By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, the Go For Broke National Education Center opened its new home in Little Tokyo to the public on May 28 with ceremonies and celebration.
Following a ribbon-cutting and a kagami-biraki ritual, people lined up to view the center’s inaugural exhibition, “Defining Courage,” which explores the Japanese American World War II experience and its relevance to today’s civil rights issues. Visitors enjoyed food, a beer garden and entertainment in the plaza and also saw documentary films in the adjacent Tateuchi Democracy Forum.
Previously located in Torrance, GFBNEC has moved into the former Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, located at 369 First St. at Central Avenue, one of the sites where local Japanese Americans assembled to be taken by bus to “relocation centers” in 1942.
GFBNEC is now a tenant of the Japanese American National Museum, which opened at the temple building in 1992 and moved to its current location across the plaza in 1999.
The day’s activities started with a ceremony at the nearby Go For Broke Monument, which honors more than 16,000 Japanese American soldiers who served in segregated units during the war.
“Seventeen years ago, this monument was unveiled to the public because of the tenacity and vision of a group of Japanese American World War II veterans under the leadership of Col. Young Oak Kim,” said emcee David Ono of ABC7 Eyewitness News. “… Since that day, Japanese American World War II veterans and their families, veterans of all wars, schoolchildren on field trips, Americans from across the nation and many visitors from around the world have come to this monument to pay their respects to a generation of men who answered their country’s call even as that country turned its back on their families and their communities.”
Veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, 232nd Combat Engineer Company, 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion, and Military Intelligence Service were recognized with wreaths. The Hawaii-based 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment Color Guard posted the colors. Brig. Gen. Stephen Curda’s children, Riley, Piper, Major, Glory and Saylor, sang the national anthem, Jenna Moy led the Pledge of Allegiance, and “Taps” was performed by Timothy Moy.
“This morning we stand in the shadow of the monument but we also stand on the site of our new home,” said Vince Beresford, GFBNEC’s new president and CEO. “Last November we moved our new offices in to the historic Nishi Hongwanji building … This iconic temple opened its doors in 1925, almost a century ago. It was the first structure in Los Angeles designated specifically to be a Buddhist temple. Today we honor our veterans at this monument and also take a symbolic march to the future to our new education center, a place where future generations will learn about our veterans’ legacy …
“I hope today’s ceremony will touch all of you deeply and we can show our Japanese American World War II veterans the respect that we have and that we will continue to have for them.”
Members of North Torrance Junior ROTC escorted the veterans to the GFBNEC building, followed by VIP guests.
“In 1986, a group of Japanese Americans who had served in military units during World War II despite overwhelming prejudice against them embarked on a mission to build a monument for the Japanese American soldiers who fought beside them,” said Bill Seki, GFBNEC board chair. “The monument was completed in 1999, but that was just the beginning. The Go For Broke National Education Center has a mission to educate and inspire character and equality through the virtue and valor of our World War II American veterans of Japanese ancestry.
“Seventy years have passed since the end of World War II, yet the lessons learned from the Japanese American experience could easily be from our time, though from different ethnic communities … As you experience our ‘Defining Courage’ exhibition, we invite you to take the torch that is being passed from our Japanese American veterans.”
Ono noted that more than 30,000 Japanese Americans lived in Little Tokyo when Nishi Hongwanji was built. “This temple is one of the places they were forced to assemble to be transported to government-run incarceration camps … There are famous photos where you see the buses pulling up right here … It was in this building that many left their belongings during the war, and it is here that we come home.”
Rev. George Matsubayashi, one of the ministers who helped move Nishi Hongwanji to its present location on First and Vignes in 1969, spoke on behalf of Rinban William Briones, who was unable to attend. Matsubayashi noted that the temple “served as a temporary shelter for those who came out of camp and did not have a place to go, so many family members lived together.”
Expressing “deep gratitude and appreciation” for the Nisei soldiers, he said, “May the Go For Broke National Education Center serve our community and beyond to guide us with compassion and wisdom … I am truly grateful that this building continues to be occupied by an organization who shares the mission to carry on the same spirit of guiding us to remember the past and go forward, go for broke.”
Rev. Mark Nakagawa of Centenary United Methodist Church, had just attended the annual Memorial Day service at the nearby National Japanese American Veterans Memorial Court, which is dedicated to all Nikkei who were killed in action in the nation’s wars. He offered a prayer for the families of the soldiers who have made this day possible,” especially “those families whose loved ones gave their lives during the war effort or passed on after the war because of injuries sustained.”
