Courage and Compassion!

Last year it came to my attention that Oberlin College was chosen to host a wonderful exhibition and series of events entitled “Courage and Compassion” thanks to the Go For Broke Foundation. Here’s an excerpt that was included in the Oberlin Alumni “Around the Square” Newsletter. My name is listed!

Courage and Compassion: Our Shared Story of the Japanese American WWII Experience

The History of the Project and Its Inception

Clyde Owan ’79 became interested in learning more about Nisei students at Oberlin during the war years when he realized that family friend, Alice Takemoto ’47, had left Jerome War Relocation Camp to pursue her studies at Oberlin. In 2013, he joined with then East Asian studies major Cassie Guevara ’13, and Oberlin College Archivist Ken Grossi, to uncover the history of Japanese American students at Oberlin during World War II. They combed through college records, looked at yearbooks, worked with the alumni office to track down former students, and uncovered the rich stories of Nisei students who studied at Oberlin during the war. In 2013, this research became the basis for a featured article in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine.

In 2015, staff members at the Go For Broke Foundation came across the story in the alumni magazine as they searched for communities that treated Japanese Americans with generosity and compassion during the war. They contacted Renee Romano, professor of history and chair of the Oberlin College History Department, to see if Oberlin would be interested in participating in the grant to mount a traveling history exhibit.


Here is a link to the full article with more information:  this blog is listed there!!

I’m also extremely excited to have been invited to speak to current students at a new module course dedicated to the subject of Japanese-American internment, as well as to Asian American alumni. As I live in Japan now, I’ll be flying in on March 7th and will be able to meet the documentary filmmaker Vivienne Schiffer who directed “Relocation: Arkansas”.

Being asked to take part in this research as a senior at Oberlin was truly one of the most memorable experiences of my life– as well as being able to come into contact with family members of these former students through my blog. Thank you to Clyde Owan, Suzanne Gay, Anne Sherif, Ken Grossi, Renee Romano (whom I’ll be meeting for the first time soon!) and all of you for your support, and I hope that if you are passing through Oberlin until mid March you can see the exhibition yourself!



Since my last blog post almost a year ago I WAS able to go see George Takei’s screening of “Allegiance” in Odaiba, Tokyo. Not only that, I saw George himself when he and some others gave a talk about the musical. (He came to the stage from the back of the theater and I was so close! Not fast enough to turn on my phone for a photo, though.) Please watch this musical if you can!

Updates (research and life)

Hello there!

This blog has unfortunately been pretty inactive in the past few years (despite me wanting to go back to it), but I wanted to announce that I’m hoping to move (or copy) all of the information about Oberlin Nikkei students to their own page. Initially I had uploaded all my findings onto my personal blog for convenience, but I never thought that so many people throughout the years would find them and reach out to thank me for documenting their grandparent or an old friend/colleague. Thank you so much to everyone who has sent me a message! *If you are a relative or friend of someone who was a student at Oberlin College during the war, please email the Oberlin Alumni Association at or the Alumni Magazine at with any information or stories you’d like to share! They’d be really happy to hear from you.*

Oberlin has not contacted me about making a separate website for these students, but I’m hoping to collaborate with my brother Alex Guevara to make a separate space for these stories and photos, one that will no longer be tied to my personal blog. (I’m pretty sure there’s at least one page referenced by Wikipedia! Who did that?? In any case, this is Wikipedia’s page that references Oberlin College and the Alumni Magazine’s article on Oberlin taking in students during the war.)

In the meantime, thank you for your interest!

