By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
The annual Day of Remembrance is normally a time of community unity, but this year, the decision by the Japanese American National Museum to remove a video by Sen. Mazie Hirono from the annual commemoration of the signing of Executive Order 9066 has led to sharp criticism by organizers, who have demanded an apology.
DOR had promoted the video by the Hawaii Democratic senator, who was honored by the museum at the 2018 gala dinner with its Award of Excellence. Hirono serves as an honorary member of the JANM Board of Governors and has been an outspoken critic of the Trump Administration, most recently voting to impeach the president.
Ann Burroughs, JANM president and CEO, read a statement to the audience on behalf of Norman Mineta, chair of the Board of Trustees.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Mineta further elaborated on the decision: “We are also committed to protecting civil rights, especially those that defend against discrimination and prejudice. However, as a nonprofit museum, we cannot take a partisan position, and we believe that we can be most effective when we do not. We were also made aware that the inclusion of the video might have resulted in one of our sister organizations that participated in the organizing committee having to withdraw, which was not an outcome that we wanted to see. In this spirit, we requested that changes be made to the program to allow all to feel welcomed. We also specifically informed attendees that the video would be made available online on the websites of other organizing committee members. “
DOR organizers Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress and Nikkei Progressives have asked that the JANM board apologize for the removal. JANM has partnered with NCRR to produce DOR for more than 20 years.
In a statement, NCRR and NP state: “We believe that the Japanese American National Museum Board of Trustees’ censorship of Sen. Mazie Hirono’s video message at the 2020 Day of Remembrance was not just wrong, it was a violation of the democratic process.”
The Rafu has reached out to Hirono for comment.
Kay Ochi, spokesperson for NCRR, said, “We have a long-time relationship, we don’t do this lightly. We know that it has the very obvious possibility of burning our bridges.
“However, NCRR has been known to go by our principles. When they silence us, when they censor us, that crosses the line for me.”
DOR organizers were made aware of JANM’s decision on Feb. 12, four days before the ceremony. NCRR and NP say that the decision overruled months of organizing by the groups.
“Had they taken the extra step of even saying,’Let’s explain this and have a conversation,’ ultimately they may have decided not to have gone forward, but it would have helped the committee understand better. We may not have changed our position, but it would have helped our relationship with JANM,” Ochi said.
Speaking to The Rafu, Mineta said that the museum was not made aware of the content of Hirono’s video, until receiving the video days before DOR. He and Burroughs made the decision, feeling that there was not enough time to do anything but remove it from the program.
“First of all, we all love and respect Sen. Hirono, but given the nature of this president, I’m afraid of the 501(c)3 (nonprofit tax status) of our sponsoring organizations being pulled by whatever his whim might be,” Mineta said.
Sources indicated that Go For Broke National Education Center had expressed concerns about the video. Rafu reached out to Go For Broke, which declined to comment.
Mineta expressed concern that the Trump Administration has attacked his critics, noting the recent decision to deny New York residents access to the Global Entry traveler program because of its status as a sanctuary state. At stake also is funding for the Japanese American Confinement Sites program, which provides monies for the preservation of the camps operated by the War Relocation Authority, the Department of Justice and other agencies during World War II.
Last month, JANM and the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation held a joint meeting to increase efforts to continue funding for the program, which the Trump Administration has proposed eliminating from the federal budget.
Soji Kashiwagi, who attended DOR to support keynote speaker Satsuki Ina, observed that the video’s removal caused confusion and many in the audience were left wondering what Hirono had said that caused her to be cut.
“When you look at the video. Everything she said is truthful in my view,” Kashiwagi said.
In the three-minute video, Hirono repeats a sentiment she expressed at the 2018 gala: “These are not ordinary times.”
The senator criticizes Trump for his treatment of immigrants, family separations at the border and eliminating a humanitarian parole program that reunites aging Filipino veterans with their families. She compares the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to uphold the Muslim travel ban to the Korematsu decision. Hirono praises Fred Korematsu for challenging Executive Order 9066, which she characterized as Roosevelt’s “racist policy.”
She concludes: “We must continue to stand up for all immigrants and fight to keep history from repeating itself. In fact, we must stand together to fight the unjust policies that target minorities that will continue to flow from this amoral president.”
Two years earlier, without mentioning Trump by name, Hirono made similar comments at the JANM Gala. Her words angered some attendees to the dinner. She said in 2018: “I know as a member of the Honorary Board of Governors that JANM is a non-partisan organization, but at the risk of offending some of you, I’d like to take this time to instill the sense of urgency for all of us to get off the sidelines and into the fight because these are not normal times.”
Kashiwagi in a Facebook post pointed to the divided reaction by the gala audience in 2018 as subtext to the DOR decision.
Mineta acknowledged the impact of Hirono’s speech in 2018: “Some members of JANM were very upset and said, ‘I’m not going to donate anymore.’
“You have people with differing opinions, a lot of people were supportive of what she said, but a lot of people thought that it was too political and as a result funding was withheld from certain organizations, including JANM.”
Ochi explained that cutting Hirono’s video left DOR without a political context or call to action, which throughout the years has been a venue for drawing parallels from the Japanese American incarceration to modern day issues such as Islamophobia, Black Lives Matter and the rights of the LGBTQ community.
Kashiwagi said DOR was a missed opportunity to have a dialogue facilitated by Ina, who is a licensed psychotherapist and specializes in the long-term impact of historic trauma.
“It could have been an option and a dialogue where everybody, even those opposing the majority view, could have had their say. That’s a democracy,” Kashiwagi said.
NCRR and Nikkei Progressives, as well as other organizations and individuals, have shared the video on their websites and YouTube. In comments on social media, the JANM decision has been largely been met with criticism.
Filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña wrote: “Imagine it’s February 1942. A sitting U.S. senator plans to give a keynote address critical of FDR for Exec Order 9066 that leads to the incarceration of 120K Japanese Americans. A non-profit devoted to equality and democracy bans the speech because they’re afraid it’s too partisan. What would our judgment of history be?”
One thing Hirono said that all sides may agree on: In the Trump era, these indeed are not “ordinary times.”