Day of Remembrance program looks to future while returning to roots

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The annual program to remember the wartime incarceration also featured a candle lighting by Nisei survivors of the concentration camp experience, including Sadako Nimura Kashiwagi. photo by William Lee

REMEMBERING TRAUMA ­— Ryan Yamamoto (far left), a KPIX 5 news anchor, emceed the Bay Area Day of Remembrance at the Christ United Presbyterian Church in San Francisco’s Japantown. photo by William Lee

After two years of virtual programming, the Bay Area Day of Remembrance Consortium returned to its roots hosting its annual event as an in-person event. Attendees packed the Christ United Presbyterian Church in San Francisco’s Japantown Feb. 19, with many more observing via an online stream for the 44th annual Bay Area Day of Remembrance. This year’s theme was “Carrying the Light for Justice.”

Emceed by Ryan Yamamoto, KPIX 5 CBS News Bay Area’s noon and 5 p.m. anchor, the program honored Japanese American elders, especially the Nisei, who had survived the wartime incarceration and are now rapidly dwindling in numbers due to their age.

The program began with a Nisei Camp Tribute, a slideshow depicting pictures of Nisei incarcerated during the war while this year’s candlelighters focused on Nisei survivors of the wartime experience.

While the program is usually held at the AMC Kabuki 8, also in Japantown, Jeffery Matsuoka, the program’s chairperson, said they were simplifying the event this year and returning to the church where early Day of Remembrance programs were first held.

“Many (Japantown churches) actually sheltered internees after they came back from the war and it goes to tell you that, a lot of the roots of the community are in the churches, so I think it was very fitting that we came back here to CUPC to have the DOR this year,” Matsuoka told the Nichi Bei News.

The annual program commemorates President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942. The order enabled 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.”

After the public learned the government had lied about the pretenses for the wartime incarceration in the 1980s, the U.S. government eventually apologized and paid $20,000 to each living survivor of the wartime incarceration through the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

Donald Tamaki, senior counsel at Minami Tamaki LLP, was this year’s keynote speaker and recipient of the consortium’s 2023 Dr. Clifford I. Uyeda Peace and Humanitarian Award. Tamaki, a co-founder of the Asian Law Alliance in San Jose and former director of the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, was a member of the 1980s pro bono coram nobis legal team for Fred Korematsu.

More recently, he was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state legislature to serve on California’s Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.

Tamaki, who was recovering from COVID, joined the program via Zoom to explain how the Japanese American Redress Movement is connected to the larger story of racism and slavery in the United States. While Tamaki noted the discrimination Japanese Americans experienced pales in comparison to the racial oppression African Americans have endured, he argued the hate that drives both are related.

According to Tamaki, slavery as a concept has existed for thousands of years, but it was only 400 to 500 years ago that white Europeans began using skin color to justify “permanent, inheritable, multi-generational subjugation upheld by a culture of white superiority.”

“Following the end of slavery, this cultural norm valuating white lives above all others, morphed into forms of hate to put a target on the backs of not just African Americans, but other people of color,” Tamaki said. “Simply put, if you can ‘thingify’ Black people, then demonizing other disfavored groups is easy. Slavery began the cultural foundation of America’s racial hierarchy, of white people on top, Black and native people on the bottom and everybody else in between.”

Tamaki described how, after the Civil War ended, African Americans were disenfranchised and kept from economic and political success. He went on to describe how California, while not a slave state, was complicit in the institution of slavery and that Japanese Americans had immigrated into an “ultra racist environment” where they were targeted with legislation like the alien land laws, which prohibited immigrants from owning land.

“Our community’s experience with racial profiling and exclusion is really a sub chapter in the country’s history of dehumanizing Americans because of their skin color, their ancestry, their religion, their sexual orientation, or other disfavored status du jour,” Tamaki said.

The California Reparations Task Force member urged the audience to read the nearly-500 page interim report the group published last year, which outlines the harm done by slavery, Jim Crow laws and continued discrimination in the modern day, describing the reality “shocking, but not surprising.”

