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Go Big or Go Home: How to Get 100,000 People on Your Virtual Program

Tadaima! A Community Virtual Pilgrimage

When, one-by-one, in March of 2020, the annual pilgrimages to Japanese American incarceration camps were cancelled, Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong received a phone call from her friend, Kimiko Marr. There were people, some of whom were aging seniors, who looked forward to the annual pilgrimages, but could not gather because of the pandemic.

“We knew how important these pilgrimages are to the Japanese American community for healing from this trauma,” said Hanako, who was recently promoted to superintendent of Honouliuli National Historic Site. “We wanted to create a virtual space to heal. The pilgrimages are a sacred space for community healing. It is also a space for Japanese Americans to explore their identity; it helps ground us and provides a safe place where we do not have to justify our existence. The personal aspect is I needed it for my own mental health.”

At first, Hanako and Kimiko considered a small virtual program. Many of the people whom they contacted were supportive, but some were incredulous that a group would organize a pilgrimage amid the uncertainties of the early days of the coronavirus. Undeterred, Hanako used her networks and called people she worked with at museums, non-profits, friends’ groups, universities, and small incarceration sites. Within a matter of 15 weeks, from ideation to completion, a strong coalition was developed into what turned out to be the largest virtual NPS program ever.

“Tadaima! A Community Virtual Pilgrimage” was launched on June 13, 2020 – a nine-week, comprehensive, online program involving 70 partnering organizations, 280 contributors, 368 programs, and over 100,000 visitors. They crowdsourced content and used community-based outreach to engage their partners’ email lists and social media. The virtual aspect aside, they created perhaps the largest gathering of the Japanese American community since the redress movement leading up to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Hanako and Kimiko found themselves in front of a groundswell of supporters from 46 states and 72 countries. The virtual platform allowed people to tell the stories of 43 confinement sites.

“The whole point of this program was to elevate the many stories that may not have been as well known and sharing their stories with the nation,” said Hanako. “There are many associated sites regarding the Japanese American incarceration experience, and we wanted to cover as many as we could to shed light on these untold stories. We couldn’t just focus on the ten War Relocation Authority camps without leaving out a huge part of the story and we wanted to create a true community event to incorporate as many of the sites that we could.”

Unforeseen, the crowdsourced content led to the creation of the largest online secondary source repository on Japanese American incarceration stories. Brown University and University of Hawai’i at Manoa used “Tadaima!” content in their archaeology and museum studies classes. The NPS, academics, preservationists, artists, writers, and others created content from which people selected their program experiences from an online agenda. They listened, studied Google Analytics, and provided programming for all generations including programs for children such as Minecraft and book readings. The list of contributors included George Takei, the Smithsonian, NHK News, poets, and others whose support when added together would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, instead of the $40,000 to produce the program.

With the pandemic in full swing and the social justice movement following George Floyd’s murder last summer, “Tadaima!” captured the audiences’ attention. People wanted to hear from elders in the Japanese American community who lived through the racism, war hysteria, and the failure of political leadership during the World War II era. Hanako had four generations of her family incarcerated at Manzanar, everyone from her great, great-grandmother to her aunts and uncles. Her father was the first child to be born free in her family after the war. Of the 120,000 men, women and children who were imprisoned, about two-thirds were American citizens by birthright, while the remainder were barred from citizenship until 1952.

Hanako says that one-on-one relationships, having a communication plan, and hiring technical specialists were critical in producing “Tadaima!” What gave the program its gravitas, as befitting the survivors and their families of the Japanese American incarceration camps, was utilizing the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Principles and the 21st century Interpretation competency of Site Research and Relevance.

“The ‘social truth’ in the mainstream American understanding is full of misinformation and euphemistic terminology,” said Hanako. “There are the Four Truths, but many don’t know or want to recognize the “reconciliatory truth” when the U.S. government officially apologized in 1988 for its role in a dark chapter in American history. We interpreters need to contextualize this history beyond the attack on Pearl Harbor to include Commodore Perry’s forcing open Japan, disrupting the economy, and creating the need for Japanese emigration. Then, there was institutionalized racism in the form of the Chinese Exclusion Act, leading to the labor need for Japanese immigrants. This led to subsequent anti-Asian policies, including anti-Japanese Americans’ civil liberties violations.”

“Tadaima! A Community Virtual Pilgrimage” helped to tell the lesser known stories such as the international incarceration of civilians of Japanese ancestry in Australia, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Brazil and other Latin American countries. The group vetted the program to help contextualize the stories and provide facts rather than contribute to the misinformation about the Japanese American incarceration.

“Identity is another important factor in this program,” Hanako said. “Many Japanese Americans are multi-racial, and we wanted to provide a space for people to explore their identity.”

This program is a model of how to reach communities of color. It’s a unique way to empower communities and help bridge the gap between the National Park Service and the communities that we serve. As the United States demographic shifts and the NPS continues to manage sites related to communities of color, we need to find meaningful ways to be truthful and to be relevant. Tadaima! can be used as a case study for park units to connect people to their parks.

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Contribute to the 2022 Checklist of Best Practices for IE&V

The Relevancy Team of Region 8, 9, 10 & 12 is compiling a checklist of best practices for IE&V, and we would like your input. Please send your answers to the following questions to lou_sian@nps.gov.

  • What are the four 21st Century Interpretation competencies and how do you see applying one or more of them in your programs?
  • Which of the 21st Century Interpretation competencies do you think Superintendent Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong models well through her leadership in the Tadaima pilgrimage?
  • What are the best practices in interpretation used in developing and presenting the Tadaima pilgrimage to the public?
  • What are the Four Truths?
  • According to the Four Truths, how close do you think the U.S. is in reconciling the history of Japanese American incarceration?

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