The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) joins others in support of the Issei Commemorative Garden. This garden, to be created at the site of the Cottage Row Mini-Park, would serve as a backdrop to a unique neighborhood story and experience.
Prior to World War II, the Japantown community was a vibrant residential and commercial area, spanning over 20 square blocks in the Western Addition. Cottage Row was often referred to as Japan Street before World War II because Japanese Americans inhabited the entire district until their forced removal from the area during World War II.
Of special significance is that the Cottage Row Mini-Park is the only remaining open green space left in Japantown from those early days. This mini-park has been a part of our community, and has survived both the injustice of our incarceration and our removal by redevelopment. It is a direct physical link to our ancestors; thus making it a powerful tie between the past and the present. For those reasons, we view and reclaim this space as sacred ground.
Prior to the war, my grandparents and their eight children lived in Japantown on Pine and Buchanan streets until they were forced by presidential order to leave and abandon the area. Indeed, my mother considered “Japanese Town,” as it was known back then, as her home. It was here where she grew up, shopped, made friends, played and attended school and church. Being raised in Japanese Town, with its residents and cultural influences, helped to shape the person she was to become, a role this neighborhood continues to play in the lives of Japanese Americans today.
Cottage Row Mini-Park is an ideal and fitting location to commemorate the Issei, or first generation Japanese immigrants, who established Japantown 110 years ago. Through its simple beauty, the Issei Commemorative Garden will tell the American story of a thriving immigrant community, a community that was later uprooted, and a community that returned, rebuilt and – like the phoenix – rose again.
The timeliness of this project is imperative. Not only do we observe the 110th anniversary of Japantown this year, but more importantly, the second generation of Japanese Americans (Nisei) are well into their late eighties and nineties. My mother, Chiyo Wada, is 97 years old now, and her brother, Sam Nao, is 88.
For them to return to the neighborhood of their youth and view a garden dedicated to the generation of their parents would be deeply moving.
We have been raised with the Japanese value of “okagesama de,” or roughly translated, “I am who I am because of those who have gone before.” Thus, it is fitting that the JACL, with our National Headquarters located in Japantown, supports the creation of the Issei Commemorative Garden. It would be deeply meaningful and personal for our community and a wonderful asset for our City to celebrate, embrace and enjoy.