Bay Area Day of Remembrance focuses message on genocide in Gaza

Clifford I. Uyeda Peace and Humanitarian Award recipient Rabab Abdulhadi. photo by William Lee

The San Francisco Bay Area community observed the 2024 Day of Remembrance by remembering not only the anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, but with a call for solidarity for Black reparations and a call for a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Palestine.

Emceed by Ryan Yamamoto, anchor and reporter at KPIX 5, the event entitled “Carrying the Light of Justice, Finding Our Way Home” focused on the parallels between the Japanese American wartime incarceration and plight of Palestinians today.

“This year’s DOR has convened under the theme: ‘Finding Our Way Home,’ and the cover of the program illustrates Japanese Americans finding their way home following the release from exile following the war. The photo that’s juxtaposed next to it illustrate Gazans today who have been displaced from their homes, while searching for food, for water, and shelter, and survival in the midst of this demonic crisis,” Rev. Michael Yoshii, the event’s keynote speaker, said. “Finding our way home though, may also be a metaphor, for what it means to come home for us as a community to our moral center as Japanese Americans, as Nikkei people. In the midst of this crisis for Palestine, Gaza and Palestine have become a moral compass for the world in this critical moment in history. People around the world understand this historical context are rising up in collective call for permanent ceasefire in Gaza. And you can see why it’s important for all of Palestine. And the good news is that Japanese Americans are becoming part of this collective voice, Tsuru for Solidarity issued their own statement of solidarity with Palestine and a call for a ceasefire. An emerging group, called Nikkei for Palestine, has joined the collective voice of solidarity for Palestine, providing inspiration from a new generation of leadership.”

Yoshii spoke about the ongoing bombings in Gaza as well as describing life in the West Bank where the village of Wadi Foquin is located. Yoshii, formerly minister of the Buena Vista United Methodist Church, started the Friends of Wadi Foquin, a partnership with a Muslim village south of Bethlehem near the 1949 armistice line.

Following Yoshii, the program presented Rabab Abdulhadi, Ph.D., an activist and scholar from San Francisco State University, with the Dr. Clifford I. Uyeda Peace and Humanitarian Award. Abdulhadi, the founder of SFSU’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies program, is a Palestinian from Nablus. In accepting the award, she expressed gratitude for the solidarity Japanese Americans have imparted over the years, including from Yoshii and the late Yuri Kochiyama, both of whom received the award in past years.

“The campaign launched by the Japanese community against the Muslim ban demanded never repeat history. At the same time, another campaign was launched by our anti-Zionist Jewish siblings and comrades, who universalized the ‘never again’ Holocaust commitment to never again for anyone. And yet, we gather here today to stop another genocide,” she said. “Palestinians today continue to face genocide that is enabled by the U.S. military, political and diplomatic and unconditional backing of Israel’s campaign to eradicate the Palestinian people, erase all traces of our existence, and pursue a continuation of the 1948 Nakba.”

Echoing both Yoshii and Abdulhadi’s sentiments, Grace Shimizu also called for solidarity while giving her update to the Japanese Latin American Redress Movement. Citing that it has been five years since the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ruled the U.S. should make amends for kidnapping 2,264 men, women and children from Latin American countries, Shimizu said she is not all that hopeful for an apology under the current administration. Instead, Shimizu called for solidarity with African American and Palestinians, and demanded accountability from political leaders.

“In the future, people are going to look back at this period, and they’re going to be asking: … ‘What did you do to stop this from continuing?’” she said. “The other thing is, … our elected officials don’t listen for one reason or another. So that I think raises up the importance of the 2024 elections, not just the presidential elections, but all elections down ticket too. We have to figure out, how can we make our democracy work? Because there have been forces that have been chipping away at it for decades, and now it’s coming to a head.”

Jeffery Matsuoka, chair of the Bay Area DOR Consortium, along with KC Mukai, a member of the recently formed Nikkei for Palestine group, issued a call to action at the program. Mukai called on attendees to pressure public officials to call for a permanent ceasefire and a cessation of military aid to Israel, both through calls to elected officials, and taking part in the “boycott, divest, and sanction” movement.

