LET’S TALK: About Day of Remembrance

It’s only been in recent years that people have been able to talk about the incarceration of our Japanese American community during World War II as a form of “trauma.” Filtered through government language that disguised and diminished the harm inflicted, our own community has struggled for decades to actually name what happened to us as an atrocity.

Renowned trauma psychiatrist, Dr. Judith Hermann, opens her book, “Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence — from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror,” with these words, “The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud; this is the meaning of the word unspeakable.” And so it was for our parents and grandparents, an experience so humiliating and demeaning that it was rarely spoken about; and the next generation grew up feeling this “unspeakable-ness,” possibly even sensing the underlying anxiety and mistrust that seemed to well up in parental demands that we children “be good, obey the rules, get good grades, don’t complain, and absolutely do not cause anyone any trouble.”

But atrocities refuse to be buried. Traumatic memories are like the terrifying Japanese folk tales about the obake, the spirit ghost, unable to rest, haunting, yet alluding us until the true story is told. We have learned in the mental health field that remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are essential both for the restoration of the community and for the healing of individual victims. And so in Nikkei communities across the country, we revisit the atrocity, the injustice of the Executive Order 9066 signed by President Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1941 that began a years long process of banishment and exclusion of our people. Remembrances through ceremony, ritual, speeches, memorials, pilgrimages, prayer, tributes and acknowledgements are all means by which we are now “speaking the unspeakable” and healing the psychic wounds of racial hatred and wartime hysteria.

However, collective trauma, such as ours, is often unresolved as a result of a splitting within the community that is the direct result of oppressive circumstances where people feel helpless and powerless.

And it is often the perpetrator’s intent to incite discontent within the group, forcing alliances, creating social imbalance that lead to anger, hostility, mistrust amongst the victims and away from the perpetrator. When this divisiveness continues long after the traumatic event has ended, it is likely evidence that the perpetrator has been able to continue its control in defining who was right and who was wrong, who was loyal and who was disloyal, who was a yes-yes and who was a no-no, who was good and who was bad. Such divisiveness is often a means to shame or blame the “other” rather than the perpetrator who has collectively shamed and blamed all the victims in order to avoid responsibility for its abuse of power.

The fundamental stages of recovery from trauma are, establishing safety, reconstructing the trauma story, and restoring the connection between survivors and their community. As the Day of Remembrance events bring together our different stories to honor those who suffered and sustained their truth and dignity, it is imperative that we remove the mantel of blame that continues to divide our community and join together to honor our differences and heal.

Satsuki Ina, Ph.D. is a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Sacramento and Berkeley with specialization in intergenerational trauma. www.satsukiinatherapy.com. She is also a filmmaker (“Children of the Camps” and “From a Silk Cocoon: A Japanese American Renunciation Story”). The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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