‘S.F. Day of Remembrance’ points out hypocrisy and calls for justice

Each year the Bay Area Day of Remembrance Consortium presents speakers and performances to remember the constitutional injustices Nikkei faced during World War II, and to draw similarities with today’s post-9/11 world.

Performance artist and activist Judith Nihei and the Rev. Michael Yoshii of the Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda, Calif. emceed the Feb. 22 program, entitled “Never Again! Indefinite Detention — Rendition — Torture,” which more than 260 people attended at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco’s Japantown, organizers said.

CALLING OUT NEGLIGENCE ­— (Above:) Wayne Merrill Collins delivers his keynote address at the Day of Remembrance Program.         photo by Kahn Yamada

CALLING OUT NEGLIGENCE ­— (Above:) Wayne Merrill Collins delivers his keynote address at the Day of Remembrance Program. photo by Kahn Yamada

Wayne Merrill Collins gave the keynote speech and identified the racism and political favoritism that led to the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Collins’ father, the late Wayne Mortimer Collins, helped close the Tule Lake Stockade, represented Fred Korematsu in his first Supreme Court case and represented Japanese American renunciants and Japanese Latin Americans to prevent their deportation. The younger Collins himself earned a presidential pardon for Iva Toguri D’Aquino, who was accused of being the infamous “Tokyo Rose.”

Collins said racism was only an excuse for wartime incarceration. He said the United States was a nation formed by many nationalities and ethnicities and the political struggles within it developed along racial lines. Despite knowing that, President Franklin D. Roosevelt did nothing to protect Japanese Americans and those around him refused to confront him on it, Collins said.

“Many liberals and intellectuals gravitating toward political action wanted to support Roosevelt in virtually everything,” he said. “That they were attracted to government power and they held the belief they could influence government power.” He outlined how Roger Baldwin, the National American Civil Liberties Union’s founder and leader, impeded challenges to Roosevelt’s decision to sign Executive Order 9066, failing to uphold the Constitution in favor of winning political favors with the Democratic Party.

Collins noted that the U.S. government tried to justify the wartime incarceration through evidence garnered after the fact, including citing the pro-Japanese Hoshi-dan at Tule Lake and the renunciants. “That was two years after they were interned,” he said. He said the rebellion was a natural course of action. “They’re well justified in their anger that the country of their birth had betrayed them.”

Rabab Abdulhadi, associate professor of ethnic studies at San Francisco State University, spoke about post-9/11 civil liberties and human rights. She expressed her concern over the United States’ treatment of the Palestinians and the larger Muslim community in the United States, and others the U.S. government have oppressed.

“We know that no amount of money can make up for that pain, but assigning a dollar value, in a society that often thinks of its pockets more than it appreciates human value, is a step toward recognition that a wrong was done,” she said. Abdulhadi compared the forced removal of Japanese Americans to the plight of Palestinian refugees, and spoke about the pain they have felt in waiting to return to their homes.

The Muslim community continues to face injustices from the U.S. government today, Abdulhadi said. She cited indefinite detention, which the National Defense Authorization Act authorizes, and rendition, the practice of sending prisoners to countries with less humane treatment for prisoners, as ongoing issues for Muslim communities in the United States. She also said the FBI’s entrapment of mentally challenged Arab youths to bomb Jewish targets damages their efforts for dialogue. “This is a deliberate and intentional policy to prevent support (from Jewish communities for Muslims),” Abdulhadi said.

She said the Japanese American fight for redress and their success nearly half a century after the fact is a testament to proving wrong the first Prime Minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion’s statement: “The old will die and the young will forget.”

Grace Shimizu of Campaign for Justice: Redress Now For Japanese Latin Americans! gave an update on the Japanese Latin American fight for redress. The American government abducted some 2,200 people of Japanese descent from Latin American countries and confined them in Department of Justice Camps in the United States. Some of these Nikkei were used as hostages in prisoner exchanges with the Japanese government and were declared to be illegally present in the United States after the war was over. Unlike the Japanese Americans, the Japanese Latin Americans did not receive redress under the 1988 Civil Liberties Act.

Shimizu said there have been five lawsuits and two pieces of failed legislation in the past demanding an apology from the U.S. government. While her organization filed a petition in 2003 with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, she still has yet to hear anything from them.

