SILENCED NO MORE: 2015 Bay Area Day of Remembrance

The Bay Area Day of Remembrance Consortium presented its 36th annual Day of Remembrance Feb. 22 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco’s Japantown. The program recalls the injustices more than 120,000 Nikkei faced following President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942.

Emily Murase, president of the San Francisco school board, emceed the event, which featured speeches by Rep. Mike Honda, Dr. Satsuki Ina, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi and a presentation of the Clifford I. Uyeda Peace and Humanitarian Award to poet/author/actor Hiroshi Kashiwagi.

The event also included the Rosa Parks Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program’s fifth grade students, who read a letter written by Noboru Taguma, a Nisei draft resister; “27/28,” a performance by quartet New Ensemble highlighting the strife among Japanese Americans in the wartime concentration camps; “A Community Divided,” a video presentation produced by Cary Matsumura from the archives of Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project and filmmaker Frank Abe; and an update from Grace Shimizu on the fight for redress for Japanese Latin Americans.

This year’s program, themed “Out of the Shadows of Infamy: Resistance Behind Barbed Wire,” recognized the Nisei who were labeled “disloyal” by both the American government and the Japanese American community for their stand against the mass incarceration through resisting the draft, answering “no” to the loyalty questionnaire or renouncing their citizenship.

“For their actions, the ‘no-nos,’ the renunciants, the draft resisters were vilified, stigmatized and marginalized into the shadows of infamy,” Murase said. “It is time to rectify this.”

Honda spoke about the abuse of power and oppression Nikkei faced, and later directed inward. “We should have been focusing on the oppression that the government was imposing upon us when they took away our constitutional rights,” he said. Honda said Japanese Americans, whether they chose to fight for the army or against the government through resistance, were both right. “None of them were wrong in their decision. The person and the group that was wrong was the federal government.”

Satsuki Ina. photo by William Lee

Satsuki Ina. photo by William Lee

Ina, a licensed therapist who is known for her documentary films “Children of the Camps” and “From a Silk Cocoon: A Japanese American Renunciation Story,” spoke about the community’s healing through acknowledging those who were once shunned by fellow Nikkei for resisting the U.S. government.

“To remember, we not only lost our property … we also suffered the intangible loss of dignity, of self determination, of power, hope, faith, of possibility, the pride of being Japanese,” she said. Ina outlined three stages of recovery from this collective trauma.

“But mind you,” she said. “Community healing from trauma is not a purely linear progression. These stages overlap and recycle many times, often over the course of generations.”

First, Ina said, survivors needed a safe environment to talk about the experience and how the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 offered an opportunity for Japanese Americans to reinterpret the wartime incarceration without fear of reprisal.

The next step, she said, is to retell the experience on the survivor’s own terms. “To reconstruct the trauma story means to speak of our experience with language that is accurate and truly descriptive of what it was like,” Ina said. “We are here to rewrite this trauma story by challenging the established narrative that dissidence was disloyalty. And to begin the process of integrating the stories of resistance, protest, dissidence and renunciation into our collective Japanese American history.”

The U.S. government, Ina said, created an “artificial moral standard” that labeled Japanese Americans as loyal and disloyal. “The story of dissidence has been held in contempt and those who refused, resisted or renounced were stigmatized for years by their own community,” she said. “This strategy of pitting victims one against the other is a common method used to control and manage the unrest brewing in an oppressive environment.”

The final step, she said, was to restore a connection between the survivors and the larger community. “The response of the community has a powerful influence on the ultimate resolution of the trauma,” she said. With public acknowledgement and community action that embraces the full complexity of the experience, Ina said the story of the wartime incarceration will become a source of strength rather than shame.

In closing, Ina said she wanted to mark the day as a momentous day of healing by affirming, “dissent is not disloyalty, that dissent is a protest against injustice.” She then asked for the house lights to be turned on and asked those who resisted, or family members of those who did, to stand up to be acknowledged.

Jeff Adachi. photo by William Lee

Jeff Adachi. photo by William Lee

Adachi linked the injustice faced by Japanese Americans to that of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. last year and the march from Selma, Ala. 50 years ago. He said learning about the Japanese American wartime incarceration changed his perspective on the concept of justice and said today’s youth will similarly question the impact of race on the criminal justice system through Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York and Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

“The struggle of all people, but particularly people of color in this country, is a struggle that we — no matter what nationality we are, or background or religion — should all embrace,” he said.

He recalled the late civil rights icon Yuri Kochiyama’s struggle for all people. “One thing that Yuri understood was that our history of resistance comes from a very real place,” he said. “It comes from a place of understanding that justice is something that has to be fought for.”

Adachi said Japanese Americans should take on the fight for justice, regardless of the victim’s identity. “We can look at these in abstract and say, ‘well you know, it doesn’t involve me directly,’” he said. “But we know deep down inside, when we see something that is wrong, when we see something that is unjust, we have to speak up.”

“I think the challenge to all of us today is that we can change things,” he said. “We can make a difference.”

Kashiwagi received his award from Jimi Yamaichi, last year’s honoree. Kashiwagi said he was very humbled by the award and spoke about Uyeda, a renown humanitarian and activist. Kashiwagi, who read Uyeda’s book “Suspended: Growing up Asian in America,” said Uyeda had a remarkable father who fled Japan and cut ties with his family to defy conscription and live as a lifelong pacifist. “No doubt, he was a great influence on Clifford,” he said.

Kashiwagi also read a quote from Uyeda that spoke to the humanitarian activist, “We must broaden our perspective and see and feel in terms of humanity that we are all human beings with similar sensibilities.”

Candle lighters. photo by William Lee

Candle lighters. photo by William Lee

National Japanese American Historical Society staff member Melissa Ayumi Bailey and Jeremy Chan, who works with students of color through a nonprofit organization, emceed the annual candle lighting ceremony.

Art Shibayama, a Japanese Peruvian abductee; Mas Ishikawa, a Military Intelligence Service veteran; Beatrice Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant and activist in Oakland, Calif.; Jacqueline Cabasso, an environmental and pacifist activist; Harman Singh, a high school senior representing the Youth Advisory Council of Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach; Patti Hirahara, administrator of the Hirahara Family Collection of more than 2,000 photographs from Heart Mountain, Wyo.; Kira Azzam, co-chair of the California-Nevada Philippine Solidarity Task Force; Chris Hope, a Japanese Canadian filmmaker and lawyer; Jimi Yamaichi, a community activist from San Jose; Kazu Haga, founder and coordinator of the East Point Peace Academy; and Sadako Kashiwagi, a former librarian who now shares her stories of wartime incarceration, each lit candles in remembrance.

The event concluded with a procession to the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, which was followed by a reception.

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