Ballico program teaches Japanese-American heritage

FRESNO, Calif.

The program gives kids a lot of fun, hands-on activities, but it also teaches them about a very serious time in Japanese-American history.

Some karate kids were getting a kick out of the 28th annual Tomodachi Gakko Friendship School in Ballico.

Students from pre-school age to eighth grade learn everything from the samurai swordsmanship of Kendo to the traditional drumming of the Taiko. But these fun activities are all part of a serious mission.

"We like to touch a lot about the Japanese-American history and everything they went through in World War Two," Nicole Isozaki said.

That includes teaching the kids about internment camps, where more than 100 thousand Japanese-Americans were imprisoned in the 1940s after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

"We make things like what people ate in the internment camps, like yesterday was Spam day, today is Mochi day," Keri Monaghan said.

Mochi is a sweet treat made by pounding rice with mallets until it's nice and smooth.

The kids also learn dances that originated in the internment camps.

"A lot of it is just don't forget. Don't forget your culture, it's a lot about just remembering your heritage, where your ancestors are from, what their culture was like," Tyler Sano said.

Tyler Sano is one of many instructors who came to the friendship school throughout their childhood before returning to teach.

"This is all volunteer based, so all the teachers and everyone who works in the kitchen and instructors, they all volunteer their time, so it's really a community that comes together," Isozaki said.

Many of the kids live in other parts of California but come to the school each summer while visiting relatives. Kaimana Lum and her sister are from Japan, but moved to the area to live with their grandmother after last year's earthquake and tsunami.

"Well I still want to go back to Japan, but I like it here too because I have more friends," Kaimana Lum said.

Now all of these children are learning about their heritage in a way no textbook could teach them.

This year's program continues through Friday. Organizers are hoping even more students will participate next summer.

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