Sacramento-area Japanese Americans observed the 2022 Day of Remembrance, marking the 80th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, with an online forum Feb. 12 discussing the parallels between the Japanese American experience and those of Native Americans with regard to captivity, culture and perseverance.
Moderator Wendi Yamashita, associate professor of ethnic studies at California State University, Sacramento, began the discussion, saying, “The Japanese American experience of incarceration is intimately connected to other historical and contemporary forms of containment.”
Under the theme “Beyond Confinement: Stories of Japanese American and Native American Resistance,” the event was conducted via the Zoom videoconferencing platform due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was organized by the Northern California Time of Remembrance Committee, consisting of the Japanese American Citizens League chapters of Sacramento, Florin, Placer County and Lodi.
Panelist Kiyo Sato, author of “Kiyo’s Story: A Japanese-American Family’s Quest for the American Dream” and an active speaker on the Japanese American wartime incarceration, noted that the Poston concentration camp in Arizona, where she was held, was located on an Indian reservation. “It’s so difficult to express how scary that time was. The whole country was engulfed in hate,” she said, recalling being followed by a Sacramento County sheriff’s vehicle when she ventured outside the zone where Japanese Americans were allowed to travel.
Panelist Annette Reed, member of the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation of northwestern California and Native American studies professor at Cal State Sacramento, said: “There have been so many historical events that turned our world upside-down,” referring to genocidal practices by governments, reservations, forced boarding schools, termination of tribes’ sovereignty, assimilation policies, incarceration. “The United States has wanted to control Native people for years. … Even for us to exist and still identify as Native people is an active form of resistance.”
The third panelist, Sage Andrew Romero, member of the Big Pine Paiute and Taos Pueblo tribes and a performance artist who shares the culture of his people through song, dance, storytelling and art, talked about how the Owens Valley Indian wars of the 1860s led to the removal of his mother’s tribe from the valley to Fort Tejon, which is located in the Grapevine Canyon. “We had our own Trail of Tears here in California. … We have since returned to our lands but we were placed on reservations,” he said. “Our entire valley is pretty much under dominion of the city of Los Angeles. They took control of our water resources and land so there’s no development. It’s been like an occupation — seeing signs that say ‘Property of the City of Los Angeles.’”
The panelists spoke about the relationship between the two ethnic groups.
The fourth and final panelist, Lisa Nakamura, clinical psychologist and member of Tsuru for Solidarity, a direct-action project to end immigrant detention sites, said some Japanese Americans “worked with the American Indian Movement during the civil-rights era, who went to Wounded Knee, who went to occupy Alcatraz.”
Japanese Americans in 2019 protested at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, which was proposed as a detainment center for Latin American children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. “Tsuru went to that site because Japanese Americans had been detained there during World War II — and discovered that Native Americans were also detained there way before them,” said Nakamura.
Sato recalled that Hopi people near Flagstaff, Ariz. later moved to the reservation on which Poston was located. The “modern facilities” they had been promised were “the barracks that we’d lived in,” she said.
She added that when Japanese Americans “went to survey the property for the [Poston] monument, the Native residents said, ‘You can take all (the land) you want’ to build our monument. So we’ve had a good relationship.” The Poston monument includes both the story of the Colorado River tribe and the story of the Japanese American Poston camp.
Reed noted that Dillon Myer, director of the Wartime Relocation Authority overseeing the incarceration of Japanese Americans, subsequently was commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in 1950-53.
The panel was asked what they would share with the younger generation.
“I was like the angry activist at times as a young person,” said Nakamura. “There was this older Filipino activist Bill Sorro, and I still remember his words about how to turn that righteous anger into love for one’s community. … I think about one of the people I really admire in the Japanese American community, (the late activist) Yuri Kochiyama — I really do think she led with love for her community as well as in solidarity of communities of color.”
Romero said he would tell young people: “Just show up, start going to events … language classes, basketry classes. Take in that knowledge. You’ll start to find what your path is. … Attend, be there, start showing up to these things and be a part of it.”
The forum can be viewed in its entirety at www.nctor.org/event-information/.