The task force is planning to submit to the state legislature recommendations for reparations in June of this year and Tamaki asked Japanese Americans to support these efforts.

Later in the program, Tamaki received the Dr. Clifford I. Uyeda Peace and Humanitarian Award, presented by last year’s recipient and fellow coram nobis legal team member Karen Kai.

The program also featured updates on the Campaign for Justice: Redress NOW for Japanese Latin Americans! by Grace Shimizu, the campaign’s director, and Tsuru for Solidarity by Keiko Kubo.

Shimizu called for the continued education and advocacy on the “second phase of redress” focusing on Japanese Latin Americans abducted from South America, while Kubo spoke about her organization and their work to shut down U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers holding migrant children.

The annual program to remember the wartime incarceration featured a reading by poet Lauren Ito. photo by William Lee

In addition to the speakers, Andi Muraoka, Summer Shapiro and Ai Yamada — three students from Rosa Parks Elementary School — opened the program with a land acknowledgement and later recited remembrances of those incarcerated in concentration camps, including the Nazi death camps in Germany. Gosei poet Lauren Ito also read “If These Pages Could Talk,” an essay she wrote reflecting on her conversation with her grandfather about his wartime experiences as evidenced by his high school yearbook. Ito, whose grandfather passed in November of 2021, was overcome with emotion as she read her tribute to him.

“That particular piece, it’s one of the first things I ever wrote, and it’s the only piece of my work that I’ve ever shared with my grandfather,” Ito told the Nichi Bei News. “It’s the first time I’ve really interacted with that piece since his passing, which I think is why there was so much emotion that came up.”

The annual program to remember the wartime incarceration also featured a candle lighting by Nisei survivors of the concentration camp experience, including Sadako Nimura Kashiwagi. photo by William Lee

This year’s candle lighting ceremony, emceed by Bhairavi Senthilkumar and Matthew Kojima, focused on Nisei who survived wartime incarceration. Following a purification ceremony by Rev. Rodney Yano and Rev. Joanne Tolosa of the Konko Church of San Francisco, musicians Kallan Nishimoto and Kumiko Uyeda set a solemn tone for the 11 candlelighters as they lit candles representing each of the Wartime Relocation Authority and Department of Justice camps.

The candle lighters were: Eloy Maoki, for the Department of Justice concentration camps; Mary Kaneyo Hidekawa for Manzanar, Calif.; Lucy Arai on behalf of Kay Sekimachi for Minidoka, Idaho; William “Bill” Sato for Jerome, Ark.; Mary Ann Furuichi for Poston, Ariz.; Patricia (Yamakawa) Yamamoto for Heart Mountain, Wyo.; Joan Miura for Rohwer, Ark.; Jun Dairiki for Gila River, Ariz.; Yoshiko Takemoto Ho for Topaz (Central Utah); Michiko Tashiro for Granada (Amache), Colo.; and Sadako Nimura Kashiwagi for Tule Lake, Calif.

The program concluded with a benediction featuring the Japanese American Religious Federation clergy members, including Yano and Tolosa, Rev. Grace Kaori Suzuki and Rev. Hiroko Suzuki of Christ United Presbyterian Church and Rev. Elaine Donlin of the Buddhist Church of San Francisco. Following the program, attendees participated in a candle-light procession to visit the Kinmon Gakuen building a block away where San Francisco Japantown residents first reported in 1942 on their way to the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, Calif.

Although Japanese Americans received an apology from the U.S. government, the need to address the root causes of racism in the country remains. With the rise of anti-Asian hate and the push for African American reparations, Matsuoka said he wanted attendees to look toward the future.

“DOR is about memory and memorializing our past generations, but it’s also about taking the lessons that we’ve learned from that experience, and … trying to also apply that to other facets of American society,” he said. “It’s very important for us to not only think of the past, but think about the future of this country.”

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