Filmmaker Bio

Claudia Katayanagi, Director of “A Bitter Legacy”

Claudia Katayanagi, Director of “A Bitter Legacy”


As a fourth generation Japanese American...

or a Nikkei Yonsei, I remember the “social amnesia” that Professor Tetsuden Kashima talks about in this film, where no one in my immediate family would talk freely about their experience in the American Concentration Camps. They would rather forget about it.  

My father’s family, being based in the Bay Area went first to Tanforan as an assembly center, and then to Topaz, Utah. My mother’s family, based in Sacramento went to Walerga Assembly Center, and then was sent by train to Tule Lake. When Tule Lake became a Segregation Center, her family went first to Topaz and then to Amache.

Both sides of my family were pretty wealthy before WWII, having worked hard for so many years,  they had the respect of many in their community, many who were not Nikkei. But after the war, having lost everything, and having endured so much pain, they “didn’t want to talk about it.” My six siblings and I simply accepted this for many years.

I realized I’ve denied my Japanese heritage for a long time. By exploring this Nikkei history in these American Concentration Camps, I began to fully appreciate my cultural heritage and all that pain and indignation all the Nikkei families have suffered.

More than four years after starting this film, having interviewed dozens of historians, scholars, former incarcerees, and having personally visited and filmed at many of the former confinement sites, I have a deeper understanding of the many issues that were affecting the Nikkei people now, as well as before, and during World War II.

I hope I have created a film that communicates this deeper understanding of what was done to the Nikkei people here in this country, with a few connections of how these same issues are still occurring to people of other cultural heritages today, and what can be done to move this country and all of its people forward in a just, equitable manner.