The annual Day of Remembrance last Saturday marked the 70th year since the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Roosevelt in 1942.
A capacity crowd at JANM witnessed a memorable program presented mainly by NCRR, and also sponsored by JACL and JANM. Each year I continue to be impressed by the good work by NCRR. For many years, this small group of dedicated people has involved itself in many worthy causes. I feel a connection with them in that I, as well as many of them, share a background in education.
After 9/11, NCRR reached out to the Muslim/Arab communities to offer support as they became victims of the same kind of prejudice that we JAs suffered post-Dec. 7, 1941.
Co-emcee for the program was Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council, a federation of mosques and Muslim organizations serving more that a half million Muslims living in Southern California. The other co-emcee, Kei Nagao, has a wide-ranging background in JA community service. After 9/11 she worked with NCRR to organize forums on civil rights, and presently is a research associate at a Southern California public employees’ union.
To start the afternoon’s program, an excerpt from a moving tribute to the recently deceased Gordon Hirabayashi was projected on the museum wall. This was followed by a presentation from the L.A. County Board of Supervisors declaring Feb. 19 as the Day of Remembrance.
Robin Toma, the featured speaker, has an impressive background in furthering the cause of human and civil rights. He has served the past 12 years as executive director of the L.A. County Human Relations Commission.
Before he took this position, I remember going with him as part of an NCRR group that went to Washington, D.C., to petition members of Congress on behalf of Japanese Latin Americans who were kidnapped from their homes in South America and put in U.S. concentration camps. They have received a measure of justice but are continuing to petition Congress for full equity.
A memorable dramatization, “Who Showed Up,” was presented by three JAs and two Muslims. It dealt with past civil rights issues of JAs as well as current civil rights concerns of Muslims/Arab Americans. Readings from letters written by Gordon Hirabayashi together with excerpts from the L.A. redress hearings of 1981 were read by the JA performers: Kathy Masaoka, Sean Miura and Steve Nagano. Aslam Akhtar and Kifah Shah represented the concerns of the Muslim/Arab communities.
Aslam was one of the 11 demonstrators at UC Irvine during a speech by Israeli Ambassador Oren. He told of the rights violations suffered by the 11 in connection with the demonstration. Kifah told of other civil rights concerns related to the Muslim/Arab communities.
Effectively directing this production was Traci Kato-Kiriyama.
This DOR presentation had within it the powerful message that along with the remembering, we as a community have an obligation to support other communities who need us. I have followed the story of the UC Irvine 11, and how NCRR has supported them. In their support they have connected the civil rights violations the students have suffered with the story of our WWII internment experience.
A Day of Remembrance is needed and useful, and just as important, our story can be remembered throughout the year.
Phil Shigekuni can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.