Here are some books that I’ve read since my time at Oberlin that have addressed (directly or indirectly) Japanese-American incarceration and internment during World War 2. If you are interested in reading some non-fiction and fictional accounts, I suggest you look these up!:

  • Farewell to Manzanar (non-fiction), Janine Wakatsuki
  • The Moved-Outers (fiction), Florence Crannell Means
  • Manzanar (photo book), Ansel Adams
  • No-No Boy, a novel by John Okada (about a young Japanese-American ostracized from his own community for refusing to go to war once the draft began)
  • The Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka (her novel When the Emperor was Divine addresses the subject more directly but I haven’t gotten hold of it yet)
  • Snow Falling on Cedars (fiction), David Guterson

I REALLY wish I could go see George Takei’s musical Allegiance! It’s my dream to work on something like that!! What a fantastic combination.. historical + musical theatre! Unfortunately I’ve never been in the States when it’s been running, and there haven’t been any showings in Japan…. yet. Please go see it for me!

I also hope that in the future I can do something with my own idea for a (probably YA) novel regarding the subject. In any case, I managed to type out over 50,000 words for a draft of it for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) 2016. If you love to write or have always wanted to write, I recommend you participate in their contests! The 50,000 word draft contest is always in November, but right now they have something called “Camp NaNoWriMo”, for which writers design their own goals (word count, # of minutes, hours, pages, lines, etc.) for the month of April. I’m kind of participating, but I’ll be starting work next week after a long spring break. (I’ll be teaching English every day at three different schools!)

Another life update: I began Japanese to English translation through the website Gengo and have also done other random freelance work from tourism details to doujinshi (fan-made manga). Since I originally came to Japan wanting to use Japanese and not just teach English, I hope I can keep this up and develop my skills further- even amidst teaching at three schools.

My immediate goal, however, is to learn how to stay organized and keep track of so many different schools/classes/students! Any teachers out there with great tips?

Goodbye for now!


Kiwis are Awesome

Check out my friend’s amazing blog of wonderful travel illustrations!!

Sketchbook Wanderings

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: I love kiwi birds. These creatures are so under appreciated outside of New Zealand, so I made a handy guide showcasing nine things that make kiwis awesome. For more kiwi art check out my posts from Willowbank Park and the Auckland Museum.

Brownbook No. 16

Liner pen and watercolor

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It’s been about a year and a half since my last blog post, which is absolutely shameful. Much has happened, much has changed, though I’m still living in Machida, Tokyo. I now teach several jobs part-time, teaching university students, junior high school students, and assisting at an English immersion kindergarten. For the first time since college, I work five days a week like a “normal” adult. While I’ve been a night owl since elementary school (according to my mom) and have never gone to bed before midnight unless I was sick, I’ve gotten much better at waking up early for work. I often need to bike to the station. I spend much of my days commuting on trains, during which I try to study for a MA in TESOL from the New School (reading articles or posting on discussion boards), or mark students’ essay drafts without making disgruntled faces.

Pretty dry post for now, but it’s 12:40 and I should hit the hay as they say so I’m not a zombie with the kids tomorrow.

Speaking of hay, I get to see horses almost every week. That’s new.


“Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. “

Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

Pullman Philip 2

Wise words from Philip Pullman, who received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2005:

Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. If you don’t give a child food, the damage quickly becomes visible. If you don’t let a child have fresh air and play, the damage is also visible, but not so quickly. If you don’t give a child love, the damage might not be seen for some years, but it’s permanent.

But if you don’t give a child art and stories and poems and music, the damage is not so easy to see. It’s there, though. Their bodies are healthy enough; they can run and jump and swim and eat hungrily and make lots of noise, as children have always done, but something is missing.

It’s true that some people grow up never encountering…

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A Delayed Recount of my life-changing spring travels

March 31, 2014

It is currently the tail end of my two-month-long spring break, and I have just returned (April 1, after a 16-hour delay) from China.

Finishing the First Semester

The end of my first semester went as smoothly as I could have hoped. My reading students, while not so stellar on their chapter reading quizzes, studied hard for their final exams and did fairly well. My writing students wrote humorous essays on their ideal future lives. On the last days we took class pictures and said farewell, see you around!

