Bay Area DOR reflects on past and present

The candle holder used to remember the Nikkei incarcerated during World War II at the Bay Area Day of Remembrance.photo by William Lee

The candle holder used to remember the Nikkei incarcerated during World War II at the Bay Area Day of Remembrance. photo by William Lee

The Bay Area Day of Remembrance took place Feb. 17 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco’s Japantown. The annual gathering commemorates the nearly 120,000 people of Japanese descent who were incarcerated in American concentration camps during World War II.

This year’s DOR, the 34th iteration of the San Francisco Bay Area’s ceremony, celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act, which issued an apology to those wronged by the forced incarceration, following then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066. The ceremony also was dedicated in memory of the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawai‘i, a decorated Nikkei senator who helped pave the way for redress.

Chancellor Frank Wu of the University of California, Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, delivered the keynote address to a crowd of 300 people. The event also featured Rep. Mark Takano of Riverside, Calif., the first openly gay person of color elected to Congress, and Hatem Abudayyeh, a Palestinian activist from the Arab American Action Network. Jana Katsuyama from KTVU Channel 2 served as the event’s master of ceremonies.

The program “is part of an effort to ensure such constitutional injustice never happens again,” Katsuyama said. In introducing the event, she also spoke of Inouye and the loss the community faced last December. She presented a short video slideshow, which ran through highlights of Inouye’s life.

Following the video, Takano addressed the crowd with his guest speech. He, too, recognized Inouye, who endorsed him during last year’s election.

“I recognize the great loss for the nation,” he said. “He gave over 70 years of service, first as a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and then as a senator.” Takano said Inouye exhibited a “fundamental fairness” in his policies, by opposing the Defense of Marriage Act and struggling for redress.

“It’s important to have representation in congress,” Takano said. “I came under attack for who I was. The fight is not over, it’s just changed.” He pledged to “fight for the equality of all Americans” and that the lessons learned from wartime incarceration were still applicable today.

Following Takano, Katsuyama introduced Khrystina Erving-Martinez, Armhan Omar Thompson, Ruby Okamura, Madelyn Tanaka and Amaan Ali from the Rosa Parks Elementary School Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program. The children read “Silence … No More” by Kiku Funabiki, a poem written following the 1982 public hearing by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Funabiki, who was present in the audience, wrote the poem based on testimonies she heard while attending the hearings in San Francisco and Seattle.

An excerpt of “Redress: the JACL Campaign for Justice” was shown after the poem. The documentary featured the history of the first DOR, which took place in Seattle, and the Japanese American Citizens League’s demands for redress, starting in the 1970s. The documentary featured footage of testimony heard at the commission hearings and a detailed timeline of the redress bill.

Wu then gave his keynote address, speaking about lessons in history. He explained that history is incomplete, and merely knowing it is not enough to learn from its mistakes.

“History is dynamic and contested.” Wu said the mass incarceration can be argued as “an anomaly” or “a break from the past.” The two arguments, however, ignore the U.S. government’s conclusion that wartime incarceration was based on racial prejudice, as well as wartime hysteria and a failure of political leadership. Wu argued that the mass incarceration of Nikkei was a result of preexisting prejudices and discriminations in the same line of the alien land laws and racist immigration laws.

“Even to this day … there are others who would claim the internment was right,” Wu said.

Wu continued that the National Defense Authorization Act’s indefinite detention provision makes it possible for U.S. citizens to be detained without charge or trial, suspending the right to habeas corpus. While history has yet to decide its fate, Wu contended that it is still possible to fight back and strike down indefinite detention.

“The redress movement shows it is possible, through dedication and perseverance, to take on those who disagree and to right there wrongs,” he said. Wu continued to argue that Japanese Americans must take up the struggle and stand on principle, rather than for personal gain. “Even though it affects others … we are compelled to listen and we must do everything we can. … History has taught us to speak out when ideals are challenged and must be defended despite no personal gain.”

Wu argued, however, that the key issue is in the difference between the NDAA and the Japanese American massive incarceration. While the massive incarceration is a strong precedence, Wu told the Nichi Bei Weekly the NDAA’s opponents must prove that it is applicable. “There is disagreement on why it was wrong. Is it because it was racial stereotyping or because people were denied due process? You might argue the NDAA is not a massive incarceration of an ethnic minority.”

Following Wu’s speech, poet and activist Janice Mirikitani read “Breaking Silence,” based on her mother’s testimony from the commission hearings. Mirikitani wrote the poem after reading a letter from her mother detailing her testimony at the hearings.

After Mirikitani’s reading, the DOR honored the Rev. Michael Yoshii of the Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda, Calif., with the Dr. Clifford I. Uyeda Peace and Humanitarian Award. Art Shibayama, the award’s recipient in 2006 and a Japanese Latin American from Peru, presented the honor to Yoshii, who has served the church since 1988.

Over the years, the once historically Japanese American church’s demographics have shifted to become more pan-Asian and multicultural. The church has led various multicultural partnerships, including working with the West Bank Palestinian village of Wadi Foquin, as well as recording the stories of Bay Area Palestinians with the San Francisco State University’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas program. The church has engaged in advocacy for affordable housing, racial justice and lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender and queer equality.

“I knew Dr. Uyeda well, I walked in his footsteps and I can’t agree more with Dr. Wu,” Yoshii said. He said he and his congregation speak out for what’s right, particularly for Palestinians who are being persecuted today, both in the United States and in the Middle East. “History is in the moment … we must legitimize and have those voices heard as the same issues faced by Japanese Americans persist today for the Palestinian people.”