Imam Mohammed Khan of King Fahad Mosque recited from the Koran and said the fact that Japanese Americans were “rounded up like common animals and stripped of everything” is one example of “misunderstanding and hatred … disdain for those who are different” throughout history. “We should never allow these atrocities to replay themselves again and stand united … against the agendas of oppression of human rights,” he said.
Rev. Leon Campbell Jr. of Agape International Spiritual Center said of GFBNEC, “May it serve as a beacon of hope for all those fighting discrimination, prejudice and injustice everywhere. May it seve as aymbol of unity for all religious faiths that we are one humanity under God … May it be a shining light … of compassion, tolerance and love.”
Father Doan Hoang, interim pastor of St. Francis Xavier Japanese Catholic Center, blessed GFBNEC and described it as “a place where can be real with one another about what we really feel … a new way to continue the important conversation and work on social and racial reconciliation.”
Dr. Linda Lopez of the Mayor’s Office of Immigration Affairs, spoke on behalf of Mayor Eric Garcetti. She told the veterans, “We salute you for your bravery and allowing all of us who are here today to enjoy the freedom that we have … These heroes are living examples of the best of America. They fought for our country in the face of … prejudice and attacks, and also fought for their families and communities …
“The mayor always champions the diversity of our country and our city … Diversity is our strength. And we see this with all the great contributions made by all of our immigrants and their children … remembering heir hardships as well as their triumphs … Through this sharing of their stories, we will continue to impact others.”
The exhibition starts with the attack on Pearl Harbor and draws parallels to contemporary times, such as the impact of 9/11 on Americans of Muslim, Arab and South Asian backgrounds. Interactive stations allow visitors to hear oral histories and to explore decisions that Japanese Americans made, such as whether to prove one’s loyalty by serving in the military or to oppose the government and protest the incarceration, and the consequences of those decisions.
Beresford invited everyone to take these lessons to heart by “defining courage in you own lives, your own neighborhoods … Where you see injustice, doing what you think is right.”
He thanked his predecessor, Don Nose, who “worked tirelessly to get us to this point today,” and presented him with a book of pictures signed by veterans and the GFBNEC Board of Governors, Board of Directors, and staff.
“Five years go by very quickly,” Nose said of his time as CEO. “… I’ve got a little more gray hair, but I really think it’s been my honor to get the center done and to do something in honor of the veterans … My only wish is that it could have happened sooner because we’ve lost so many of the veterans.”
He thanked the veterans for “the example that they set for me and for future generations. These are men that stepped up under extreme adversity, did an amazing show of bravery so that they could make our lives better.”
Among those Nose thanked was JANM President/CEO Greg Kimura, who supported bringing GFBNEC to Little Tokyo by saying, “A rising tide floats all ships,” meaning that the entire community would benefit.
Taking part in the ribbon-cutting and the kagami-biraki — in which sake barrels are broken open with mallets to mark an auspicious occasion — were Beresford, Seki, Kimura, Lopez, former Secretary of State Norman Mineta, U.S.-Japan Council President Irene Hirano Inouye (wife of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye and first CEO of JANM), Chip Mamiya of the GFBNEC Board of Governors, MIS veteran Ken Akune, Rep. Mark Takano of Riverside, Assemblymember David Hadley of Torrance, West Covina Mayor James Toma, Consul General Harry Horinouchi, and Nisei Week Princesses Tamara Teragawa and Camryn Sugita.
With Darrell Kunitomi of Grateful Crane Ensemble serving as emcee, musical entertainment — which ranged from Hawaiian songs to rhythm and blues — was provided on the plaza stage by nTyme (North Torrance Youth Musicians Ensemble), Kalyn Aolani, Harold Payne, Rev. Shawn Amos, Michael Paulo, and Malik Yusef. There was also an opportunity drawing.
The documentary screenings, hosted by GFBNEC board member Dr. Mitch Maki and including Q&A with the filmmakers, featured “Unknown Warrors of World War II” by Ono and Jeff Macintyre, “A Flicker in Eternity” by Sharon Yamato and Ann Kaneko, “Mendez vs. Westminster: For All the Children/Para Todos los Niños” by Sandra Robbie, and “Voices in Exile: Immigrants and the First Amendment” by Joan Mandell.
Authors signing copies of their books were Tom Graves (“Twice Heroes: America’s Nisei Veterans of WWII and Korea”) and Lori Tsugawa Whaley (“The Courage of a Samurai: Seven Sword-Sharp Principles for Success.”