My Transformative Two-Month Travels

I have just returned from an epic spring journey to the Kansai area of Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and China. The first leg of my trip was a visit to Osaka, where I planned to meet with as many friends from my time as a student as possible. After a very busy first five days, plans were foiled when I suddenly became very sick, the mild stress cold I’d caught in Tokyo combined with physical exertion with winter cold and finally some sort of stomach virus. I was feverish and bedridden for my last three nights in Japan, only recovering right before my trip to Indonesia. I’d lost weight from eating very little, but the worst was over. The next night I was zooming through Banda Aceh on the back of Karl Orozco’s motor scooter through crazy Indonesian traffic.

Indonesia (Banda Aceh, Yogyakarta) – two weeks

            Arriving in Indonesia was shocking for a handful of reasons. The contrast with pristine and orderly Japan was immediately astounding, starting with a confusing Medan airport experience in which I met sleeping attendants and somehow accidentally bypassed customs. After staring at a ceiling and being under the covers for the past few days, in Aceh I was suddenly surrounded by summer heat and radically new sights, sensations, sounds. I was greeted by a whole reunion of fellows: Karl, Anabel, Amelea, Xenna, Lissette (who flew in the same day), and Tino, whom I met for the first time. Charlotte would also stop by Aceh for a few nights. This trip to Aceh was a transformative time, as more than ever in my life I was constantly pushed out of my comfort zone. I was immediately greeted by unfamiliar Bahasa, street food, spicy dishes, squat toilets, bucket flushes and showers. Constantly surrounded by the contagious energy, enthusiasm, and vitality of my amazing and hilarious co-fellows, I slowly shed the self-suppressing instincts I’d cultivated in Japan and began to embrace and seek these new experiences that would previously have given me pause. The exhilarated apprehension on my first motorbike ride turned into exhilarated love for it. On Valentine’s Day we went to and participated in a coffee shop poetry reading, during which I quietly wrote and passionately performed a three-minute poem in front of countless Indonesian strangers, surprising and moving my friends. One day I cut my hair short for the first time in my life, and Karl and the others cheered for the “New Cassie”. The wonderful memories and friends we made made leaving Aceh difficult. The Indonesia trip ended with a few days in Yogyakarta with Julie, who was an excellent hostess. Highlights were visiting Borobudur and watching a UGM performance of Javanese dance, the Ramayana, right near Prambanan. I decided that two weeks in Indonesia was not enough, and decided to try and go back before my fellowship ends.


Shansi Fellows Unite!!

Shansi Fellows Unite!!

before the haircut...

before the haircut…



Philippines (Manila, Baguio, Iloilo, Manila) – 3 weeks

I spent three weeks in the Philippines with family, including my mother and two aunts who had flown in from New York and Ontario, Canada. It was a challenging adjustment from going out and exploring with friends all the time to relaxing in the house most of the time, but it was wonderful to see all my relatives again. After eating street food for two weeks I felt strange eating in nice restaurants again. Each night was a feast with at least ten relatives and as many different dishes. It’s not a trip back home to the Philippines unless you’ve gained ten pounds. This time around I was more active in studying Ilonggo, the dialect my family speaks in Iloilo. I spent my last day with an aunt in an upper-class shopping area, and then at night with a cousin I walked through and got scammed by a horse cab driver in dirt-poor, garbage-filled Old Manila. It was astounding to experience those two drastically different sides of Manila in a day. I’ve begun to consider spending at least a consecutive year of my life in the Philippines sometime after Shansi.

with a TON of Lola Naty's pancit palabok.

with a TON of Lola Naty’s pancit palabok.

with some lovely Filipino art at the BenCab museum in Baguio.
with some lovely Filipino art at the BenCab museum in Baguio.

World Heritage Site, Miag-ao, Iloilo.