“We must also continue to … (educate) ourselves and our community. It’s important to not look away, especially now,” she said.

Matsuoka, meanwhile re-emphasized the case for Black reparations speakers made in last year’s DOR, highlighting some of the local, state and federal efforts to repair the systematic harms the U.S. has inflicted upon African Americans. Efforts include the H.R. 40 congressional investigation bill, to food justice and community investment bills proposed at the city and state levels.

Matsuoka told the Nichi Bei News planning for the annual program began last September, prior to the Oct. 7 attacks, but he said the consortium members quickly agreed to focus on Palestine after the war turned hot. While both Abdulhadi and Yoshii had spoken at the event in years past, he said the committee had not sought to focus on Palestinians specifically until the events of Oct. 7.

“I feel that our audience learned a little bit more, hopefully, about what’s going on in Palestine and what the parallels and their experience is with our Japanese American experience, and hopefully they can also take action to support Palestine,” Matsuoka told the Nichi Bei News.

In addition to the speakers, this year’s program also featured the OWU Ensemble, featuring Scott Oshiro, Francis Wong and Wesley Ueunten, who performed two Okinawan songs, and three elementary schoolers from the Rosa Parks Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program reflecting on Dorothea Lange’s wartime photos from their school as Japanese Americans were sent off to camp.

The program also featured its annual candle lighting ceremony to commemorate those incarcerated at the 10 Wartime Relocation Authority concentration camps, as well as the Department of Justice’s camps. Hiro Anglon and Alicia Tsuyako Tan, two young mixed-race Nikkei, emceed the ceremony. This year’s candle lighters were: Bekki Shibayama for the Department of Justice interment camps; Robert M. Gould for Manzanar, Calif.; Laurin Mayeno representing Arthur Mayeno, for Minidoka, Idaho; Adam Manasra for Jerome, Ark.; Wesley Ueunten for Poston in Arizona; Howard Yamamoto for Heart Mountain, Wyo.; Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb for Rohwer, Ark.; Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Ph.D., for Gila River, Ariz.; Will Tsukamoto, for Topaz (Central Utah); Elaine Donlin for Granada (Amache), Colo.; and Dean Preston for Tule Lake, Calif.

While the program has concluded in the past with a benediction by the Japanese American Religious Federation, the event ran into a time constraint and performed the benediction at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California before the event’s reception. Pastor Jeanelle Ablola of the Pine United Methodist Church announced during the reception that their church had erected a banner demanding a ceasefire, in solidarity with Palestine.

Abdulhadi reflected on the support Palestinians have received since last year, and considered it a watershed moment as people have come out in support of Palestine from around the world.

“I actually think there is a quantitative shift in solidarity with Palestine the world over,” she told the Nichi Bei News. “I had been working, before I became an academic, (as a) community organizer, in solidarity and watching, I have never seen anything like it. … I have never seen it like this before, and it looks like it’s here to stay. Because people have the politics — they’re framing it, they’re placing Palestinians at the center of analysis.”

She cautioned, however, that as resistance continues and the movement grows, the “bigger” and “nastier” the reaction will be from the institutions in power.

“Palestine today is signifying justice, but we always say it is part of the indivisibility of justice, not just part of it,” she said. “So all the people who are actually working on that solidarity with Palestine, work for labor justice, work for climate justice, work for LGBTQI-plus communities, work for women, work for anti-racism, for indigenous rights. I mean, they’re all on the right side of all the issues that are going to build a better word, and I think they are really nervous about it, because it’s also: the longer they wait, the more people are getting radicalized.”

 

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Clarification
Accuracy is fundamental in journalism. In the March 14, 2024 issue of the Nichi Bei News, the article entitled “Bay Area Day of Remembrance focuses message on genocide in Gaza” omitted the fact that the Bay Area Day of Remembrance took place Feb. 17 at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres in San Francisco’s Japantown. The Nichi Bei News regrets any inconvenience it may have caused. To contact the Nichi Bei News about an error, please e-mail news@nichibeiweekly.org, write to P.O. Box 15693, San Francisco, CA 94115 or call (415) 673-1009.

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