Ann Curry: Wartime Lies About JAs Persist

Speaking on behalf of the charter members were Stan Honda, Amy Uyematsu and Marlene Calderon (for her grandmother, Barbara Kawakami).

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

“Vision and Commitment: Our Journey of Renewal” was the theme of the Japanese American National Museum’s annual gala, held April 13 at the Intercontinental Los Angeles Downtown with more than 1,000 people in attendance.

Highlights included a keynote speech by broadcast journalist Ann Curry and tributes to the museum’s charter members.

Emceed by Frank Buckley of KTLA Morning News, the program included the Grateful Four, the youth group of the Grateful Crane Ensemble, who sang the national anthem and other songs with accompaniment by Scott Nagatani (musical director), David Cheung and Gordon Bash.

Leslie Furukawa of Gomez & Furukawa and the JANM Board of Trustees spoke on behalf of the Gala Dinner Committee, which she co-chaired with Ernest Doizaki of Kansas Marine Company and Gene Kanamori of Keiro and the JANM Board of Governors.

Broadcast journalist Ann Curry discussed how she learned about the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans.

Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, chair of the JANM Board of Trustees, who will be featured in a documentary on PBS next month, said, “This year we are highlighting individuals and families who made a commitment to the Japanese American National Museum even before we opened our doors. By becoming charter members, these early supporters endorsed our mission to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience …

“In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the idea of having a museum that told the story of the incarceration of Japanese Americans … was just a dream. Many people in the community had discussed the idea before, but it would take a movement for it to become a reality. The movement was the charter members who not only supported the vision of the Japanese American National Museum with their words but with their own money. Over 10,000 individuals and families from all around the world made up this movement.

“Looking back now, it feels inevitable, but I can assure you that it was far from a sure thing. Back then. there was no guarantee that the Japanese American National Museum would be anything more than a dream … So on behalf of the museum staff, the wonderful volunteers that we have, and the Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors. I would like to thank all of our charter members for your belief in us.”

Voices of Charter Members

The charter members present were asked to stand up and be recognized. Charter members and docents Bill Shishima and Yae Aihara introduced a video about charter members Stan Honda, Barbara Kawakami, Edwin Nakasone and Amy Uyematsu.

Former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta thanked the JANM charter members.

Appearing on stage after the video, Honda, a photojournalist, said, “The Heart Mountain barracks project really connected me to the Japanese American National Museum. The fact that the barrack is still at the museum and thousands of visitors and students see it every day is a strong reminder why a place like the Japanese American National Museum needs to exist.”

Kawakami’s granddaughter, Marlene Calderon, said, “Thank you so much for supporting her vision and her ability to be able to share her passionate stories of … the first immigrants to Hawaii.”

Uyematsu, a poet, recalled, “When I was a senior a Pasadena High School in the ’60s, I talked about my family being forced into Heart Mountain and Gila. None of my classmates believed me. They accused me of making it up. Back then, the mass incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans was not included in history books.

“Today, you can go to the JANM bookstore and see shelf after shelf of books on the camps. We’ve come a long way, but we know how important it is to keep talking about our history … I’m especially grateful that its permanent collection pays tribute to our pioneer Issei and their Nisei children.”

Sean Miura, writer, producer, artist and Buzzfeed strategist, solicited donations for JANM’s Bid for Education, which makes field trips to JANM possible for over 12,000 primary and secondary school students and teachers every year. More than $200,000 was raised that evening.

An “In Memoriam” montage honored notable individuals, including several charter members, who have passed away since the last gala. (A complete list follows this article.)

President’s Remarks

JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs started by thanking everyone, especially the sponsors, for their generous contributions and asking the staff, volunteers, trustees and governors to stand and be recognized.

JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs.

“Just eight months ago at JANM, we marked the 30th anniversary of redress, the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which we commemorated at JANM with a very special display, the centerpiece of which was the original document on loan from the National Archives, bearing President [Ronald] Reagan’s signature,” she noted. “… We also had President Reagan’s pen, the pen that he used to sign the act into law.

“When we did that exhibition … we celebrated the commitment of the community to push for redress. We also celebrated that act of a president who was willing to name the injustice of incarceration for what it was. The president, in that instance, stood up for the principles on which this country was founded and apologized for the great wrong that this country had brought on its own citizens.

“The contrast of that president’s willingness to apologize and name that wrong could not be more apparent and could not have more relevance and immediacy at this moment when civil rights for so many in this country of being threatened … Our obligation at JANM — it’s not a choice, it’s something that we have to do — is to shine the light on what can happen when any community is scapegoated and persecuted in the way that the Japanese American community was scapegoated and persecuted.”

Burroughs celebrated “the grit and the passion of our charter members,” many of whom were in camp, to create “a place where the history of the incarceration would be preserved and never forgotten, a place where that apology would have meaning and a place that could shine that light and stand as a beacon against injustice, and a place where diversity would be welcomed and celebrated.”

She gave special recognition to the first volunteer who became a charter member, Masako Murakami, who was in the audience.