Courtesy of Melodie Liu

The Satoda Scholars Program, now in its seventh year, is a program dedicated to advancing research in, dialogue about and remembrance of Japanese American internment during World War II.

Satoda Scholars are granted $750 in research funding to conduct research on the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII and Incarceration Studies more broadly. The program is open to undergraduate, graduate and professional school students. Scholars are expected to attend the annual Asian American Cultural Center’s Community Research Day in the spring, present their research findings at the annual AACC Community Research Day the following academic year and participate in annual Satoda Scholar alumni events.

The program’s origin goes back to 2015, when the diary of Yonekazu Satoda — a former internee — was set to be displayed in the Sterling Library Memorabilia Room as part of the exhibit, “Out of the Desert: Resilience and Memory in Japanese American Internment.” Satoda was originally thought to have passed away, but after persistent efforts, he was eventually reached by Courtney Sato GRD ’19, a then-doctoral student in American Studies who curated the exhibit.

“Yonekazu Satoda was a very humble man and was so honored that Mr. George Miles of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library purchased his diary and other artifacts on the rare book market,” Caroline Satoda, the eldest daughter of Yonekazu Satoda, told the News. “He did not realize the significance of, or interest in his personal mementos from his incarceration in the American concentration camp.”

Satoda, along with his family, was flown out as guests of honor for the exhibit opening, where Satoda delivered the keynote address. Satoda and his family also generously made a donation to the Yale Asian American Cultural Center, wishing to provide support for ongoing research in incarceration studies and Japanese American internment.

2017 marked the inaugural year of the AACC Satoda Scholars Program, where a total of five scholars were selected. Two awards have been granted each year following this inaugural cohort.

The research questions that have been explored by Satoda Scholars span a wide range and each scholar has varying motivations for pursuing the program.

“I felt like the Satoda scholars program was in a really interesting niche within the landscape of Yale College Academic research,” said Minh Vu YC ’20 GRD ’26. “I feel like there aren’t a lot of programs or any programs that are specifically dedicated to an Asian American perspective or research, so that’s why I found this Scholars Program really exciting.”

A Satoda Scholar in 2019, Vu is currently a third-year PhD student and serves as the interim assistant director of the AACC. Vu conducted research regarding the political and personal relationship that Yuri Kochiyama — a Japanese-American civil rights activist who was interned during WWII — had with civil rights activist Malcolm X.

Erin Nishi ’25 — one of two Satoda Scholars in the most recent 2022 cohort — chose to center her research on the role that music played in the Japanese internment camps during World War II.

“One of the biggest things for me was just knowing that at a community like Yale, which is so huge and has very few Japanese people compared to where I’m from, Hawaii,” Nishi said. “It’s nice to know that there is support and that there are other people in the community who are passionate about this kind of research.”

Nishi shares a deeply personal connection with the history of Japanese-American internment in the United States as her great grandparents, as well as their son, were incarcerated during WWII. Her research drew from her great grandfather’s experience playing the violin in internment camps and Nishi’s own passion for the violin — combining her family history with her musical and academic interests.

Angelin Mathew ’25 was also a part of the 2022 cohort of Satoda Scholars. Her research project — titled “Incarceration Technologies: Loyalties and Resistance During Japanese-American Incarceration” — focused on understanding how data science was used to operationalize the management of internment camps and the role that various corporations such as IBM played in the internment of Japanese Americans.

Mathew herself shares no personal connection to Japanese American internment, but her belief that remembering history is a collective responsibility drove her to participate in the program. Having now done extensive research in this area, Mathew hopes to use the funding provided from the program to travel to various research archives that have not yet been digitized.

“I think the most meaningful part [of the program] was being able to present to the Satoda family on Research Day,” Mathew told the News. “It was really meaningful to see people on the ground actually sustaining these efforts to remember and create spaces for that.”

The annual AACC Community Research Day, which is when the Satoda Scholars present the culmination of their work, was held on Thursday, March 30 this year. At the event, the previous year’s Scholars present their research and the newly selected Satoda Scholars for the following year are welcomed. The Satoda Scholars in the 2023 cohort include Allison Chu GRD ’25 and Katherine Matsukawa ’23.

The Satoda family has also participated in the Community Research Day since the start of the Satoda Scholars program. Mr. Satoda’s children, Caroline and David Satoda, attended the most recent Community Research Day virtually through Zoom.

“It’s an event we look forward to every year,” Caroline Satoda said. “It’s always inspiring listening to the Satoda Scholars present their incredible and sophisticated research and virtually meeting the newest cohort of scholars.”

Along with Dean Yee and other AACC staff, the Satoda family continues to review applications for the Satoda Scholars Program every year.

Yonekazu Satoda passed away on Dec. 6, 2017 at age 96.

Joshua Zhang previously covered religious life and culture at Yale. Originally from San Diego, California, he is a second year in Branford College majoring in Computer Science and Economics.