Building Empathy is a project of PEF and PUSD, with support from the California State Library and California Humanities

Comics, Memoirs, Research Papers

For these projects, students researched Japanese American detention centers, then used Jessica Kashiwabara’s essay, “A Study,” to inspire their own memoirs. Other students designed family/community portraits and comics about civil liberties.

Lesson Plans

Featured Work

Participating teachers at Pasadena High School (PHS): Bertha Aguilar Garcia / Graphic Design & Mayte Hernandez / English

Bertha Aguilar and Mayte Hernandez teach ninth graders in PHS’s Creative Arts, Media and Dance academy (CAMAD). They attended all three professional development training sessions and collaborated to create a semester-long course in which they introduced the project to 100 ninth graders in their English and Graphic Design classes.

All participating students attended the field trip to Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles through which they explored the eight blocks on their own and participated in a guided interactive tour of the Japanese American National Museum Common Grounds exhibition.

For their English class with Ms. Hernandez, students conducted research and wrote papers about the Japanese American detention centers. In addition, Pasadena-based Japanese American writer Jessica Kashiwabara conducted visits to Ms. Hernandez’s classrooms where she shared her essay, “A Study,” in which she writes about her grandfather’s experience at Heart Mountain Detention Camp in Wyoming, far from his base in Los Angeles. The students used Kashiwabara’s essay as a template to write their own memoirs.

For their Graphic Design class with Ms. Aguilar, students created portraits of family members laced with lettering to humanize the communities in which they belong. Students also created comics about civil liberties issues that are urgent for them. Students dove into Japanese American culture and created emojis.

Page Header Photo: Art by Pasadena High School student, Tina G.; Photo credit: Milly Correa Hernandez

What we hear!


“I had already known pretty much most things about the [Japanese American concentration] camps because my grandmother was interned at those camps…”

Leo, ninth grader, Pasadena High School

 “I wasn’t very aware of the Japanese concentration camps, so I learned with the students. I think it’s important to learn about issues that happen in our neighborhood, and this is really relevant.”

– Mayte Hernandez, English instructor, Pasadena High School