It was a slightly overcast Saturday afternoon, but it felt like the sun was shining everywhere as an excited throng filled the Garden Room of the JACCC on Saturday, June 16. Could it be?
Yes! At last, after six years in the making, NCRR launched their new book, “NCRR: The Grassroots Struggle for Japanese American Redress and Reparations!” Finally — the story of redress and reparations from a grassroots perspective.
The seminal boots-on-the-ground story told by and of the legions of Japanese American community advocates, families, and everyday folks who wholeheartedly gave themselves over to the decades-long struggle for JA redress and reparations. Who willingly and unselfishly gave their time, their stories, and their talents to keep this campaign going; who uncovered and shared painful and previously untold family histories; who generously gave encouragement, words of wisdom, home-cooked meals, and many forms of donations.
But most of all, the book is the story told by and of these wonderful unpaid warriors who laid it all on the line for decades to win justice and redress!
And now it was 38 years after NCRR’s founding conference at CSULA in 1980, and 37 years after the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) hearings. And it was a real celebration – a festive gathering of old comrades and cohorts from “back in the day.” It was a day filled with surprise reunions… especially since I am now at the stage in life where I can either remember your name or your face, but rarely both at the same time. So, I am often in a state of “surprise.” Plus, some folks have really changed. (Kinda brought me back to the Asian American Hard Core reunion a few years back where I left thinking, “Dang! I never saw so many faded tattoos in one room at one time…”)
Yep, we old warriors are getting up in years. The book’s editorial team, Lane Hirabayashi, Kay Ochi, Janice Iwanaga Yen, Kathy Masaoka, Richard Katsuda and Suzy Katsuda, took all of this into consideration, too. The book is very readable. Chock full of wonderful and sometimes embarrassing photos from members’ own family archives. Fantastic graphic design by Qris Yamashita. Compelling stories and articles. And most importantly, a large-type font. (Yes, you can put that magnifying glass back in the drawer). NCRR knows their readership.
The book is in two parts and it is heavy – in content, insight, depth, and weight. Part I spotlights the “History and Origins” of NCRR, opening with Glen Kitayama’s comprehensive study, “Japanese Americans and the Movement for Redress: Grassroots Activism in NCRR, LA Chapter.” This is paired with the oral histories of ten founding NCRR LA members. The oral histories were conducted in 2002 by Sharon Yamato, and are excerpted from the much longer original narratives.
This is where the book comes alive with the sometimes wildly entertaining (hi, Jim), sometimes poignant, but surprisingly compelling back stories. The diverse backgrounds and life experiences of these NCRR members put a human face on the organization, and how that shaped the character of the LA chapter.
It also shows that despite these variances, a common thread weaves its way through the lives of these and all NCRR members … the lurking shadow of the concentration camps on all of our families, and the myriad forms and instances of racism, overtones of sexism, and classism/elitism within the JA community. And how that shaped our thinking and led to the convergence of so many disparate individuals, from all parts of the country, into LA to build a grassroots movement for justice and redress.
Part II, “Voices of Transformation: Community Organizers and Activists,” is fascinating and thought-provoking, brimming over with first-hand accounts by NCRR members and allies throughout the years who recall various campaigns they participated in between 1980-2012. These stories are paired with previously written articles from NCRR’s website archives highlighting critical moments in the NCRR story; they are heavily abridged and edited to reduce the volume of the book. (These articles in their original form can be found on NCRR’s website.)
All in all — “What emerges is a rich portrait of voices and narratives that illustrate how a popular, egalitarian, grassroots campaign for social justice blossomed into a powerful voice for ordinary people and played a pivotal role in reaching previously unimaginable goals.” (“NCRR: The Grassroots Struggle,” p. 14).
A few days after the book launch, I ran into Harry Kawahara in the Japanese Village Plaza. “I was up until 2 a.m. last night reading,” he raved. “I couldn’t put the book down!”
In a time of forcibly splitting children and families, and imprisoning them into caged areas – sound familiar? In the face of mass shootings at schools; unchecked corruption at the highest levels of government; of presidential courting and consorting with dictators, outright lying, collusion, and on and on … An underlying pall, a malaise has affected many of us as events we could not even imagine continue to unfold.
It is times like these that call for the spirit of coming together once again, to fight for justice. I felt this spirit at the book launch. Grassroots organizations like NCRR provide a welcome respite from all of this. And provide hope for the future. I hope this book launch is the first of many.
Miya Iwataki has been an advocate for communities of color for many years, from the JACS Asian Involvement Office in Little Tokyo in the ’70s, through the JA redress/reparations struggle with NCRR while working for Congressman Mervyn Dymally, to statewide health rights advocacy. She also worked in public media at KCET-TV, then KPFK Pacifica Radio as host for a weekly radio program, “East Wind.” She can be reached at [email protected].
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