Scouts and camp representatives line up to honor Japanese Americans incarcerated at government-run incarceration centers during WWII. (Photo: Keiichi Ono)

The Hirono video removal adds drama to ‘Democracy in Crisis’ theme.

By P.C. Staff

Day of Remembrance 2020 was everything its organizers could have hoped for: a beautiful winter day in Los Angeles, a standing-room only crowd in the main hall of Little Tokyo’s Japanese American National Museum and a restive political climate in which the theme — “Democracy in Crisis: 1942-2020” — resonated with more urgency than usual.

George Abe plays the conch shell. (Photo: George Johnston)

The Feb. 15 event began on a solemn note, provided by Manzanar-born musician George Abe, who blew into a conch shell to open the proceedings.

Sara Aiko Omura and her father, Glenn Suravech. (Photo: George Johnston)

It was followed by 12-year-old Sara Aiko Omura’s reading of her award-winning poem “Has Anything Really Changed?” accompanied by her father, Glenn Suravech, on acoustic guitar.

Omura was followed by another daughter-dad duo, Maiya Kuida-Osumi, 15, and Tony Osumi, who served as co-masters of ceremony for the event. Osumi then introduced JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs.

Maiya Kuida-Osumi and Tony Osumi serve as masters of ceremony at the 2020 Day of Remembrance, held on Feb. 15, at JANM. (Photo: George Johnston)

“I’m so grateful to all of you for coming. It’s always such an honor and privilege at JANM to have you in our house at any time,” Burroughs said. “It’s a particular privilege to have you with us today.”

JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs welcomes the audience to the 2020 Day of Remembrance. (Photo: George Johnston)

Burroughs then went on to thank the planning committee for the months it spent putting the DOR event together.

But as Burroughs reached the end of the welcome message she read from former U.S. Congressman, Transportation Department Secretary and JANM board of trustees Chairman Norman Mineta, who was attending a concurrent DOR event in San Jose, a last-minute change to the program was revealed, namely the elimination of a video message from Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

Quoting Mineta, Burroughs said, “JANM was founded on the principal that what happened to us during World War II must never be repeated and that no other group should be similarly targeted. Like all of us in this room, JANM has a heavy obligation to protect this legacy. We are keenly aware of how easily divisiveness and discrimination create barriers and pit citizen against citizen.

“We are therefore deeply committed to encouraging dialogue and the inclusion of all voices and opinions, regardless of partisan position or political affiliation,” Burroughs continued. “JANM therefore requested that changes be made to the program to allow for all to feel welcomed here and for all participating organizations similarly to feel welcome. In this spirit, one of the changes you will note is that the video presentation by Sen. Mazie Hirono will be moved online, and we’d like you to view on the websites of several of the organizations represented here.”

Despite the applause that followed Burroughs, for some in the audience and planning committee who reacted later on social media, the announcement that Hirono’s message was excised from the program played like a sour note compared with the music earlier in the program.

The event nevertheless continued, with Osumi’s next introduction of DOR Planning Committee Co-Chair Glen Kitayama, who noted how the Day of Remembrance was created to never forget President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which he signed on Feb. 19, 1942.

While EO 9066 led to the “forced removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast into concentration camps,” Kitayama added, “Not one Japanese American was indicted, let alone convicted, of any act of espionage [or] sabotage during WWII.”

Alluding to this DOR’s theme, Kitayama said, “Today, we stand at a critical juncture. For the past three years, our government has criminalized immigrants, separated children from their families and imprisoned families simply because they were seeking asylum at the border.”

Kitayama also alluded to the “Muslim Ban” that was attempted during the early days of the Trump administration and called for Americans of all backgrounds to unite to create a blueprint for social justice to counter such discriminatory actions that parallel the Japanese American experience during WWII.

Kuida-Osumi then introduced the procession of living former incarcerees representing the War Relocation Authority centers and other incarceration camps operated by the Department of Justice and other government branches.

As Abe played the shakuhachi, each representative was escorted by a banner-bearing member of Girl Scout Troop 12135 of the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, Boy Scout Troop 242 of the Christ Lutheran Church, Boy Scout Troop 764 of the Venice Japanese Community Center, Boy Scout Troop 361 and Girl Scout Troop 1521 of the Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles.

Kuida-Osumi and Osumi alternated announcing each representative and the number of people incarcerated at their camp. In order of appearance, they were:

  • Min Tonai, Amache, Colo. (WRA)
  • George Sugimoto, Gila River, Ariz. (WRA)
  • Sam Mihara, Heart Mountain, Wyo. (WRA)
  • Richard Murakami, Jerome, Ark. (WRA)
  • Marge Kohatsu, Manzanar, Calif. (WRA)
  • Norma Jean Yamashita, Minidoka, Idaho (WRA)
  • Ben Furuta, Poston, Ariz. (WRA)
  • Kanji Sahara, Rohwer, Ark. (WRA)
  • Esther Taira, Topaz, Utah (WRA)
  • Bill Nishimura, Tule Lake, Calif. (WRA)
  • Chieko Kamisato, Crystal City, Texas (DOJ)

Kanji Sahara represents the Rohwer WRA Center. (Photo: George Johnston)

They then named the many other camps operated by the Justice Department, as well as the citizen isolation centers that held 5,500 detainees. Don Seki, who was scheduled to represent the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service, was absent.

Next on the program was an in memoriam segment, led by Kay Ochi and Richard Katsuda of Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress and the DOR Committee, which was accompanied by Abe’s shakuhachi to honor Japanese American community leaders who died in the past many months.

Those recognized were Jeff Adachi, Paul Bannai, Harry Kajihara, Hiroshi Kashiwagi, Greg Marutani, Dean Matsubayashi, Wat Misaka, Rev. Paul Nagano, Lucille Nakahara, Esther Takei Nishio, Dr. Bo Sakaguchi and Hank Umemoto.

It was at this point where the event deviated from the printed program and skipped to a speech by intergenerational trauma expert and Tsuru for Solidarity Co-Chair Satsuki Ina because of the elimination of Sen. Hirono’s video message.

During Ina’s presentation, she spoke of how using cross-community healing circles — sitting in a circle and sharing stories — organized by Tsuru for Solidarity with asylum seekers detained by immigration authorities at the southern border led to greater understanding, healing and compassion for all involved.

Satsuki Ina speaks at the 2020 Day of Remembrance in Los Angeles. (Photo: George Johnston)

Referring to the importance of Days of Remembrance events, Ina said, “To remember is an act of dissidence. … Days of Remembrance is an act of dissidence that we must continue every year, every day, every week.”

Ina noted that from June 5-7, Tsuru for Solidarity will convene in Washingon, D.C., for its Pilgrimage to Close the Camps (details can be found online at tsuruforsolidarity.org/pilgrimage/), which includes plans to conduct 50 healing circles.

While the JANM board of trustees decided to remove Sen. Hirono’s video message from the program, the video, as noted, could be viewed online or at the different group tables set up at the event. (Editor’s Note: Hirono’s video can be downloaded at tinyurl.com/qnj3qxd)

In a news release from JANM following the event, Mineta explained the reasons why the decision was made to exclude the video.

In part, it read: “ … as a nonprofit museum, we cannot take a partisan position, and we believe that we can be most effective when we do not. We were also made aware that the inclusion of the video might have resulted in one of our sister organizations that participated in the organizing committee having to withdraw.”

The release also said, “Another key factor in our decision was that in the uncertainty of the current political climate, we cannot ignore the reality that the museum runs the risk of placing our nonprofit status and our ability to operate in jeopardy if we are considered partisan.”

Kitayama, in an email, wrote that the removal of the video “ … was done over the objections of the vast majority of the Day of Remembrance planning committee, of which JANM is one of the representatives. Thankfully, Sen. Hirono’s message has received new life online, and everyone can now judge for themselves if Sen. Hirono’s remarks were ‘too partisan.’ ”

In a Facebook post, Osumi later questioned the decision to cut Hirono’s video, writing: “Totally unacceptable and very troubling, especially in light of what’s going on in this country and this year’s DOR theme. … JANM owes the community an apology AND needs to reorganize its board to create more local and broader community representation.”

Darrell Kunitomi, however, who attended the DOR event at JANM, had a different reaction to the decision to remove the video from the program.

“All I’ll say is that they are not single citizens but an organization that tries to serve all, like it or not,” he said. “I pulled out their five points, and they make sense to me. I understand their predicament; I don’t think it lessens their importance or stature in the community.

“I personally want to hear everything in the news of today and in our shared history as JAs, including the stuff I don’t like,” Kunitomi continued. “But I am a single citizen. A museum for all JAs has to make decisions with things that may prove controversial. In other words, they sometimes have to play it safe. And then there’s the funding thing.

“We should remember that JANM went through some very lean times,” Kunitomi concluded. “Budget and operating in today’s America is a clear and present concern.”