Yoshii introduced Hatem Abudayyeh of the Arab American ActionNetwork. The FBI seized property from his parents’ home in September of 2010, citing alleged ties to terrorism, the activist said. Abudayyeh said he had cited the Fifth Amendment, and refused to testify in what he described a “witch hunt.”

A federal grand jury served him and 22 others with a subpoena when his home was raided, he said. Since then, a broad range of support has been shown from across the U.S., including support from the Japanese Americans.

“The context faced here is the same. It is wartime hysteria and racial prejudice,” Abudayyeh said. He said this course of action was not new for the U.S. government, that they have suppressed activists in the past. “There is something to gain in keeping people repressed.”

“Islamaphobia is real,” he said. Abudayyeh said the racial prejudice faced by Japanese Americans during the war is the same as what he and other Arab Muslims face today, and serves as a justification in the government’s eyes for “today’s unlimited war.”

The event then screened an edited excerpt of “Hidden Internment: The Art Shibayama Story” by Casey Peek. The documentary introduced the Japanese Latin Americans’ plight. More than 2,200 JLAs were kidnapped from South American countries by the U.S. to be used as hostages for prisoner exchanges with Japan. Many of them were taken from their homes and brought to Department of Justice Camps in the U.S. Following the war, the JLAs were declared illegal aliens and deported to Japan. Some of those JLAs challenged the government to have their deportation stayed. While a compromise was reached a decade after the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the JLAs received compensation of $5,000 (a quarter of what was offered to Japanese Americans), many JLAs, including Shibayama, refused to accept the money and demanded an equal apology from the U.S. government, which they have yet to receive.

“I’m pissed off,” said Grace Shimizu following the video. Shimizu, a daughter of a JLA, director of the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project and coordinator of the Campaign For Justice: Redress Now For Japanese Latin Americans!. Shimizu said the CFJ took their case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights within the Organization of American States in 2003, one of the few places someone may file a lawsuit with a government. Since then, Shimizu said no one has yet to call the U.S. accountable for their actions.

“We are also scared of the NDAA and its indefinite detention provision,” she said. “First, we must stop the NDAA. It is a slap in the face to Japanese Americans.” Shimizu called for the law to be struck from within Congress, or be challenged in the courts for their constitutionality, but also called for people to discuss the NDAA to raise awareness.

Shimizu told the Nichi Bei Weekly she agrees with Abudayyeh, on how the government targets community leaders and activists, as they did during the early stages of the massive incarceration of Japanese Americans.

“We must speak up while we still can, it’s now legal to be disappeared. It is important to join with our neighbors and restore democracy while we can still get together.” Shimizu also called for awareness of the JLA redress, saying she hopes to plan a town hall meeting to inform the public in March.

Finishing the ceremony at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Annie Kim Noguchi, national membership coordinator for the JACL, and Brandon Hideo Unruhe, Bay Area DOR Consortium member, emceed the candle lighting ceremony. The candles are lit in memory of each of the 10 American concentration camps that incarcerated people of Japanese descent, and another for the 27 Department of Justice Camps, which incarcerated the JLAs. Masayuki Koga played the shakuhachi during the ceremony.

Shibayama lit the candle for the 2,200 JLAs from 13 Latin American countries who were incarcerated in the camps. Takano represented the 10,046 Nikkei at Manzanar, Calif. San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar lit a candle for the 9,397 Nikkei incarcerated at Minidoka, Idaho. National JACL Executive Director Priscilla Ouchida lit a candle for the 8,497 Nikkei incarcerated at Jerome, Ark., and for the JACL’s work on redress. Marie Mikiko Kurihara, a Nisei who chaired one of the first redress conferences in Spokane, Wash., lit a candle for the 17,864 imprisoned at Poston, Ariz. Artist Rich Tokeshi lit a candle for Ed Tokeshi, his father and a plaintiff in the National Council on Japanese American Redress class action lawsuit, the national council and the 10,767 incarcerated in Heart Mountain, Wyo. Robert Rusky, a member of the coram norbis legal team for Fred Korematsu, represented the 8,475 Nikkei incarcerated in Rohwer, Ark. and Korematsu, Minoru Yasui and Gordon Hirabayashi’s legal teams. Lawrence Yamamoto, a Hawai’i native and artist, lit a candle for the 13,348 at Gila River, Ariz. Fumie Shimada, a retired school teacher from Sacramento who fought for redress of Nikkei railroad and mine workers who were unjustly fired at the start of the war, honored the 8,130 Nikkei incarcerated at Topaz (Central Utah). Julie Yumi Hata, one of the founding members of the National Coalition for Redress and Reparations, lit a candle for the 7,318 Nikkei incarcerated at Granada (Amache) concentration camp in Colorado and the Coalition for Redress. Finally, Katherine Emmie Wada honored the 18,789 Nikkei incarcerated in Tule Lake, Calif., as well as to recognize the efforts by Nisei women whose efforts helped to stop the deportation of the renunciants.

Following the program, the Japanese American Religious Federation and Jiten Taiko led a procession to the Japantown Peace Plaza to watch the Rev. Ronald Kobata of the San Francisco Buddhist Church perform a meditation. Following that, the procession traveled north to the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California for a reception.

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