Learn About the Japanese Internment Using Augmented Reality
As a History and Social Science teacher, I’ve noticed an uptick in questions about migration, residency and citizenship of late. Much of this is ultimately linked to Canada’s role in resettling Syrian refugees and, more recently, the anti-immigration rhetoric that dominates American political discourse. Many of the comments whether they are inquisitive or critical often times originate from the younger generations of families displaced by war or violence.
Such questions lead to intriguing and occasionally heated discussions about how this country determines an individual’s potential as a resident. There is a mythology that the previous generations of immigrants were “better people,” “more deserving,” and “quicker to assimilate.” How can any of this be true if most of Canada’s historical documents reveal evidence of racial exclusion or legislation that disenfranchised? One such shameful example in the country’s recent history is the internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II.
The NFB’s new app, East of the Rockies, is an augmented-reality narrative written by Japanese-Canadian author Joy Kogawa. Kogawa, now 83 years old, was a child when she was among the 22,000 Japanese-Canadians interned during World War II. One of the most respected members of the Canadian literary community, Kogawa is best known for the groundbreaking novel Obasan, which tells the story of a young Japanese-Canadian woman who confronts painful memories of internment during the war. The sequel novel, Itsuka, tells the story of Japanese-Canadian redress, and is being re-issued by Caitlin Press.
Joy Kogawa’s participation in this project is a gift. As with many Nisei survivors, Kogawa has used her own experience and her reputation to advocate for others. Her involvement with East of the Rockies adds a new dimension to the writer’s life achievements and advocacy work. If you can, take a look at the behind-the-scenes promo video for East of the Rockies. It’s worth it to see Kogawa’s look of delight as she sees her words become animated by the actors in the studio. And it bears mentioning that Kogawa’s grandchild, Anne, provides the voice of Yuki in the app.
Digital learning offers educators additional tools that assist with the teaching of historical concepts. In East of the Rockies, the user explores the different stages of Yuki’s life, from pre-internment to camp life and later on, shedding light on the impact of internment on future generations of the narrator’s family. Teachers who are hesitant to embrace educational apps should know this: the developers at Jam3 were highly aware of the trends towards gamification in education products. The Jam3 team took great care to create an app that emphasizes educational as well as experiential components.
The impact of racism and hysteria on members of the Japanese-Canadian community is evident in the gradual erosion of their civil rights and the physical and emotional losses sustained. When you take your students through the app, Yuki’s story fosters and deepens one’s understanding and empathy towards those who endured the internment. There are numerous opportunities to use historical inquiry with the different segments of the narrative. To support teachers in effective use of the app, a curriculum guide with activities and selected primary-source documents accompanies East of the Rockies.