By Betsy Sato, MDC governor
It’s been a busy year in the MDC. We had two all-district meetings — Omaha in April and Chicago in September. In addition to the usual business, both meetings featured dinners honoring Bill Yoshino on the occasion of his retirement from JACL. His energy, savvy and wisdom will be greatly missed as a part of MDC and JACL as a whole. For as long as I have been involved in JACL, Bill was the go-to person for information about JACL and advice on how best to get things done.
In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, most of our chapters held programs or exhibitions about E.O. 9066 and incarceration.
The Chicago Chapter collaborated with the Alphawood Gallery on an excellent major exhibition: “Then They Came for Me — Incarceration of Japanese Americans During WWII and the Demise of Civil Liberties.” The Indianapolis Chapter had an exhibit on a more intimate scale that featured handmade crafts, clothing and other objects created in the camps. Taken together, these two exhibits provided a comprehensive sense of life behind barbed wire.
Other MDC chapters held film festivals or lectures about E.O. 9066 and its implications today. As a result of the demand for speakers, JACLers who had been hesitant to tell their stories began to speak out. Anne Moore from Indianapolis and Gordon Yoshikawa from Cincinnati both gave public presentations about their early lives and the experiences their families endured during incarceration, followed by their move to the Midwest.
The demand for speakers continued throughout the year, with many chapter representatives visiting schools, libraries and civic meetings to talk about incarceration and the JA experience. My husband, Kazuya, and I talked with third- through fifth-graders attending a daylong workshop at Northern Kentucky University. Every student had read the book “Paper Wishes” by Lois Sepahban, which tells the story of a young girl sent to Manzanar from Bainbridge Island, Wash. Representatives from most of our chapters spoke to schools and local organizations.
In many ways, this is the strength of the MDC. We are widespread geographically, and the population of Japanese Americans is not particularly dense. Nevertheless, we work hard to get the story of JACL and the Japanese American experience out to our communities. Building coalitions with other Asian American groups also helps to spread the word about JACL. This creates bonds across Asian American communities and helps increase visibility and understanding as well as adds strength in numbers when we speak out on pertinent issues affecting us all.
Because of the anniversary of E.O. 9066, 2017 was a busy year, but thus far in 2018, things do not appear to be slacking off, partly because of the discussions about immigration reform, DACA and other national issues.
As a result, JACL members will continue to be called upon to speak out from our experiences and values. Since we are also often identified as knowing about Japan, we will be called upon to talk about Japanese history, culture and society in our local schools and other organizations. Our local chapters are pretty well equipped to do this.
We are also grateful to National JACL for providing information on issues when we need it. This is just one illustration of the relationship between local chapters and our national organization. Our national offices in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., are a great resource of information and support for our local efforts. We need to be a resource to them as well with our time, knowledge and, yes, I have to say it, our money.
JACL as an organization has an important message to share. To do that effectively, we have to have the resources to make that message available to all who would hear it. So, for JACL to share its expertise and experience in the Midwest and throughout the rest of the country, we need to give generously not only of our time but of our treasure.