By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
The continuing impact of Executive Order 9066 on generations of Japanese Americans was the focus of this year’s Day of Remembrance program, held Feb. 15 at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.
Day of Remembrance is observed every year on or around Feb. 19, the date in 1942 when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the executive order authorizing the removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans on the West Coast. Since 9/11, DOR events have also addressed discrimination against Arab and Muslim Americans.
JANM President and CEO Greg Kimura noted that some internment-related programs “end up speaking to the choir,” or only reaching those who are already aware of the issues. Upcoming exhibitions, including one on tattoos and another on the 40th anniversary of Hello Kitty, “are designed to bring people who don’t know the story but need to know the story into the museum. If you’re not a member of the museum, join. If you are a member, come back … bring friends, invite people.”
The event was emceed by Traci Ishigo, program coordinator for the JACL Pacific Southwest District and a graduate of UC Irvine, where she served as student body president; and Riku Matsuda, a senior intergroup relations specialist for the L.A. county Commission on Human Relations and host of “Flip the Script” on Pacifica’s KPFA-FM.
“It’s so important to reflect and remember this moment in our history … The forced removal and incarceration resulted from the signing of E.O. 9066 was a devastating experience not only to the Issei and Nisei, but continues to impact our multigenerational community today,” Matsuda said.
Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) recalled, “I’ve been attending the Day of Remembrance activities ever since the 1980s, when I was a student at Berkeley … There was woman up in San Francisco … Tsuyako ‘Sox’ Kitashima. She really personified the fighting spirit of the DOR that tied into the redress movement … I always came from the DORs feeling recharged by the spirit of community … I’m always reminded why I went into politics, because of people like Sox, to keep fighting for justice and fighting for a better world.”
Muratsuchi announced that he and Assemblymember Mariko Yamada (D-Davis) planned to introduce a DOR resolution “so that the entire state of California will remember the tragedy that followed President Roosevelt’s signing of E.O. 9066.”
For the annual remembrance ceremony, former incarcerees and early evacuees in the audience were asked to stand and be acknowledged. “It is so important that you share your stories with your families and speak to some of the younger people here today,” Matsuda said.
Each attendee was given a nametag — similar to the ones worn by internees when they were rounded up — with the name of one of the wartime camps, including assembly centers and citizen isolation centers. As the name of each camp was read, those with the corresponding tags were asked to stand.
Calling for a moment of silence, Ishigo said, “We pay our respects to those who are no longer with us. Each of these friends, activists and leaders left our community and the country a tremendous legacy about the camps, about the Japanese American experience and about fighting for justice.”
For this year’s program, individuals were asked to share monologues and short performance pieces to tell how E.O. 9066 affected them, their family, their generation, or their community. Five were selected, including Akemi Kikumura Yano, former president/CEO of JANM and a visiting scholar at UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center, who spoke about her Issei parents.
Her father came to California in the early 1900s with his father. After meeting and marrying in Japan, her mother and father, 19 and 24 years old, respectively, left for California in 1923, never to return. Her father died in 1955, but her mother lived until 1989 and Kikumura Yano was able to record her story.
Her mother had a dream of coming to America but experienced tough times, such as living in a labor camp in Lodi where the couple “slept on wooden boards cushioned with hay and partitioned by a sheet” and moving from town to town, “peach-packing in Marysville, apple-packing in Watsonville, picking peas in Fresno.” They also had 11 children by the eve of Pearl Harbor and 13 at war’s end, Kikumura Yano being the last.
When asked about the camps, her mother remembered good times: “Papa was never home to argue with. My biggest worry, food and shelter, was taken care of.” Kikumura Yano said, “I was angered by her response. How could you think of the camp experience as a good time? … She dismissed me as if to say, ‘You’re too young to understand.’”
Kikumura Yano regretted not being able to interview her father, who “never talked about how the camps destroyed his dreams. Instead, he started to drink more, gambled steadily and gradually he stopped talking about Japan, resigned to the fact that he was never going back.” At the same time, she was proud that her mother studied for the U.S. citizenship test and became naturalized in 1980, 57 years after arriving in America.
Bay Area writer and actor Hiroshi Kashiwagi was unable to attend, but Kurt Kuniyoshi of the Grateful Crane Ensemble read the testimony that Kashiwagi gave before the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians at a public hearing in San Francisco in 1981. Kashiwagi, who was living in Penryn, was interned at 19 and started out as “an idealistic, loyal American youth, ready and willing to serve my country when called upon.”
