LOS ANGELES — The 2023 Day of Remembrance, held Feb. 18 at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo, urged the Japanese American community and individuals to work together with other communities “to fight for a strong and democratic society.” Organizers dedicated the event, titled “Uniting Our Voices: Making Democracy Work for All,” to the late redress and civil rights activist Jim Matsuoka, who passed away recently.
Kelli-Ann Nakayama, chief development officer at JANM, pointed out that Matsuoka “fought for equality, fairness and justice for all people. He always spoke out about injustices against the community … He drew parallels between the Redress Movement and the Civil Rights Movement so that the next generation can understand history, social justice and democracy.”
Nakayama also noted that this was the “first Day of Remembrance without friend, extraordinary leader and JANM board of trustees chairman, the Honorable Norman Y. Mineta. All of us here valued Norman Mineta for his steadfast support of and wealth of contributions to the advancement of equality, justice and liberty for all … Though he passed away last year, his voice will continue to live in all of us as we use the lessons from our past to work for a more just future.”
Day of Remembrance commemorates Feb. 19, 1942, the day that President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, enabling United States officials to imprison persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II, Nakayama said. “This is a day to remember the 120,000 people wrongfully imprisoned without due process, a day to remember the real people in our own families, and all of the lives, forever affected by the concentration camps.”
She said that for her personally, it’s to remember people like her grandfather, Takito Yamaguma, a community leader and public servant who was instrumental in establishing the Bank of Tokyo in the United States, but lost everything during the war and incarceration.
“Day of Remembrance is a time to remind ourselves of what can happen when prejudice overshadows reason and tolerance.”
‘Craziness All Around’
DOR Co-chair Richard Katsuda said, “We are here to remember all those former incarcerees who are no longer with us … They had to rebuild their lives after the war in a largely hostile environment … They felt alone, powerless to fight against the government that had violated them so deeply during World War II. But 40 years later, rumblings about redress began to surface. And former incarcerees were asked to testify about their wartime experiences before the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. With support from the younger members of the community, they were able to unite their voices with allies from other communities, like Black Congressman Mervyn Dymally from Gardena and Ron Dellums from Oakland, and win redress from the U.S. government through the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.”
Today, again, many in the community “feel powerless to deal with the craziness all around us,” Katsuda said. “Voting rights curtailments, election denial, misinformation and disinformation running so rampant … Much of that ugliness is directed at people of color and other marginalized communities. The onslaught of mass shootings exacerbated the already heavy fears of anti-Asian hate within the AAPI communities. The L.A. Day of Remembrance committee encourages our community to come together … and ensure that our democracy works for all of us.”
After observing a moment of silence to remember the Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay mass shooting victims, the program honored all those Nikkei who experienced first-hand the wartime concentration camps by presenting a roll call, where local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts paraded with banners signifying each concentration camp and the number of prisoners held in each camp — Amache, Colo. (7,318 prisoners); Gila River, Ariz. (13,348); Heart Mountain, Wyo. (10,767); Jerome, Ark. (8,497); Manzanar, Calif. (10,046); Minidoka, Ida. (9,397); Poston, Ariz. (17,814); Rohwer, Ark. (8,475); Topaz, Utah (8,130); Tule Lake, Calif. (18,789).
The 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service, as well as people sent to the Justice Department camps and Citizen Isolation Centers (5,500) were also honored.
Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of AAPI Equity Alliance and co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, announced, “I cut my activist teeth in the Japanese American movement … working on Japanese Latin American redress. After [the Civil Liberties Act of] 1988, there were many who were left out, so we sought in the late ‘90s and early 2000s to ensure an apology and some form of redress — unfortunately, it was not at the same level. What I learned from that was how to work with perseverance, how to lead with integrity, and how to fight, always against injustice.”
Immigrating from India at age two with her parents and settling five years later in Montgomery, Ala., Kulkarni recalled, “When I was in 11th grade AP American history, my teacher asked the class, ‘If India were at war with the United States, should Manju be incarcerated?’ And 24 out of 25 kids in the class — many of whom were my friends — voted to incarcerate me. One friend, who was African American, was the only one who didn’t vote to incarcerate me. Even though this was my favorite teacher and a kind woman, she mentioned that story to defend the incarceration of Japanese, not to challenge it.”
Exemplifying inter-community support, African American civil rights leaders, who knew the immigration system was heavily flawed and racist, fought for the Immigration Act of 1965, Kulkarni stated. “They could have simply rested on their laurels after the Voting Rights Act and after the Civil Rights Act. They didn’t, and that’s why my parents and I were able to come to the U.S.”
AAPI Equity Alliance, Chinese for Affirmative Action and San Francisco State University co-founded Stop AAPI Hate three years ago because “we saw that emergence of anti-Asian hate even before President Trump uttered those horrible words, ‘China Virus,’ ‘Wuhan Virus’ and ‘Kung Flu,’” Kulkarni continued. “In two years, we received over 11,000 reports of hate events from all 50 states and D.C. About 60-plus percent of those reporting were women. Also, a high number of seniors and youths, including East Asians, Southeast Asians, South Asians and Pacific Islanders, experienced comments like, ‘Go back to your country; you brought COVID-19 to the U.S.’”
traci ishigo, director of Programs and Healing Justice at Vigilant Love, confided that as she got involved in the Japanese American community, “my dad noticed I had an interest in our history, and opened up for the first time about what happened to his family in Hawai‘i during World War II, and what it was like being a Japanese Buddhist community leader facing incarceration because of that. It was meaningful that I got to hear from him about that history before he passed.”
ishigo, as a University of California, Irvine undergraduate student, joined Muslims and non-Muslims who organized action on the UCI campus against anti-Muslim bigotry. “My uncle from out of state had heard about it and called my parents out of concern for my safety for getting involved in political activism.”
“Today we are remembering the pain and trauma that the Issei, Nisei and subsequent generations have suffered because of Executive Order 9066,” ishigo exclaimed. “It is important for us to remember that EO 9066 … was really a political project of the white supremacists and the state through years of collecting data on our communities … so that when there was an opportunity, they unleashed Executive Order 9066 … I think for Japanese Americans, it’s important that we build relationships with many communities. That’s very important for our commitment to liberation and racial justice. Once you get involved with different groups, you find creative solutions with each other to get through difficult times.”
About 500 people attended this first in-person Day of Remembrance since the beginning of the pandemic, while another 660 watched the livestream or recording, according to Sherill Ingalls, JANM’s director of marketing and communications.
The 2023 Los Angeles Day of Remembrance was organized by: Go For Broke National Education Center, Japanese American Citizens League – Pacific Southwest District, Japanese American National Museum, Little Tokyo Service Center, Manzanar Committee, Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, Nikkei Progressives, OCA – Greater Los Angeles, Progressive Asian Network for Action.