The forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans on the West Coast during World War II is well-documented and has increased in visibility over the past three decades.
Despite this, “relatively little attention has been paid to their experiences of returning home in the postwar years and the way new coalitions were built with other marginalized communities,” said Senior Fellow Gabrielle Santas, the creator of “Returning to the Harlem of the West“, an app-based audio tour exploring Japanese Americans’ return to San Francisco after incarceration.
The audio tour tells a story closely connected to the “physical geography from which Japanese Americans were removed – and to which they eventually returned, only to face the prospect of further displacement,” Gabrielle explains. What is more, the project uses innovative digital techniques (particularly geolocation and augmented reality sequences) to connect past and present, the virtual and the physical, through an experiential, character-driven story.
Inspiration Behind the Project
Gabrielle discovered three themes of this story that felt important to tell:
- The contingent nature of “belonging”: Non-white Americans, especially first and second-generation immigrants, have often experienced their residency and citizenship as precarious and conditional.
- Cultural “homelands”: Throughout the 1940s, the Japantown/Fillmore area of San Francisco was not just an ethnically diverse neighborhood, but became a space in which political and social “homelands” were constructed by both Japanese and Black communities.
- Interracial solidarity and resistance: Distinct but overlapping expericences of social injustice and marginalization foster can shared understandings and create opportunities to work across difference.
Through the California Migration Museum, a fiscally-sponsored non-profit project dedicated to telling California’s migration history, Gabrielle applied for and received grants from California Humanities and the California Libraries Civil Liberties program.
Then, Gabrielle spent about four months researching the history, finding the particular story to focus on, and the route to follow.
The project connects past and present, the virtual and the physical, through an experiential, character-driven story…
Gabrielle then wrote a script with a team, which was recorded in an audio studio. The story is narrated by Caroline Satoda, daughter of the story’s protagonist Daisy Satoda, migration expert Dr. Katy Long, and various voice actors.
To Gabrielle, it was really special that Caroline Satoda was willing to be involved in the project. Daisy Satoda’s memories were so vivid and her story was so compelling that Gabrielle knew she had to be the protagonist of the story.
“I managed to find her children’s contact information, and cold-emailed Caroline on a whim. Having her involved really brought the whole thing together, because it’s Caroline’s own history to tell,” Gabrielle said.
Finally, the team produced the story and uploaded it to the California Migration Museum’s app. The team did not forget to curate small “pop-up exhibits” along the route with physical objects related to the story.
And the most challenging part? “Finding a walking route that aligns with the narrative,” Gabrielle shares. “In a podcast, you can tell parts of the story in any order, but when it becomes tied to physical space you have to make sure that the story will unfold in a way that also matches the particular physical sites.”
Now that it’s available to download from the App Store and Google Play, Gabrielle believes the most important thing is that people know about the project. “Spreading the word via social media, or news outlets would be very helpful,” she notes, adding that donations to the California Migration Museum would be beneficial, too.