Resisting the order to register for the draft, Kashiwagi was declared “disloyal” and incarcerated at Tule Lake Segregation Center for the duration of the war. He testified, “We were warned that the refusal to register was a violation of the Espionage Act and we would face 20 years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both … The resistance to the registration broke down but not without tragic consequences. In our frustration and anger we turned against each other … Can you imagine the confusion and the turmoil? What to do? We had no recourse to counsel.”
Describing Tule Lake as “a psychologically abnormal, unhealthy place,” Kashiwagi said that after the war, “sometimes I lied and said I had been back east, trying to hide the fact that I had been at Tule Lake. I always tried to block out that part of my life.
“But after 35 years, can you imagine my chagrin, my dismay, my frustration and my anger when I learned the real truth of the registration; when I learned that the War Department had determined that the registration and the answering of the loyalty questionnaire by draft-age Nisei were not compulsory; that the threats of severe penalties had been a mistake and unwarranted. These facts were never revealed to us, never. We had been fooled … Once again I had been betrayed by my own government.”
Theater artist and activist Jude Narita was to have represented the Sansei, but she too had to cancel her appearance. Instead, Kuniyoshi read a piece by Kashiwagi about being ostracized as a “no-no boy.”
Representing the Yonsei was Sean Miura, a member of Little Tokyo Roots and head producer/lead curator for Little Tokyo’s free performing arts series Tuesday Night Café. His spoken-word piece, “Yonsei,” reflected on the experiences of the past generations and read, in part:
It takes years for scars to heal
It takes generations for the collective memory to process trauma
Four generations removed from great-grandparents who crossed oceans
We are Yonsei
We have inherited generations of shame
Alongside generations of uprising
We were not gifted the language to name Issei strength
Or Nisei struggle
Or the feeling that comes when plucking rusted barbed wire from our veins
But our blood bears clots we are learning to dissect
Subconscious blocks compounded by memories that are not ours
As we walk through this world in perpetual
Velina Hasu Houston, a playwright, librettist, poet, essayist, novelist, and screenwriter, described herself as Shin-Issei and Japanese Hapa. She dedicated a poem, “Different,” “to the Nisei and their parents who were incarcerated.” It read, in part:
Instructions to all persons of Japanese ancestry:
Many things you left behind, but not your dignity
No matter how secret, no matter how deeply buried
Call upon it now to carry on, but carry on remembrance of things past
Remember so that you can be better than the past
Remember so that you never leave anything behind
and never force another to leave anything behind
Instructions to all persons of Japanese ancestry:
We remember so that we will not forget
We remember so that we can be different
The annual “Call to Action” speech was given by Marsha Aizumi, an educator and advocate for the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) community. She is the author of “Two Spirits, One Heart” and a national board member of PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends for Lesbians and Gays). She explained how she became an activist:
“I’m the mother of a transgender son … He was born female but he’s always felt like a boy. In elementary school, it was not a big deal … it was not judged. But when he became a middle school student and a school student, when gender is very defined, life became very difficult for him. He became depressed … he became suicidal … It was really a hard time for our family.
“And like Japanese Americans, who were judged by not what they did but who they were, my son was judged by who he was. He was cruelly harassed almost every day at school, he was called names, he was physically assaulted outside the school. So it was a very terrifying and humiliating time for my son.
“But in 2008, he told me … ‘I feel like a boy inside and I want to transition to be the boy that I am.’ So in the year 2009, we took that whole year to transition my daughter to be my son … As he transitioned, it was the most amazing thing to see my son blossom, to see him become able to live as an authentic human being that didn’t have to hide …
“I know that a lot of what happened to Japanese Americans came from fear and came from lack of knowledge. So I hope that we bring more education and bring more focus and spotlight onto this community, which really needs our support …
“I am not somebody that carries a placard all the time or has a bullhorn and is really loud when doing my advocacy,” she added. “But I do speak out, I do share my story as much as possible. When I hear somebody say something negative about the LGBT community, I say, ‘That hurts me … because I have a son that for a long time didn’t want to live because he didn’t have hope. So I hope you’ll be careful in what you say.’”
Aizumi announced that a Nikkei LGBTQ gathering will be held at JANM in November to discuss “some of the struggles that we’ve gone through and some of the possibilities that we’re looking at.”
Ishigo added, “We hope that the Day of Remembrance will encourage everyone here to remember, and continue the fight for equal rights and justice for all people … and to fight for inclusion and acceptance of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer men, women, sons and daughters.”
The program concluded with a reception catered by Carrie Morita and friends. Event sponsors included JANM, JACL PSW, the Manzanar Committee, and Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress.