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私たちの物語の力

The Power of Persistence: Tour Manzanar with Nell Yukiye Murphy

Nell Yukiye Murphy

Nell Yukiye Murphy knows the importance of keeping a significant part of Japanese American history alive and she also knows the power of persistence. That makes her a natural choice to be profiled for Discover Nikkei’s series, The Power of Our Stories. Nell has developed and produced a virtual tour of Manzanar, “Journey to Manzanar,” and thanks to her persistence, it’s now accessible to everyone. 

Nell Murphy is from Northeast Los Angeles and at 18 years of age, she’s already seen quite a bit of the world. Interviewed via email, Nell wrote, “As a kid, I traveled a lot with my parents who worked in film production and so we got to go to a lot of great locations like Spain, Ireland, France, and New York, to name a few. But LA is my home.” Nell has an older sibling she grew up with (Sam) and two adult half-brothers (Chance and Ryan) that she has become very close to since her father passed away four years ago.

When asked about her interests, Nell’s persistence is plain to see. Involved in theatre throughout her childhood, she is currently a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University pursuing a BFA in Acting. Nell also participated in Girl Scouts.

Nell sitting on cookie boxes

“I started as a Brownie in kindergarten and stuck with it through my senior year of high school. Girl Scouts taught me to become involved in my community and allowed me to develop a sense of social justice.”

That sense combined with her family history, resulted in Journey to Manzanar, Nell’s Gold Award project. The Gold Award is the highest award a member of the Girl Scouts can earn.

Nell developed her Nikkei identity partly through learning about her grandfather’s incarceration at Manazanar. She wrote, “I feel like I always knew about it. There wasn’t a specific conversation where my mom told me. It was just something that I knew about….the first time I remember visiting Manzanar was with my mom and my Uncle Peter. We visited during the annual pilgrimage when I was maybe 7 or 8. However, I now see in pictures that my parents took me there as a toddler and even as a baby.”

Nell continued, “When I was a little older, my Girl Scout troop went up to visit Manzanar and camped near Mt. Whitney. On that visit, I completed my Manzanar Junior Ranger badge. I remember going through the exhibits with my booklet and pencil and completing the activities for kids. But I still didn’t know all the details of my grandfather’s experience in camp. Those details slowly got revealed over numerous conversations with my mom as I grew up. With my mom’s knowledge and my own research, I was able in the last 2 years to learn a lot more, but I continue to discover new things.”

Manzanar brochure with Nell's grandfather's photo

However, learning about one’s own family history and then sharing that history with a wide audience requires partnership. Nell partnered with the National Park Service (NPS) and the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association (ESIA) to preserve and extend the reach of her project. “Fortunately,” wrote Nell, “I had known NPS Ranger Alisa Lynch since I was a kid visiting Manzanar. So starting with that relationship was the common sense thing to do. And she recognized the value of having a virtual experience of Manzanar, especially while the park was still recovering from the shut down due to Covid 19.”

Here’s where Nell’s persistence paid off. NPS could partner but not host the website, so she contacted ESIA, the organization that operates the bookstore at the Manzanar National Historic Site. “I went to Executive Director Jeff Gabriel with the idea of ESIA hosting the website and creating a learning platform. It was a natural fit for them (education and interpretation). Everyone understood that Journey to Manzanar was a valuable tool that supported the mission of both entities.”

But even more persistence was required, as described by Nell. “The bigger challenge I faced was trying to convince the reps at the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles (GSGLA) to approve my Gold Award proposal. They thought the subject matter already prevalent and questioned whether more projects on Japanese American incarceration were necessary. I couldn’t believe it. The current resources out there aren’t enough. And there wasn’t a project like mine, something a kid could do on a smartphone, aiming to be an educational tool. Me, just having passion and an idea and wanting to be a representative of my community was not enough. At least at first. I had to work hard to make my point with their leadership.”

Nell with cameraman

Like so many others have claimed, Nell believes there is an ongoing lack of education about what happened to Japanese Americans in the 1940s. Students are exposed to relatively little information about E.O. 9066 and the resulting displacement of more than 120,000 people. The treatment of Muslim Americans after 9/11 and the current increase in anti-Asian violence make a clear case for the continued relevance of this painful part of American history.

In addition to tours of each area of Manzanar, Journey to Manzanar offers activities tailored to kids of all ages (and adults, too) who can earn a newly designed badge through participation. Nell has also brought her project to educators. “The principal at my high school, Ramon C Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts (an LAUSD school), was very enthusiastic about Journey to Manzanar and with her support I arranged presentations in two 11th grade US history classes. I also did one presentation at Washington STEAM Multilingual Academy, which is part of the Pasadena School District. So there is potential for teachers to use the platform and the activities in the classroom. Ideally, any student (kid or adult) who has earned the patch can pass on their knowledge and use the teaching tool to present and create discussion. The goal is to not only encourage people to visit the site someday, but to tell others about what they learned. And of course to want to learn more.”

Though already having accomplished much, Nell Yukiye Murphy is just getting started. “I would love to work at JANM someday, and would love to volunteer there this summer! Right now, I am immersed in being a college freshman in a very rigorous performing arts program in a new community (Pittsburgh), and that’s got me very busy. I am excited to vote in Pennsylvania in the upcoming mid-term elections in a swing state. I expect being a theatre artist will undoubtedly intertwine with my activism. How exactly is yet to be seen.

And last summer, I took my first trip to Japan, and met members of my Japanese family. Some of them still live at the ancestral home in Hiroshima-ken that my great-grandfather left when he made the journey to California. It was a revelation to meet everyone and discover my culture. So I want to go there again and build upon that journey. We had a difficult time communicating except through Google Translate. I definitely want to study Japanese. As it happens, my college roommate is a dual citizen and bilingual in Japanese, so maybe I can get started sooner than later.”


*Tour Manzanar with Nell and check out the activities to earn a badge here

 

© 2022 Esther Newman

Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association Girl Scouts Journey to Manzanar Manzanar National Park Service Nell Yukiye Murphy

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