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Voices of the Volunteers: The Building Blocks of the Japanese American National Museum

Kyle Honma

Kyle Honma is a volunteer of the Hirasaki National Resource Center at the Japanese American National Museum. He started volunteering at the museum because of the influence of his paternal grandparents Hideo and June. They had volunteered for 16 years since the commencement of the Museum.

Kyle is a Japanese American Yonsei and a fourth generation Mexican American. It was 1997 when he first visited the Japanese American National Museum with his grandparents. He was in the first grade at that time. “I didn’t even know Little Tokyo existed,” he recalls. He didn’t realize then that he was destined to become an integral part of the Museum.

Today, the 25-year-old student is one of the Museum’s most energetic volunteers, dividing his time between school, a part-time job, and volunteering. “I really have to organize my time during the week,” Kyle says, adding that the inspiration for his commitment comes from his grandparents, who were among the Museum’s early volunteers in the 1990s.

“My grandparents kind of dragged me in here,” he says with a smile. “They brought me into a whole different light when it comes to being Japanese American. I learned a lot about my culture and identity. And once I started getting more involved, [I discovered] more about the Japanese American experience. I want to learn more about my heritage.”

Kyle helping at the origami table. Photo courtesy of the Japanese American National Museum.
Volunteering at the HNRC. Photo courtesy of The Japanese Daily Sun

Kyle’s journey of learning continued when he was trained by veteran volunteer Roy Sakamoto, who had been incarcerated at Tule Lake, the camp used to isolate those who were considered to be pro-Japan. “People don’t know a lot about Tule Lake. Roy researches a lot on his own time and is really dedicated to the Museum,” he points out.

Being of Japanese and Mexican American descent, Kyle brings a unique perspective. As a Hapa, he tends to identify more with his Japanese side. He attributes this to his grandparents, who lived close by as he was growing up.

Although he notes that it is rare when his family eats Japanese food, they do celebrate Japanese traditions such as Oshogatsu and Obon and have rice with nearly every meal. Most of the time, however, Kyle is more likely to eat Japanese food while out with his friends than at home.

From left: Grandfather Hideo, Kyle’s brother Aaron, and grandmother June. Photo courtesy of Kyle Honma.

Kyle feels fortunate that his grandparents were willing to share their stories. “My grandmother, June, especially would tell me all about her camp experiences and [what happened] after camp,” he says.

June was born and raised in Hawaii, but at the outbreak of WWII, her father was picked up by the FBI because he was a judo instructor. He was among 1,500, mainly Issei, who were arrested. June was 6 or 7 years old at the time. Her family was sent to Jerome, Arkansas.

His grandfather, Hideo, stayed in Hawaii during the war but remembers being picked on because he “looked like the enemy.” Hideo was drafted into the U.S. Army just as the Korean War was ending.

Kyle’s grandparents have told him, “You know you’re going to carry on for us.” He’s ready for the challenge and says he sees it as “a bridge between the volunteers and my grandparents.”

Kyle receiving the Lois and Elman Padilla Student Award. Photo courtesy of the Japanese American National Museum.

“I’d like visitors to go through the Common Ground exhibition,” says Kyle. “I want them to learn that there are stories in American history that no one knows about, and this is one of them.”

Honma family in front of the Japanese American National Museum. Photo courtesy of Kyle Honma.


* Mr. Honma was interviewed by Tomomi Kanemaru and the article was written by Ellen Endo for Voices of the Volunteers: Building Blocks of the Japanese American National Museum, a book presented by Nitto Tire and published by The Rafu Shimpo. This story has been modified slightly from the original.


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© 2015 The Rafu Shimpo

camps hapa hnrc identity janm japanese american Japanese American National Museum little tokyo mexican american museum volunteers World War II yonsei

About this series

This series introduces the experiences of the volunteers at the Japanese American National Museum from the book Voices of the Volunteers: The Building Blocks of the Japanese American National Museum, which was sponsored by Nitto Tire and published by The Rafu Shimpo.

A few years ago, Nitto Tire began working with the Los Angeles Japanese-language newspaper The Japanese Daily Sun to interview the Japanese American National Museum (JANM)’s volunteers. When Nitto Tire approached The Rafu Shimpo in late 2014 to edit and compile these interviews into a book, we were happy to do it. As a former JANM intern, I knew how important the volunteers were, how hard they worked, and how much their presence humanized history.

In the process of editing this book, I read each story so many times I began to dream about them. I know that I’m not alone in this absorption. Everyone who gave his or her time to this book lived within these stories and felt their effect. That’s the power of a first-hand account.When visitors come to JANM for a guided tour, they experience a similar kind of accelerated intimacy that brings the Common Ground exhibit to life. The volunteers have been putting a face to history for thirty years. For all that time, they have upheld the story of our community. It’s time now for us to uphold their stories.

Edited by Mia Nakaji Monnier with additional thanks to Contributing Editor Chris Komai; Japanese Editors Maki Hirano, Takashi Ishihara, and Ryoko Onishi; and Volunteer Liaison Richard Murakami. Interviews conducted by Tomomi Kanemaru (The Japanese Daily Sun), Alice Hama (The Japanese Daily Sun), and Mia Nakaji Monnier.

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