Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts from Nishi Hongwanji carried banners representing the World War II camps.
By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
“The Victory and … the Unfinished Business” was the theme of this year’s Day of Remembrance program, held Feb. 17 at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.
While last year’s event marked the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the incarceration of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast, this year the focus was on the 30th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. The result of a decade-long campaign, the bill provided $20,000 payments and an official apology to those impacted by EO 9006.
While celebrating this milestone, each speaker warned that activism is needed now more than ever in today’s political climate.
Following a performance by Yuujou Daiko, the audience was welcomed by co-emcees Chris Komai, board chair of the Little Tokyo Community Council, and Kristin Fukushima, LTCC managing director.
“Today we gather to reflect on our community’s ability to persevere against the gutting of their civil rights and reaffirm our commitment to justice for all,” Komai said. “My grandfather, H. Toyosaku Komai, was the pre-war publisher of The Rafu Shimpo. He loved his adopted country, America. But the FBI came for him on Dec. 7. Held incommunicado in jail, he was transferred from Missoula, Montana, to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to Fort Livingston, Louisiana, and finally ended up in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Imprisoned until 1946, well after the war ended, my grandfather was never charged with a crime and never received a trial. A changed man upon his return, he died before I was even born. It strikes me that the lack of due process or any recourse for an immigrant who chose America as his home is a tragedy, an incredible waste of a life.
“Yet despite all of that, my uncle returned and restarted **The Rafu Shimpo.** Little Tokyo was reborn. Our community regrouped. And eventually we demanded an accounting for its treatment.”
Speaking as a Yonsei, Fukushima said, “I heard of redress growing up, kind of vaguely. I knew there was an apology, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I really began to understand just how much this effort really took … and really just how significant it is for elders in our community, folks who went through this trauma, to really talk about it and have that chance to speak about it at the [Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians] hearings … It really is incredible that we were able to get those hearings and then finally the actual passage of the bill and then the signing of the Civil Liberties Act. So this is something that we like to talk to younger people about — that it seems like it takes time [but]with the strength of our entire community nationwide, we are able to get things done.”
NCRR co-founder Alan Nishio gives the keynote speech.
“Turmoil and Divisions”
Praising the values of the Issei and Nisei who endured years in camp, fought in the war and rebuilt the community after their release, JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs said, “It’s those same values that led me in my youth to join the fight against apartheid in my native South Africa and to join in the struggle for liberation from one of the most unjust regimes of modern times. They are values for which I was willing to sacrifice a great deal … I served time as a political prisoner under martial law without the benefit of due process.”
Recalling what has happened in the U.S. since the last DOR program, Burroughs said, “It’s very hard to think that the turmoil and divisions in this country could be even further deepened … It’s the year in which we’ve seen Nazis marching unchecked with swastikas and torches through the streets of America. It’s a year in which we’ve virtually closed our borders on refugees. It’s a year in which we’ve seen our neighbors and friends rounded up, separated from their children and families, and forcibly ejected from this country.
“We’ve seen the travel bans and we’ve seen the talk of the war and we’ve seen how that climate of prejudice and bigotry and exclusion is rising again. It’s also a year in which we’ve seen the truth perverted and bent in service of discrimination and exclusion, and that gathering again are the clouds of bigotry and prejudice. So we know that at this time there is an enormous amount of unfinished business …
“There’s also been a time of great coming together, a time great of great hope when people have come together to organize, to think, to re-examine, to look at the challenges we face and to understand what the business is before us and what we need to do … We understand how important it is to stand for the truth to stand for the facts, to stand for the truth of history, how important it is to honor the past, to remember the past, but also primarily to ensure its mistakes and injustices are never repeated …
“When we see what is happening in our country, many of us fear that the fabric that glues us together is somehow fraying, and we know we have an enormous amount of work to do — on our own, as communities, as colleagues.”
JANM will continue this theme later this year with exhibitions on the Arab American experience and the anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act.
Researcher Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, who played a key role in the redress movement, was recognized.
Komai recognized special guests, in particular Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, who was an archivist and researcher for the CWRIC in the 1980s. “She incredibly uncovered the only existing copy of the Western Defense Command’s Final Report that proved there was no military necessity to incarcerate Japanese Americans. If it wasn’t for Aiko, there would be no redress.”
Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) also shared memories of a noted redress activist. “Thirty years ago, I was just a college student at Berkeley, but I will always remember my very first Day of Remembrance. It was 1987 in the Japantown of San Francisco, and that’s where I first met Tsuyako ‘Sox’ Kitashima (1918-2006). Sox looked like a typical Nisei, a tiny lady probably around 70 at that time. I remember she always had a beautiful head of white hair … She was a fighter. As a former internee, she was fighting for redress.
“I will always remember Sox as a symbol of the redress movement of what we can accomplish when everyday, regular people stand up and come together to fight for justice and for a better world. I hope today’s DOR will inspire all of you, as it always does for myself, to keep fighting for a better world just as I was inspired 30 years ago.”
As the only Japanese American currently serving in the State Legislature, Muratsuchi said, “I do feel a special obligation to represent all Japanese Americans in the state of California. Next week I will be introducing a resolution to declare Feb. 19 of 2018 as a Day of Remembrance throughout the state … This is a resolution that I have introduced every year that I served in the State Legislature and that I will continue to introduce as long as I serve in the State Legislature.
“Last year I was happy to get another one of my bills, AB 491, signed into law. This law allows the Civil Liberties Public Education Program to encourage the teaching of the lessons of the Japanese American incarceration experience by connecting our community’s experience with the experience of Muslim Americans, Dreamers and other communities so that the rest of America can learn from the Japanese American experience. I was also pleased to have my budget request for $3 million for this program to continue to be funded.”
Muratsuchi presented the event organizers with a framed DOR poster, which is being distributed to all offices in the State Legislature and the Governor’s Office.
Hannah Cho, senior field representative for State Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), presented certificates to the sponsoring organizations.
“In the 30th District, we represent parts of Sawtelle and West L.A., which have vibrant and wonderful populations of Japanese Americans, and we just stand united and stand together remembering that we should always fight for racial justice and fight against atrocities like Executive Order 9066,” Cho said.
An excerpt from the documentary “Justice Now, Reparations Now,” which includes testimonies from the 1981 CWRIC hearings in Los Angeles, was shown, followed by a ceremony in which Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts from Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple carried colorful banners representing the 10 War Relocation Authority camps — Amache, Gila, Heart Mountain, Jerome, Manzanar, Minidoka, Poston, Rohwer, Topaz and Tule Lake — as well as Crystal City and other Department of Justice camps.