“We still haven’t gotten a ruling from that international body, and we want to know why,” she said. “And since 9/11, I think we know why.” Shimizu said the U.S. government has a vested interest in rendition to capture people and giving them indefinite detention without a charge for a crime. Shimizu said the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows for the indefinite detention of any person — citizen or not, is “a slap in the face against the Japanese American community.” She asked attendees to remember what happened to the Nikkei during World War II, to reflect on the issues based on modern day concerns for civil liberties, and reaffirm a commitment to fighting injustice.

The program also highlighted the issues Okinawans have faced. Wesley Ueunten, Asian American studies professor at San Francisco State University, spoke about Okinawa’s history, the Ryukyu Kingdom, an independent nation prior to 1879. Ueunten said Okinawa is located in “one of the most sensitive geo-political regions,” citing rising East Asian tensions among Japan and its neighbors. A bulk of American military forces stationed in Japan are located on the islands of Okinawa Prefecture. Ueunten said Okinawans fear repeating the massacre they faced during the Battle of Okinawa at the end of World War II when a quarter of the island’s population died in a month. He noted that many Okinawans were subject to wartime incarceration, many of them abducted from South America to be used as hostages in the U.S.

The program started with an Okinawan drum dance performance by Shimadaiko and Genyukai Berkeley, followed later on with dances by Azama Honryu Seifu Ichisen Kai Mototake Kinuko Ryubu Kenkyujo USA.

Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto performed a koto number, and fifth graders from the Rosa Parks Elementary School Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program read poetry. The students read “Poston” by Hiroshi Omura and “Is It True?” by Osama Abu Kabir. The poems highlighted the anxiety and depression those indefinitely detained felt, one from the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans and the other a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Dr. Clifford I. Uyeda Peace and Humanitarian Award went to Jimi Yamaichi. He was honored for his volunteerism within the San Jose Nikkei community, as well as his work to get Tule Lake recognized as both a National Historic Site and a National Monument, and in speaking out for the Muslim community following the 9/11 attacks. Yamaichi is the founder of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose and helped establish the Nikkei Matsuri, the first Japanese-themed festival in the South Bay, in 1978. Yoshii, winner of the 2013 award, presented the award to Yamaichi.

Due to time constraints, some speakers were cut short during the program. Carole Hayashino, executive director, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i, spoke briefly. She helped to organize the first Bay Area Day of Remembrance event at the former Tanforan Temporary Detention Center in 1979. She told the Nichi Bei Weekly the program was initially started to bring attention to the Redress Movement.

“It’s gratifying now to see the program continue 20 to 30 years since winning redress and going beyond remembering the past to make it relevant to what’s going on today.”

NEVER AGAIN ­— (Above): the procession from the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas to the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California.  photo by William Lee

NEVER AGAIN ­— (Above): the procession from the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas to the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California.
photo by William Lee

The event featured a candle lighting ceremony for the more than 110,000 Nikkei who were incarcerated at 10 War Relocation Authority concentration camps and 27 Department of Justice camps. The lighting took place at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California following a procession to the center, which religious leaders in the Japanese American Religious Federation and the Okinawan drummers led.

Aya Ino and Haruka Roudebush emceed the candle lighting ceremony, which was included a purification ceremony by the Konko Church of San Francisco. The candle lighters were Art Shibayama, former inmate and one of 2,200 Japanese Latin Americans, for the Department of Justice Camps; Cary Matsumura, DOR committee member substituting for Nancy Gribler, for Manzanar, Calif.; Karen Korematsu, daughter of civil rights icon Fred Korematsu, for Minidoka, Idaho; Abdulhadi for Jerome, Ark. and those persecuted post-9/11; Brandon Unruhe, DOR committee member substituting for Akiko Aspillaga, for Poston, Ariz.; Yamaichi for Heart Mountain, Wyo.; Hayashino for Rohwer, Ark.; Fujiko Dandoy, president of the Sacramento Okinawa Kenjinkai, for Gila River, Ariz.; Hisashi Sugaya, San Francisco planning commissioner, for Topaz in Central Utah; Ueunten, substituting for David Kakishiba, for Granada (Amache), Colo.; and Ben Takeshita, former president of Japanese American Services of the East Bay (now J-Sei), for Tule Lake, Calif.

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