World Heritage Site, Miag-ao, Iloilo.



last day with my Mom <3

last day with my Mom ❤

China (Beijing, Taigu, Xian, Beijing) – 2 weeks

My first visit to China was another jarring and incredible experience. I stayed with Alessandra in Beijing, then visited the Taigu Fellows, took a solo trip to see the terracotta soldiers in Xian, and ended the trip back in Beijing. My first two days were spent apprehensively adjusting to people’s normal interactions (directness and a lot of yelling that contrast with Japanese indirectness, politeness, and quiet) and getting tricked once again by a tricycle driver who okay’ed one price before the ride and asked for double at the end. I soon became accustomed to the street spitting and babies pooping and peeing in the streets. It took a bit, but I also learned to be more direct in ignoring or turning down people hoping to sell me things, and also got used to pushing forward rather than waiting for non-existent lines to form. While I loved spending time with Fellows in busy Beijing and laidback Taigu, where I sat in on four of the five Fellows’ classes, I appreciated my solo time in which I could quietly observe society as it moved and worked around me. I also enjoyed practicing the Mandarin I’d learned at Oberlin, though it took time to get comfortable.

Lama Temple - Tibetan Buddhist Temple in Beijing.

Lama Temple – Tibetan Buddhist Temple in Beijing.

Oh hi, Mao. I see you.

Oh hi, Mao. I see you.

Visiting the friends in Taigu!

Visiting the friends in Taigu!

Drum Tower in Xian.

Drum Tower in Xian.

Springtime at the Great Wall.

Springtime at the Great Wall.

A Delayed Homecoming

I had the worst and best possible ending to my travels when my Pakistan International Airlines flight from Beijing to Tokyo was delayed by 16 hours due to equipment malfunction. I spent over 24 hours with people of all ages from China, Pakistan, Japan, London, and South Africa. Many of the Pakistani travelers were eye doctors and surgeons on their way to a conference in Tokyo. Together we waited without updates for four hours in the airport, were bussed to a hotel for supposedly the rest of the night and paired with strangers in rooms, were suddenly with ten minutes of warning returned to the airport for a 3AM flight, and were pushed through security again, this time with new friends. While I may have been stressed out about this roadblock in the past, I had a wonderful time and treated it as a surprise end to my adventures. I saw good people find humor in an undesirable situation, and witnessed and experienced friendships formed among strangers. I have only been with Shansi for a little over one semester now, but I feel I have grown and changed so much in that time. I am so grateful for these opportunities to travel, and feel confident and excited about going into the world and building even more new connections.


Don't see that every time you fly.

Don’t see that every time you fly.

Everyone waiting around and asking for updates.

Everyone waiting around and asking for updates.

Should've eaten this on the plane, ate it in Beijing instead.

Should’ve eaten this on the plane, ate it in Beijing instead.

Free dinner and conversation with new friends.

Free dinner and conversation with new friends.

See ya later.

See ya later.

Two new friends who watched over me as we went through this ordeal. Both are Chinese men living in Japan.

Two new friends who watched over me as we went through this ordeal. Both are Chinese men living in Japan.

The lot of us waiting, again, for our flight back to Tokyo.

The lot of us waiting, again, for our flight back to Tokyo.

Featured in the Alumni Magazine…

So this is old news (published fall 2013, after I graduated), but I was super happy when my former advisor mailed me a copy of the Oberlin Alumni Magazine in which an article featuring some of my research was printed! Image(Took this picture right before I left for my two month spring travels- in January! My how time flies.)

You can find the online version of the article here! The article “Oberlin Vouches for Them…” was written by Lisa Chiu, who kindly interviewed me over the phone towards graduation day last year. (Perhaps it has been exactly one year since then!)

Pretty proud moment! I have started to consider presenting at the topic at my current school in Tokyo. Students at my school know about the existence of Oberlin College, but maybe they and faculty members will be interested in hearing more details about its history with Japanese-American students.



