The Okinawa Memories Initiative is a community history and dialogue project focusing on Okinawa and all the ways that its people, culture, and crises are central to understanding the world today. We’re driven by a spirited collaboration of college students, researchers, oral historians, and artists based at UC Santa Cruz with partnerships with Cal State Monterey Bay, CSU East Bay, and in Okinawa.
Our project honors the many ways that memories of a time, place, and way of life can be preserved, shared, and amplified. Our job is not to “capture” material and tell an empirical narrative about Okinawa in the postwar era. Our work is a community-driven collaboration meant to share and sustain an ongoing conversation.
Through oral histories, photography, videos, exhibitions, and regular visits to the islands, we’ve set the foundation for an enduring and rich project that will preserve memories, create conversations, and strengthen connections for years to come.
Older Okinawans are our interlocutors and teachers in this project. They remember a time when they experienced not only how small their world was, but how fragile—especially when war transformed their landscape, leveled cultural sites and cities, and claimed between a quarter and a third of the whole population. We also are learning from the profound range of American stories of Okinawa, from Okinawan Americans to African American GIs. We especially seek to center stories of U.S. veterans and their families, which are too often marginalized here in the States.
The process of surfacing these memories and putting them in conversation with each other is a subject of historical interest and documentation, but also something that works towards a future that can be more multivocal, more equitable, with room for more perspectives. In this way, we envision the project as peace-building, working to advance cross-cultural communication and intergenerational knowledge and understanding.
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The Okinawa Memories Initiative is a project of The Humanities Institute at UC Santa Cruz, a hub for academic research, cross-discipline collaboration, and public engagement. The Humanities Institute incubates ideas and fosters innovation by funding projects, centers, and research clusters that enable faculty and students to work on some of the biggest problems of our day.