As we approach the 80th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942 — which led to the forced removal and incarceration of some 120,000 persons of Japanese descent into American concentration camps during World War II — the Nichi Bei Weekly spoke with Christine Umeda, chair of the Northern California Time of Remembrance in Sacramento, who was four years old when she was uprooted along with her family.
Day of Remembrance events started in 1978 and now encompass the entire country, having had a transformative impact over the years in educating the community and public while serving as a spark plug for the Japanese American Redress Movement by helping to reclaim the community’s history.
With roots in the Florin Japanese American Citizens League chapter’s event from 1981, the Northern California Time of Remembrance has since grown to a collaborative venture between several Sacramento-area JACL chapters, the California Museum, the Japanese American Archival Collection at the California State University, Sacramento and the Elk Grove Unified School District.
Nichi Bei Weekly: What is the origin of the Northern California Time of Remembrance?
Christine Umeda: Well, the origin of Time of Remembrance really began back with the Florin JACL and Mary Tsukamoto. It was in 1981 as the Redress Movement was beginning that she really felt it was important to remember and to help the community and prepare the community for what was coming up with redress. … Through the years, ultimately, we stayed in with the Florin Buddhist Church, where we did our major event, but prior to that, Mary being a consummate educator, we began doing student education. We did that with the collaboration of the Elk Grove Unified School District. Because of her association as a teacher there, she had just wonderful relationships built with the superintendent and their board of directors. …
NBW: How many students participate in that program every year?
CU: Since we moved to the California Museum, because of their facility and what’s possible, we are able to educate about 5,000 students every year, and we’ve been there since 2002. So this is our 20th year …
NBW: When did the Florin JACL Time of Remembrance become the Northern California Time of Remembrance?
CU: We had been doing all of our community events at the Florin Buddhist Church and the student education at the Elk Grove boardroom, but we simply ran out of space, and we could not accommodate everyone. Georgiana White … was the archivist at the California State University, Sacramento Library collection. … They developed a program called the Japanese American Ar-chival Collection and the bulk of the initial contribution came from Mary Tsukamoto’s collection. … One of the (people) who was an intern was Kelly Bitz, and she had taken a job with the California Museum and coincidentally, they were looking to expand their programs. … (They) offered to have our Time of Remembrance there and our committee thought … “why don’t we reach out to the surrounding chapters and see if we can build a coalition, so we don’t have individual programs throughout the community?” There were five initial groups. … For the last 10 years, it’s been Florin, Lodi, Placer County, and Sacramento (JACL chapters). We couldn’t do it without the support of the California Museum and the Japanese American Archival Collection — a lot of the artifacts in the “Uprooted” exhibit (at the museum) are from the archival collection — and then of course the support of the Elk Grove School District…
NBW: What are the lessons for today from Time of Remembrance?
CU: In the 1940s, the Japanese community … didn’t have coalitions with other groups. We were a minority group, we didn’t feel very powerful, we didn’t have any legislators or officials in any kind of leadership roles and so we didn’t have the voice to speak up for ourselves. And so one of the lessons that we really want to focus on and tell the children about is that you have a voice … And if they begin speaking up for themselves and for others now, they’ll be better prepared to do that later in life. … We need to speak up for each other.
NBW: Can you tell us about this year’s program?
CU: We’re really excited about this year’s program. We’re calling it, “Beyond Confinement: Stories of the Japanese American and the Native American Resistance.”… This year, we find that so many of the things that we experienced, we share that with so many communities. But the Native Americans are especially someone that we felt that has not been given much voice … We needed to find a way to include them. … The government took away their language, they tried to take away their culture, they put children in boarding schools. I think we felt the same things, because after we came back (from camp), things Japanese were not “American” enough, so many of us lost that. (Maintaining language and culture) is a form of resistance.
For the program itself … we have two from the Native American community, which is (California State University, Sacramento Ethnic Studies Department Chair) Dr. Annette Reed, and we have another gentleman called Sage Romero. Sage is part of the AkaMya dance cultural group and he’s located in Big Pine. He has an extensive background in advocating his Native American culture and dance. … We were able to talk with (former wartime incarceree) Kiyo Sato, who is almost one of the most revered (people) in our community … She’s going to follow up in terms of the vivid memories she had as a teenager in terms of the questions that we’ll be probing. Finally, we’re lucky to have Lisa Nakamura. She is a Sansei, but she has an extensive background as a clinical psychologist and just through her own family experience and through her practice … I think we’re going to have a nice mix of conversation and stories … and we’re going to cover the whole thing of oppression — white supremacy, the separation of families and children and then reconciliation. Where do we go from here? … We want to be hopeful and look forward to what’s going to happen from this point on, and what can we do together.
The Northern California Time of Remembrance will be held Saturday, Feb. 12, 1 to 3 p.m. For more information visit www.nctor.org.