By SECRETARY NORMAN Y. MINETA
Every year on Feb. 19, the Japanese American National Museum joins with other community organizations to commemorate the Day of Remembrance. This event signifies JANM’s enduring commitment to preserving the memory and lessons of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the forced removal and incarceration of 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry. The annual DOR event serves as a powerful reminder to us of the critical role that JANM plays in educating the public about the dangers of prejudice and discrimination and the fragility of our civil rights and liberties.
This year, I made the difficult decision to remove a video message from Sen. Mazie Hirono from the DOR program at JANM because I believed it was too overtly political in certain respects. It was not a decision I undertook lightly. I have the utmost respect for Sen. Hirono, one of JANM’s honorary governors and a recipient of JANM’s Award of Excellence in 2018 in recognition of her unflinching commitment to democracy and civil rights. And her video message resonated powerfully with many at JANM, including myself. But I made the decision to remove the video from the program at JANM because of our mission and the role that JANM plays.
As a museum with a mission that is primarily educational in nature, JANM is, and has always been, strictly non-partisan. Our nonprofit status and our ability to have influence in any Administration depend on our remaining non-partisan. For example, JANM’s credibility as a non-partisan organization is critical to our effectiveness as a leading advocate for the reauthorization of federal funding for the Japanese American Confinement Sites grants program, which has provided millions of dollars of support to countless Japanese American organizations.
As importantly, our members, supporters, and trustees come from a broad spectrum of backgrounds and political views. And while we are united in our steadfast commitment to civil rights and our opposition to prejudice and discrimination of any kind, the reality is that we do not always agree on how the lessons of 1942 apply to events today. What we will always agree on, however, is the importance of constructive civil discourse.
I have long valued our partnership with the DOR organizing committee members. They are courageous organizations and activists who have often taken the hard road to defend our democracy and civil liberties. And I respect that they strongly disagree with the decision not to play Sen. Hirono’s video at the DOR event. But in these divisive times, it is my fervent hope that what unites us — the importance of remembering our history so as to guard against the prejudice and discrimination that threaten liberty and equality in a democratic society — is far stronger than our disagreement over the program at this year’s DOR.
Norman Y. Mineta is chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Japanese American National Museum.