Translation Software: It Doesn’t Work

Here is a perfect example of writing from a student that exhibits how translation software should be banned to language learners. Behold this email:

Miss G!!
The [NAME] you are taken care of in the ciass [#]!
How can a question about ER BOOK QUIZZS?
Do you have a relationship with the ER BOOK QUIZZS problem that is written at the end of this?
Has long rude 
You are repiying wait
This must have been the most hilarious email I’ve received in my life. The English is ridiculous enough to understand that not just a few words, but a whole message was copied and pasted into Google Translate or LINE dictionary and sent off. It’s very interesting how certain aspects of Japanese translated (strangely) into English. If you have studied Japanese, can you understand what he was trying to say- without using translation software to translate it back?
(Also, all the exclamation points??)

A haiku for my last night in Banda Aceh

By the way, I don’t know much about writing haikus.

Original version (or actually version 3, where I wrote by word count 5-7-5)

Midnight bathing in the sea-

Moonlit friends sing under stars by caves

Pushed and pulled by waves

Version 2 (or actually six, seven, and eight or so, where I struggled to go by syllable count)

Midnight sea bathing-

Moon and starlit song by caves

Pushed and pulled by waves

Sea bath at midnight-

Moon and stars light song by caves

Pushed and pulled by waves

Sea bath at midnight-

Song heard by moon, stars, and caves

Pushed and pulled by waves

Sea bath at midnight-

Moonlit friends sing by dark caves

Pushed and pulled by waves

Dedicated to the wonderful, vivacious friends who were there with me that late night before the Japan Fellows’ 6am flight to Yogyakarta. Thanks for making sure I lived it up til the very last moments. (No sleep for me.)

(Japan and Banda Aceh Fellows + 1 Obie)

(so worth the village spectacle we caused.)

Shrimp for Dinner with Lola Naty

It is now my spring break (end of January to beginning of April), and I have traveled from Tokyo to Osaka (where I was sick and bedridden for the last four days), spent two weeks visiting Shansi Fellows in Indonesia (Banda Aceh and Yogyakarta), and have now settled for three weeks in the Philippines.

Currently I am in the mountainous Baguio City staying at the house of my late grandmother’s sister, Lola Naty. (Nah-tee)


We are watching a potful of live shrimp hop and pop, flailing in their last moments against the lid. I’ve witnessed the boiling of live crab before, but the beating of little shrimp bodies against the glass fills me with some pity.

Cassie: Oh noo, the poor little guys.

Lola Naty: Soon they will turn red. Then we will flip them over.

We watch as the frantic jumping begins to cease, one crustacean quieting after the other. The red pigment slowly spreads through their bodies, lighting them up from their dark grey, making them look a bit more vibrant than when they were alive. Before long there is stillness, apart from the bubbling, boiling water.

Lola Naty: See? Now we flip them over.

With her small, soft, wrinkly veined hands she takes hold of the spatula and turns over the shrimp with a graceful deftness that I could never wield over a cooking utensil.

Cassie, repeating: The poor shrimp!

She just laughs at me.

During Dinner:

Lola Naty peels the skin from the shrimp quickly, plowing through five for every one of mine. I ask her to teach me her technique.

Lola Naty: First, you start with the head.

She flicks up the shell from behind the head, but keeps it on.

Lola Naty: Then you peel from the bottom like this.

She peels off the shell up from the bottom by the legs and gets the whole thing off in less than two seconds. Then she proceeds to plop the de-shelled shrimp onto my plate.

Cassie: Okay! It’s my turn now, thank you!

I start practicing, but I am too slow, as she has already de-shelled and plopped one, two, three, four, onto my plate.

Cassie *stopping her*: Thanks Lola Naty! Now I have to practice for myself.

I eat all of the shrimp she has given me to be polite, but by the time I have done this three more are waiting for me.

Cassie *putting a hand out*: Thank you, Lola Naty, but no more! I want to do this by myself.

Lola Naty: Okay, last one.

As she plops one more onto my plate.

And then another.

And then another.

I keep eating the shrimp she is giving me, and by now there is a small mountain of shrimp heads on the corner of my plate. I didn’t plan to eat this much.

Cassie: No mooore please!

Lola Naty: Okay, last one.

And repeat.