Pictured at Cerritos High School on Feb. 21 (from left): Kay Oda, Kyoko Oda, Bill Shishima, Bacon Sakatani and June Aochi Berk.

CERRITOS — Living history lessons came to the ABC Unified School District middle and high schools’ Day of Remembrance for two full days via Zoom and onstage performances. 

ABCUSD Board of Trustees Clerk Ernie Nishii said, “It is the only program of its kind in terms of depth, reach, and commitment by the community and the district.”

Many students lined up to ask questions that the 90-plus-year-old elders answered without hesitation.

Joyce Okazaki said, “I didn’t get a repeat question from the five sessions.”

Many elders were docents from the Japanese American National Museum.

Cerritos City Councilmember Frank Yokoyama attended the Cerritos High School assembly with his son, who is a 10th-grader. His grandfather was incarcerated at the Tule Lake concentration camp in Northern California and then Topaz, Utah.

Lauren Yokomizo from Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn’s office came to support the project. Councilmembers Monica Manalo from Artesia and Dandy De Paula from Hawaiian Gardens also attended the model project.

Interim Superintendent Toan Nguyen, ABCUSD President Brad Beach and Trustee Olga Rios commended the program during the board meeting after visiting Cerritos High School’s assembly.

Specialist Audrey Rios coordinated practice sessions, locations, moderators, and technical support in breakout rooms. The ABCUSD staff went full force in supporting the district-wide experience.

Sansei Kyoko Oda said, “We look forward to the ABCUSD Day of Remembrance every year. The Nisei speakers always express their appreciation to their parents. It’s remarkable that they all do Zoom.”

Former incarcerees who were primary resources are Bob Moriguchi from Amache, Colo., Hal Keimi, Bacon Sakatani and Mike Hatchimoniji from Heart Mountain, Wyoming, Iku Kiriyama and Joyce Okazaki from Manzanar, Calif., Kay Oda from Poston, Ariz., and Kyoko Oda from Tule Lake Segregation Center. Richard Murakami’s family was shipped to Tule Lake, Topaz, and finally Heart Mountain.

Nishii promoted the Day of Remembrance in memory of his artist mother, Ernie Jane Masako Nishii, who passed away in 2017 of ALS. After going to the Tule Lake Pilgrimage in 2009, she embedded her memories in artful compositions using clay, wood, fabric, barbed wire, and wood.

Professional experts Jenny Chomori, Janet Fujii and Jason Fujii from the Manzanar Committee have been instrumental in program quality and content. During other years, Min Tonai from Amache, Kanji Sahara from Rohwer and Jerome, Ark., and Marvin Inouye from Crystal City, Texas were on the panel.

This year marks the fifth year that this innovative program has been part of the curriculum.

ABCUSD serves the cities of Artesia, most of Cerritos, Hawaiian Gardens, the portion of Lakewood east of the San Gabriel River, as well as tiny portions of Long Beach, Norwalk, and La Mirada.

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