americans to teach others about Japanese American incarceration during World War II. Due to the shifting dynamics and demographics within the Japanese American community, including a growing recent immigrant population from Japan, a large group of Japanese Americans are either two or three generations removed from the experiences of those who were forced to endure America’s concentration camps, or they have no connection to this history at all.

As such, an increasing and alarming number of young people lack the knowledge and experience to be able to keep the stories of Japanese American incarcerees alive.

Rose Masters

To address this need, Katari students spend two full days at Manzanar National Historic Site, participating in an intensive, place-based learning experience about Japanese American incarceration and more — it is a learning experience that cannot be replicated in a classroom, a book, or a video. They get to hear first-hand stories from former Japanese American incarcerees and from elders of the local indigenous groups who share the long history of the Owens Valley Paiute and Shoshone at Manzanar.

Students are prompted to think about the connections between the World War II incarceration and other forms of incarceration in the U.S. and that forced relocation/forced removal has been the rule, rather than the exception, throughout American history for minorities and people of color.

Without Masters’ initial idea, Katari might not exist today.

“Rose was here in the Los Angeles area on a vacation trip back in May 2017, a couple of weeks after the 48th annual Manzanar Pilgrimage,” said the Manzanar Committee’s Gann Matsuda, who serves as director of the Katari project. “We were having a nice lunch when, out of the blue, she asked, ‘Why don’t you bring the Manzanar At Dusk student organizers to Manzanar for a tour?’”

Little did Masters know that her idea would grow into what Katari, which just had its third cohort of students at Manzanar on Nov. 2 and 3, has become.

“What Rose didn’t know was that our Manzanar At Dusk student organizers were struggling with the history of Japanese American incarceration,” said Matsuda. “Many of them were ill-equipped to put on that program. We knew that we had to do something to educate them, and when Rose came up with that idea, I immediately saw it as a unique and potentially powerful way to address the problem and the program quickly exploded into what it is today, which is a lot bigger than what Rose had in mind back then.

“The increasing effectiveness and success we’ve seen as we’ve moved from our first group of Katari students in March 2018 to our third group just a little over two weeks ago shows how impactful and even life-changing the Katari experience has been for our students. They often tell us that they can’t stop thinking about their two days at Manzanar for days, even weeks, after they return to Southern California, and Rose has had a great deal to do with that.”

Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey lauded Masters for her work on the Katari project, and beyond.

“We are always pleased when the hard work of the NPS staff at the Manzanar National Historic Site is recognized,” he said. “Clearly, we are a little biased, but when others take notice of their hard work, world-class professionalism, and perhaps most importantly, their amazing commitment and connection to our community and families, we are especially pleased.

“Rose makes sure all those who enter the Manzanar National Historic Site Visitor Center have, at their disposal, all the facts and information they need to make an informed judgment about the forced removal. But she provides the Katari students more than abstract facts and figures. She digs deep into the archives to find out their family history, if they had relatives who were incarcerated at any of the camps or confinement sites, and she provides them with any historical documents about their families that she can dig up. This site-based learning is key to the success of the Katari project.

“Rose’s dedication and commitment to the Katari project is plainly evident, from the planning to when we’re at Manzanar with our students. We congratulate her on receiving the Freeman Tilden Award, which is well-deserved, to say the least, and we thank her for the hard work she puts into everything she does at Manzanar.”

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