HONORING ALLIES AND ACTIVISM: A ‘Day of Remembrance’ and déjà vu

Michael Sasaki on guitar with George Yoshida on harmonica and Cole Yoshida. photo by Kahn Yamada

The 2011 Bay Area Day of Remembrance opened with the recorded voice of Dr. Cornell West asking the audience, “Who you gonna call?” for righting civil wrongs. The answer wasn’t Ghostbusters.

“You gonna call on the regular people,” he declared.

The 2011 Bay Area Day of Remembrance (DOR) program featured a wide variety of talent and perspectives examining this year’s theme, “Allies and Activism: Carrying the Light for Justice.” Those words align with the mantra “never again,” which Japanese Americans have used in fighting against letting another minority group be prosecuted in the ways they were during World War II.

Day of Remembrance is a nationwide commemoration of the signing of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The order set in motion the exclusion, eviction and incarceration of more than 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, both citizens and immigrants, from the West Coast. It

Amer Araim. photo by Kahn Yamada

was not until the 1980s that public hearings by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians helped set in motion the unification of the Japanese American community and its demand for a public apology and redress.

The Bay Area DOR Consortium has presented an educational and cultural commemoration to help ensure that such injustices never occur again. This year’s program, which took place on Feb. 20 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco’s Japantown, pointed out that despite years of activism, the United States may be slipping back into wartime hysteria.

The event included a lecture by Amer Araim, who is a Muslim imam (a religious leader) and the president of Islamic Community Outreach of California. A native of Iraq who immigrated to the United States in 1978, Dr. Araim served as a senior political affairs officer with the United Nations and currently teaches political science at Diablo Valley College. He spoke at a panel just five days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to condemn violent extremism and has been a proponent of democracy and mutual cooperation among various religions.

Chizu Omori. photo by Kahn Yamada

Araim discussed his approach to activism and peace as a Muslim imam. He started his speech with a melodious prayer in Arabic asking for peace, stating that Allah and God are one. He told the story of his experiences in po

st-Sept. 11 America, where some people wrote him that Muslims should be incarcerated as the Japanese Americans were in World War II. Araim asked that others not be demonized, that “diversity should be taken as a strength.”

The Rev. Michael Yoshii o

f the Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda served as keynote speaker this year. Yoshii is a recipient of the National Education Association Human and Civil Rights Award and is a leader in interfaith organizations supporting human rights and civil rights. He said now that so many incarceration survivors are passing away, conversations around his kitchen table often revolve around whose funeral is coming up.

Having been the one to invite Araim to speak at DOR, Yoshii introduced the Nikkei perspective of events. He called for the defense of Muslim and Arab people, stating that “our lives in history are connected.” To do this, Yoshii asked younger generations to join in to fight injustices. As a longtime proponent of inter-faith cooperation, Yoshii said he knew that it would be possible for the Japanese American community to take part in this. To its strengths, he cited how the Japanese American community has been held together with mutual cooperation of both Buddhist and Christian organizations.

Michael Yoshii. photo by Kahn Yamada

“Don’t sweat the size; there’s no need to worry about the world,” he said. Alluding to West’s comment about calling on the people for help, Yoshii concluded that Japanese Americans must make allies and work with them as a diverse group in solidarity.

The program was emceed by Emily Murase, the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education’s first Japanese American member. She introduced a number of acts by a colorful group of community members ranging from the young to the old: readings from diaries of inmates by fifth grade students of Rosa Parks Elementary School’s Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program; bilingual singing from Kirakiraboshi Choir; spoken word and rap by Nikkei/Scottish/German/Iroquois American Yonsei Colin Ehara; and a musical performance by guitarist Michael Sasaki, historian and musician George Yoshida, and his son Cole Yoshida. There was also a call for support by Stephanie Miyashiro for the Japanese Latin Americans who were incarcerated during the war as potential bargaining chips for POWs, as well as a video presentation of scenes from the incarceration and the Redress Movement.

As part of the proceedings, the Rev. Lloyd K. Wake was presented with this year’s Dr. Clifford I. Uyeda Peace and Humanitarian Award, named after the late human rights activist. Wake served as pastor for the Berkeley Methodist United Church, Pine United Methodist Church in San Francisco and Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, but was also active with the Asian Law Caucus and as a volunteer for the Endowment Fund of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists.

Colin Ehara. photo by Kahn Yamada

The program closed with a candle lighting ceremony. The Rev. Masato Kawahatsu and the Rev. Rodney Yano of the Konko Church of San Francisco purified the candle stands before the lighting of the 11 candles; 10 representing the concentration camps and one representing the Department of Justice camps which held the Japanese Latin Americans and others.

Philip Ozaki and Kiyomi Tanaka, both young but active members of the Japanese American community, introduced 12 people to light the candles. Art Shibayama, one of the internees held at a Department of Justice Camp, lit the central candle representing those. Chizu Omori, a plaintiff in the National Council for Japanese American Redress’ (NCJAR) lawsuit against the U.S. government, lit the candle for the Manzanar, Calif. camp and in memory of late NCJAR leader William Hohri. Frank Masuoka, a former Military Intelligence Service member, lit the candle for Minidoka, Idaho. For Jerome, Ark., Miho Kim, a third-generation Zainichi Korean who works for social justice in both the Bay Area and Japan, lit a candle. Amanda Wake, a Yonsei and a community organizer, lit the candle for Poston, Ariz. Heart Mountain, Wyo.’s candle was lit by two people, Mike Wong of Veterans for Peace and Glen Hauer of Jewish Voice for Peace. Marlene Tonai, a longtime activist with the National Coalition for Redress and Reparations, lit a candle for Rohwer and in memory of her late husband Gary Wayne Kozono, a respected labor organizer. For Gila River, Ark., Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations San Francisco Bay Area chapter lit a candle. Fred Korematsu’s daughter, Karen Korematsu, lit a candle in memory of Topaz, Calif. Labor activist Victor Uno represented Granada (Amache), Colo. Last but not least, Steve Nakajo, the executive director of Kimochi Inc., lit the final candle for Tule Lake, Calif.

After the program concluded at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, attendees were invited to a reception at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California. The food was donated mostly by local churches.

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