Manzanar National Historic Site Chief of Interpretation Alisa Lynch and Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga. (Photo: Gann Matsuda)
Los Angeles commemorates Day of Remembrance in Little Tokyo.
By P.C. Staff
“Find a way to be part of the resistance and join us in making Feb. 19 not only a Day of Remembrance but also a day of resistance.”
Resounding words given by keynote speaker Alan Nishio of Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress that echoed through the George and Sakaye Aratani Central Hall at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo on Feb. 17.
Titled “The Civil Liberties Act of 1988: The Victory and the Unfinished Business,” the 2018 Los Angeles Day of Remembrance program commemorated the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the landmark legislation that provided the U.S. government’s apology and monetary reparations to the survivors of the forced removal and mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II as a result of the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942.
The event offered the standing-room only audience the opportunity to pause and reflect upon the 76th anniversary of E.O. 9066, as well as reaffirm their commitment to continue the fight for justice today so that such mistakes are never again repeated.
The program, emceed by Kristin Fukushima, managing director of the Little Tokyo Community Council, and Chris Komai, board chair of the LTCC, opened with a taiko performance by Yuujou Daiko, based out of Gedatsu Church in South San Gabriel, Calif., and affiliated with the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute.
Fukushima and Komai then welcomed JANM President Ann Burroughs, who echoed the importance of coming together to fight for the truth of history, as she, too, was denied due process in her native South Africa while opposing apartheid.
“It’s very hard to think that the turmoil and divisions in the country could be further deepened in this last year. Prejudice, bigotry and exclusion is rising again, so we know that at this time there is an enormous amount of unfinished business,” Burroughs said. “We also know that in this year of great turmoil, there has also been a time of great coming together, a time of great hope where people have come together to organize, think and re-examine to look at the challenges we are faced with and understand what business is before us and what we need to do. … We know there is an enormous amount of work to do, on our own, as communities, as colleagues.”
Special recognition was given to honorable guests in the audience, including Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, an archivist and researcher for the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, who uncovered documents that debunked the wartime administration’s claims of “military necessity” and helped compile the CWRIC’s final report, “Personal Justice Denied.”
Said Fukushima, “If it wasn’t for Aiko, there would be no redress.”
Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) of the 66th District spoke about the importance of DOR and how he introduces an annual resolution declaring Feb. 19 as a Day of Remembrance throughout the State of California.
“For me, the passage of [the Civil Liberties Act of 1988] and the redress movement that led to the passage of this act will always be one of the greatest examples of the potential to achieve justice through the democratic process.”
Muratsuchi then presented Fukushima a framed poster that will also be displayed in all offices in the California State Legislature to commemorate the Day of Remembrance for the State of California.
Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple Boy Scouts from Troop 735 and Girl Scouts from Troop 12135 then entered the hall carrying flags bearing the name of all 10 War Relocation Authority camps. Incarcerees in attendance were asked to stand and be recognized as a roll call was announced. A moment of silence was then observed to honor those in the redress movement who have since passed away.
The event’s keynote speaker, Alan Nishio, who was pivotal to the success of the redress movement campaign and the founder and co-chair of NCRR, then took the podium.
“In Los Angeles, this is our 39th Day of Remembrance program, and it’s an important one as we share the lessons from the camps and we commit ourselves to the banner of never again,” said Nishio. “I’m very proud to be able to look back … and know that I was able to be part, a very small part, but a part, of a movement for change and to see what the impact of those movements have been upon a changing society. None of those movements were more significant in my personal life than that of redress.”
The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was not ideal, Nishio said, as it did not provide redress for those who were not alive when the bill was passed, nor did it include Japanese Latin Americans and other groups that were denied because of that initial legislation. But it was an official government acknowledgement of a wrong that had been committed.
“My participation in the redress campaign was really a highlight of my life’s involvement,” Nishio reflected, adding that it was the people’s movement that saw redress through. “Let us not forget the importance of this movement because many will tell you that it was a phone call to President Reagan that got him to sign the legislation. … Believe me, it was the people’s movement that got us redress, and let’s not forget that.
“Many want us to feel powerless, that against overwhelming odds, they want us to feel that there is nothing we can do. … But the Civil Liberties Act affirms that there’s a lot we can do. Never underestimate the power of individuals that are committed to ideals when they work together,” Nishio said.
Nishio then shared a valuable lesson to be learned with the audience.
“So, what have we learned from all of this? A few things: The camps were not merely a history lesson. They are a cautionary tale; it is a story of importance not only to Japanese Americans. It is important because it is a tale of what could happen when a group is profiled and scapegoated in the name of national security. We want redress, but redress would be a hollow victory for our community if we chose to stand idly by while others are threatened. … We know the cost of silence. … We cannot choose to remain silent in light of the things we know that can directly impact our own experience.”
Nishio also stressed the importance of remaining vocal and to never stop fighting for what is right.
“This is not the time to retire. This is the time to use our experience for wisdom and be engaged and use that as part of creating change. … We need to continue to support future Day of Remembrance programs to ensure that our stories are passed on to future generations,” Nishio concluded.
The first-place winner in the Manzanar Committee’s Student Awards Program then addressed the audience with his award-winning essay “Keep Our Families Together.”
The speaker remained anonymous due to the current political climate as he spoke about being connected to similar feelings of what Japanese Americans experienced during WWII and what immigrant families are facing today.
“Immigrant communities are being torn apart just like Japanese Americans were during the war,” he said. “Moving a family by force can cause great harm. Similarly today, families also face such injustices. … No matter what ethnicity you are, never let yourself be labeled with something you know isn’t true. The Japanese Americans weren’t at all what the government labeled them as and they didn’t let themselves be identified as that. Nor should you let yourself be identified by the labels others put on you. Families should always be kept together because no mater how diverse our country becomes, the family unit will endure and fill our lives with love and strength.”
In attendance at the program was JACL Executive Director David Inoue, who reflected upon the day’s events.
“Hearing the story of the student’s family and how it was torn apart really drives home how intertwined today’s immigration debate is to our community’s experience,” he said. “Too often I hear JACL members argue that we should not be speaking out on issues such as immigration, but that story drew the direct parallel between the two experiences,” he said. “It is important that the enthusiasm that we felt this afternoon is carried throughout the year.”
The program ended with a “Call to Action” on various issues affecting the Japanese American community.
JACL Associate Director Stephanie Nitahara, representing the Pacific Southwest District, spoke about the devastating consequences that could result if President Trump’s 2019 budget proposal eliminates the Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant program.
“Join us in fighting to continue the JACS funding by calling your representatives and letting them know what you think,” she said. “Resources and a script to call your representative may be found on the JACL website (https://jacl.org/help-us-fund-the-japanese-american-confinement-site-program/).”
The program was co-sponsored by the Go for Broke National Education Center, JACL/Pacific Southwest District, JANM, Manzanar Committee, NCRR, Nikkei Progressives, Organization of Chinese Americans/Greater Los Angeles and Progressive Asian Network for Action/PANA.