GARDENA — Seventy-two years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, leading to the imprisonment of U.S. citizens and legal residents solely based upon their Japanese ancestry. Without any evidence of military necessity, over a hundred thousand Americans were forced from their homes and placed into internment camps.
On March 1, Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) and South Bay elected officials, as well as a distinguished group of scholars and advocates from the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute (GVJCI), gathered to commemorate a Day of Remembrance in honor of the victims who suffered during this dark period in American history.
GVCI Executive Director Alison Kochiyama began the event by explaining, “This year’s theme, ‘Unfinished Business After Redress,’ acknowledges the significant accomplishments of the redress movement of the late ’70s and early ’80s, the increased public education and awareness of these devastating events of U.S. history, as well as the impact it has had and has on each of the following generations – but there is still unfinished business. We need to continue to educate future generations and remain vigilant in the battle against prejudice and uphold the human rights of all people.”
Muratsuchi’s Assembly Concurrent Resolution 85 (ACR 85), passed by the Legislature earlier this year, established Feb. 19, 2014 as an official Day of Remembrance in California.
Standing alongside Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and her husband, former U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas Sidney Williams, Muratsuchi described the personal significance the day’s ceremony held. “It is an honor to have authored ACR 85 as a tribute to our friends and family who endured life-changing hardships during World War II. Commemorating Feb. 19 as a Day of Remembrance will provide Californians an opportunity to not only reflect on the grave injustices that displaced families and uprooted them from their homes, but will serve as a solemn reminder that we must continue to defend the civil liberties of all Americans.”
Other special guests included former Assemblymember Paul Bannai, former Assemblymember George Nakano and former Torrance Unified School District Board of Education member Gary Kuwahara.
Keynote speaker Dr. Lane Hirabayashi, a professor of Asian American studies at UCLA, spoke of the relationship between EO 9066 and present-day public policy. “The threat that history may one day repeat itself exists within sections of the 2012 National Defense Act, which grants the U.S. government the right to detain summarily anyone who is thought to be a risk to national security,” he said. “It is essential we educate all Americans about the tragic legacy of the incarceration of Japanese Americans so that we can remain vigilant against future human rights violations along these lines.”
Hirabayashi was introduced by Dr. Donald Hata, emeritus professor of history at CSU Dominguez Hills.
Following the keynote address, the audience heard from two students, Keisho Maehara and Zawar Jafri, involved in the Bridging Communities project, and Sarah Amarragy, coordinator of the project. An excerpt from the DVD “Passing Down the Legacy” was shown.
Bridging Communities is co-sponsored by the Greater Los Angeles Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Kizuna, Pacific Southwest District of the Japanese American Citizens League (PSW-JACL), Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress (NCRR), and the National Park Service. The partnership was formed by youth who, upon recognizing the potential for prejudice to arise following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as it did after the attack on Pearl Harbor, desired to bring their peers from both the Japanese American and Muslim American communities together to achieve an open dialog and mutual understanding through cross-cultural and interfaith experiences.
Muratsuchi applauded the efforts of Bridging Communities. “As an American of Japanese ancestry, I’m inspired by all the young people, including our two student guest speakers, who are so well-educated and passionate about this issue.”
The program included performances from the Grateful Crane Ensemble, a non-profit theater group whose mission is to present dramatic educational programs illustrating the unique hardships and contributions of Nikkei to the nation’s history. Members of the ensemble sang popular songs from the 1940s — “Don’t Fence Me In,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “Ill Wind,” “Accentuate the Positive,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” and “Over the Rainbow.”
On display throughout the program were paintings and photographs from the “Paint Outs” at Manzanar National Historic Site. Featured artists were Debbie Abshear, Tom Fujiwara, Don Hata, Mary Higuchi, Ike Ikeda, Michi Ikeda, Gary Kuwahara, Teri Kuwahara, Lynn Mikami and Beth Shibata.
The annual “Paint Outs” are in memory of noted Nisei watercolor artist Henry Fukuhara, who painted vibrant and powerful landscapes of Manzanar National Historic Site and served as a teacher and mentor to a generation of artists. He died at the age of 96 in 2010.
Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo