Bay Area Day of Remembrance calls for solidarity for reparations movements


REMEMBERING THE INCARCERATION ­— The Bay Area Day of Remembrance program featured a video presentation for its annual candle lighting ceremony to highlight candlelighters and the number of people of Japanese descent incarcerated during World War II. screenshot

REMEMBERING THE INCARCERATION ­— The Bay Area Day of Remembrance program featured a video presentation for its annual candle lighting ceremony to highlight candlelighters and the number of people of Japanese descent incarcerated during World War II. screenshot

The annual Bay Area Day of Remembrance once again focused on the ongoing fights for reparations against the United States government. The Feb. 19 evening program, entitled “No One is Free Until We are All Free, 80 Years after E.O. 9066,” focused on the ongoing campaign for reparations in the United States and attracted 278 viewers via Zoom.

Emily Murase, executive director of the Japantown Task Force, emceed the 43rd annual program featuring speakers and entertainment focused on commemorating the 80th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066. The evening featured recorded spoken word and poetry performances by Yukiya Jerry Waki and Lauren Ito, as well as a performance by Dr. Anthony Brown and the Asian American Jazz Orchestra with Janice Mirikitani in 2019. 

Ito and the Jazz Orchestra’s segments were dedicated to the former poet laureate of San Francisco and co-founder of the Glide Foundation who passed away last year. Waki’s spoken word segment was dedicated to Benkyodo, San Francisco Japantown’s manju shop, which plans to close at the end of March.

On Feb. 19, 1942, then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the order, enabling the U.S. government to incarcerate some 120,000 people of Japanese descent in wartime concentration camps, two thirds of them U.S. citizens, on the false pretenses of “military necessity.”

“This year’s theme is from a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King’s words remind us, that while our Japanese American community achieved a measure of justice through redress, with the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, real justice cannot be achieved until the underlying causes of systematic racism in our society are eradicated,” Jeffery Matsuoka, chair of the program’s organizing committee, said. 

Jon Osaki, executive director of the Japanese Community Youth Council and a filmmaker, was the event’s keynote speaker. He focused on his family’s wartime experience and his parents’ longtime support and solidarity with the African American community. 

“As a means of survival, Japanese Americans would become the original ‘model minority.’ After once being categorically labeled as an enemy alien, Japanese Americans now enjoy the privilege of being considered the good minority, and for a time this approach was both necessary and largely successful,” Osaki said. “But below the surface and embedded in every compliment directed our way, was a white supremacist agenda at work.”

Osaki went on to say the Black community “figuratively and literally took a bullet for the civil rights of every American.” The African American community had come to aid the Japanese American community during the redress movement of the 1980s, and the filmmaker said it is now time for Japanese Americans to lend their support for African Americans.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. spoke about H.R. 40, the late U.S. Rep. John Conyers’ bill seeking reparations for African Americans, which he introduced each year since 1989 after Japanese Americans won redress. The bill outlines a plan to explore potential reparations to the Black community modeled after the Japanese American redress process.

“I believe that reparations are a critical part of how we must address the past evils of slavery and racism and begin to repair the harms that are still experienced today,” she said. “This is a fight we will continue to wage until justice is done.”

Along with Lee, Shamann Walton, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and representative of the city’s District 10, spoke about San Francisco’s African American Reparations Advisory Committee. The task force published its initial report last December to outline its objectives. Walton said a new report is expected to be out in about six months to delineate what reparations by San Francisco could look like, in order to “create the equity that Black people deserve here in San Francisco.” 

In addition to talks on African American reparations, Grace Shimizu, director of the Campaign for Justice: Redress NOW for Japanese Latin Americans! gave her annual update on the campaign for redress for Japanese Latin Americans abducted by the United States during World War II to be used in hostage exchanges with Japan. Both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden’s administrations have ignored the 2020 ruling from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that the United States should pay reparations to JLAs, Shimizu said.

“Phase two of the historic Japanese American campaign for redress is underway. The signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 granted redress to Japanese Americans who were citizens or legal permanent residents for their World War II incarceration, but the JLAs were excluded,” Shimizu said. “Now after the major victory with the commission decision, JLAs are calling upon everyone to build on the gains of phase one of the Japanese American redress movement and win redress for the Japanese Latin Americans.”

The program conferred its annual Dr. Clifford I. Uyeda Peace and Humanitarian Award to Karen Kai and Robert Rusky, two lawyers who served on Fred Korematsu’s coram nobis case in the 1980s. After the Civil Liberties Act passed in 1988, the husband and wife duo would continue to work in the Japanese American community, serving on the pro bono legal team that sued the San Francisco YWCA to sell the former Japanese YWCA building in Japantown to its current owners the Nihonmachi Little Friends preschool, and sat on various committees and boards of other organizations based in the community. Rusky passed away on Nov. 22, 2021.

“To Dr. Uyeda and Bob Rusky, I say okage sama de. Thank you for helping me become the person I am by nurturing me with your example and support,” Kai said in accepting the award. “Both Bob and Dr. Uyeda were courageous, principled, generous, kind and dedicated individuals, whose efforts strengthened our community and our world. They looked beyond the orthodoxy of popular opinion in their pursuit of justice and truth, they look to the past to inform the present. They listened and learned with open hearts and minds to expand their understanding. They questioned reasons and rationales to understand the ends, and they weighed the consequences of their positions in order to advance justice and freedom for all. I look forward to continuing to work to fulfill their ideals and example.”

Once again, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the candle lighting ceremony was held remotely, with actors lighting the candle lighting structure by George Iwao in place of the individual candle lighters “whose work continues to protect civil liberties and immigrant rights, the abolition of inequality and racism, as well as the fight for our brothers and sisters in the Black and Brown communities,” according to Murase. 

The candle lighters were: Kazuharu George Jorge Carlos Naganuma and Kazumu Kaz Julio Cesar Naganuma, for the Department of Justice concentration camps; Dr. Tomomi Kinukawa for Granada (Amache), Colo.; Tara Umemoto for Gila River, Ariz.; Takeshi ‘Tak’ Yamamoto for Heart Mountain, Wyo.; Leith Ghuloum for Jerome, Ark.; Gerald Lenoir for Manzanar, Calif.; Sato Hashizume for Minidoka, Idaho; Emiko Omori for Poston, Ariz.; Dr. Anthony Brown for Rohwer, Ark.; Toru Saito for Topaz (Central Utah); and Judy Hamaguchi for Tule Lake, Calif. 

The candle lighting also featured a purification ceremony by Rev. Rodney Yano and Joanne Tolosa of the Konko Church of San Francisco, remarks by Rev. Gary Barbaree of the Japanese American Religious Federation and a closing benediction by Rev. Elaine Donlin of the Buddhist Church of San Francisco.

As Japanese Americans recall the past abuses against their community, their experience and history remains a valuable part of the fight to confront racism in the United States of America

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