Now that Christmas is behind us, what better time to join the ranks of year-end reviewers to reflect with elation and some sadness on the past year in the Japanese American community?
Good news comes in the form of increased public attention paid to the nation’s bitter legacy of wartime incarceration by the mainstream media. Those who previously had no idea that American citizens of Japanese descent were imprisoned in concentration camps are now increasingly aware of this shameful period in American history.
Such a pity that it took a corrupt administration’s policies of imprisoning immigrants and separating families that forced the nation to pay attention and to adopt the now-popular cry, “Never Again Is Now.”
I can’t help but be reminded of the words of the oft-forgotten JA heroine Michi Nishiura Weglyn, who more than 50 years ago pointed out that “this story of what happened only a generation ago may serve as a sobering reminder to us all that even constitutions are not worth the parchment they are printed on unless vitalized by a sound and uncorrupted public opinion, and a leadership of integrity and compassion.”
Back in the ’70s, she was speaking of President Roosevelt and his discriminatory practices. Today, we are faced with a leader once again upending the Constitution to make way for a racist agenda.
The good news is that this time people of all ranks can be seen waving the banner for justice and stepping up to help those seeking equal treatment under the law. These kinds of supporters in large numbers were difficult to find in 1941. It’s also great to see Japanese Americans taking a lead in the fight for civil liberties and joining hands with other oppressed minorities like Muslim and Mexican Americans to call attention to unjust policies.
It’s emboldening to see organizations like the National JACL and Japanese American National Museum come out with public statements decrying such administration policies as the forcible separation of children and parents at the border, and pointing to continued false information about the JA incarceration and comparisons made with events occurring today.
On another happy note, 2018 has seen a revitalization of community in Little Tokyo like never before — thanks in part to young people banding together with longtime activists to provide activities galore in the once-quiet three blocks around First and San Pedro. Leading the way is the coalition of the Little Tokyo Community Council, Little Tokyo Service Center, and Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, to form the Sustainable Little Tokyo program that has hosted everything from food events to poetry readings at places like 341FSN, a vibrant community space on First Street.
Public events at JACCC and JANM make nights and weekends busier than ever — to the dismay of people like me who often find it difficult to choose which one to attend. A few weeks ago I had to make the heart-wrenching choice between the musical revue performance of “A Little Tokyo Christmas” at JACCC and Velina Hasu Houston’s play “Little Women” at JANM. I’m happy to report that Michael Hagiwara’s return production of a holiday favorite did not disappoint. His often-hilarious production struck chords for the adoring audience and served as a terrific example of entertainers demonstrating what happens when Japanese Americans and their many friends join forces.
The dedicated troupe is but one group that paid tribute to someone we recently lost who represented community better than anyone. Rodney Kageyama set the bar for a community icon who unselfishly gave of himself every chance he got, and the entire JA community was his beneficiary. Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple will undoubtedly be bursting at the seams with his friends and admirers coming together to celebrate his life on Jan. 12.
Hopefully, we are on track to see more happening in 2019 to demonstrate the power of community to use our unique history as a vehicle for positive change. I hope it’s not too late to make a pledge at year’s end to give a little to those organizations that continue to represent all the best that this community has to offer.
Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey. She can be reached at [email protected] The Rafu Shimpo’s management and staff continually strive to maintain high editorial standards for professionalism as well as accurate and balanced news coverage. The inclusion of a particular piece, including columns and op-ed submissions by contributing writers in print and/or digitally, does not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the owners, management, individual staff members, and editors. The Rafu Shimpo welcomes responses to any article published in print or digitally. Responses may be sent to author directly or emailed to [email protected]**