The Importance of Local Stories: Oregon Students Discover the Courageous Work and Life of Minoru Yasui

Today’s post was written by National Archives Education Specialist Andrea (Ang) Reidell. It’s the third in a four-part series highlighting National History Day (NHD) students across the country who researched historical sources from the National Archives to create award-winning NHD documentaries. Each post features a different type of primary source. Ang spoke with students Kyler Wang and Alan Zhou about their research process and their use of National Archives visual sources.

Alan Zhou and Kyler Wang, high school students who have twice won first place for their group documentaries at National History Day, have advice for student researchers: embrace your local history, and find it’s special significance. Alan and Kyler have been participating in NHD since middle school, and each time they have chosen a local topic. The key, they say, is connecting the local story to a national one: “Don’t be afraid to do a local topic as long as you can tie it into a larger national narrative.”

Kyler and Alan’s topic for the “Breaking Barriers in History” theme was Minoru Yasui, a young Japanese American lawyer from Hood River, Oregon, who stood up during World War II and challenged the discriminatory policies enacted against Japanese and Japanese American communities after President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066.  Mr. Yasui continued to fight discrimination of all kinds throughout his life and was posthumously awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2015. 

View Alan and Kyler’s 2020 NHD Senior Group Documentary, Breaking the Curfew: The Story of Minoru Yasui:

For their project research, Alan and Kyler used several different types of National Archives sources: blog posts about General John L Dewitt and Japanese Internment, historical footage from the Department of Defense posted on the National Archives YouTube channel, video footage of Ronald Reagan signing the Japanese American Internment Compensation Bill, and an online exhibit of wartime propaganda posters.

In addition to the high quality of the footage, Kyler and Alan appreciated being able to use National Archives sources because of the thoroughness of the source citations – something not every online source has, but that is very important for an NHD annotated bibliography. 

You can read more about how Alan and Kyler researched and created their documentary in their NHD process paper and bibliography.

Like many National History Day students, working on their project inspired Alan and Kyler to become more involved in their community to continue to honor the legacy of Minoru Yasui and others who stood up for the rights of all. They now serve on the planning committee for a student essay competition through the Minoru Yasui Legacy project.

Congratulations, Kyler and Alan, and thank you for taking the time to share your documentary and research journey with us! Your thoughts about using video resources from the National Archives will be very helpful to students and teachers conducting National History Day research. And best of luck to all with NHD this year as you explore “Communication in History!

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