Statement by Sec. Norman Y. Mineta, Chair, JANM Board of Trustees, Regarding the Day of Remembrance Program

Following is the transcript of the JANM news release issued after the DOR event on Feb. 15.

At the Day of Remembrance commemoration on Saturday, Feb. 15, JANM made the decision to move a video message by Sen. Mazie Hirono online rather than screen it during the event. We have the utmost respect for Sen. Hirono and her courageous commitment to democracy and civil rights. In recognition of this, JANM conferred upon her our Award of Excellence at our annual dinner in 2018.

JANM was founded on the principal that what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II must never be repeated and that no other group should be similarly targeted. We are keenly aware of how easily divisiveness and discrimination create barriers and pit citizen against citizen.

We are therefore deeply committed to encouraging dialogue and the inclusion of all voices and opinions, regardless of partisan position or political affiliation. We are also committed to protecting civil rights, especially those that defend against discrimination and prejudice.

However, as a nonprofit museum, we cannot take a partisan position, and we believe that we can be most effective when we do not. We were also made aware that the inclusion of the video might have resulted in one of our sister organizations that participated in the organizing committee having to withdraw, which was not an outcome that we wanted to see.

In this spirit, we requested that changes be made to the program to allow all to feel welcomed.

We also specifically informed attendees that the video would be made available on line on the websites of other organizing committee members.

Another key factor in our decision was that in the uncertainty of the current political climate, we cannot ignore the reality that the museum runs the risk of placing our nonprofit status and our ability to operate in jeopardy if we are considered partisan.

Moreover, JANM has been a leading advocate for the reauthorization of federal funding for the Japanese American Confinement Sites grant program which has provided over $29 million to support countless Japanese American organizations in their efforts to preserve our history, our historic sites and artifacts.

By taking an overtly partisan position, we compromise our ability to play a leadership role in this effort but more importantly the funding on which many organizations rely to preserve our history. 

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JACL SF/LA Day of Remembrance Remarks

Following is the transcript of Sen. Mazie Hirono’s video message, which was omitted from JANM’s DOR event.

Aloha, everyone. I’m pleased to welcome you to this year’s commemoration of the Day of Remembrance.

It’s important that we take time to remember the unjust incarceration of Japanese Americans in World War II.

That hateful and discriminatory policy began 78 years ago with Executive Order 9066.

Under the guise of national security, President Roosevelt signed away the freedom of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans.

The government forced Japanese Americans out of their homes and into concentration camps in remote parts of the country.

The trauma and shame that Japanese Americans endured during this dark time reverberates to this day.

Donald Trump is once again using Executive Orders to attack immigrants.

One of his first Executive Orders as president was the Muslim Ban. It targeted people from seven Muslim-majority countries to block them from entering the United States.

When the State of Hawaii and others challenged the ban, the Supreme Court let the government hide behind the pretext of national security.

We knew this 5-4 decision would embolden Trump to do more harm.

And indeed, he has. Donald Trump recently added six more countries to the Muslim Ban.

He also used an Executive Order to direct the expansion of expedited removal so he could deport even more immigrants at a faster rate.

And he has used an Executive Order to justify cancelling a humanitarian parole program that reunites aging Filipino World War II veterans with their sons and daughters and other family members.

His anti-immigrant hatred goes so far as to cancel even this program that impacts an ever diminishing number of Filipino World War II veterans.

Beyond Executive Orders, Donald Trump’s all-out assault on immigrants is occurring on multiple fronts. He has used regulations, such as his public charge rule, to keep out immigrants who don’t pass his wealth test and English language ability test.

He has used policy announcements, such as the zero tolerance policy, to separate thousands of children and families at the border.

And he has used Twitter to insult and debase immigrants.

These are not normal times.

But today, as we remember the incarceration of Japanese Americans in World War II, it is also important to remember Fred Korematsu and others who bravely challenged that unjust policy.

Fred Korematsu — at the age of 23 — refused to give in to President Roosevelt’s racist Executive Order. He stood up to the fearmongering and took his fight all the way to the Supreme Court.

Sadly, then, as now, the Supreme Court rubberstamped a discriminatory policy under the pretense of national security.

But Fred Korematsu never stopped fighting for justice and civil rights for all Americans.

We must do the same. We must continue to stand up for all immigrants and fight to keep history from repeating itself.

In fact, we must stand together to fight the unjust policies that target minorities that will continue to flow from this amoral president.