I attended the Fresno Day of Remembrance and installation of the board of directors for the Japanese American Citizens League on Feb. 10 at the Fresno County Fairgrounds.

I have been hanging out in Fresno these days because my parents, Phil and Marion Shigekuni, just moved from the San Fernando Valley to be a part of the independent living community at Fairwinds this past year. As a newcomer, I was struck by the hospitality of the hosts and all of the excellent details of the event, thanks to Joy Goto and the other organizers. The speakers eloquently reminded us of the common resolve we must have to never forget the tragedy of Executive Order 9066. The food catered by Pardini’s was plentiful and delicious, the centerpieces were gorgeous and the atmosphere was friendly.

Brian Tsukimura, the JACL’s Central California District Council district governor, welcomed us. Then Girl Scouts Troop 305 and Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts Pack 199 led us in the Pledge of Allegiance. The event honored and recognized former inmates.

Three dignitaries greeted us: Consul General of Japan in San Francisco Yo Osumi, Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) and Fresno County’s District 3 Supervisor Sal Quintero.

Larry Oda, the president of the JACL National Board, swore in the new JACL officers.
Judge Johnny C. Gogo, a Santa Clara Superior Court Judge who started “The Flag Signing Project” received the Distinguished American Award. He was inspired to start the project by Karen Korematsu and the Fred T. Korematsu Institute. The project asks Nikkei who were incarcerated to provide their signatures on a flag with 48 stars.

One of the flags was available for signature at the event.

Kerry Yo Nakagawa, the founder and director of the Nisei Baseball Research Project, who is from Fowler, gave the keynote address. He spoke about the special role that baseball played in the Nikkei community and the tremendous value of offering recognition to the men whose baseball careers were cut short by the war and the men who played while being incarcerated.

He reminded us that Nikkei farmers produced 40% of the produce in the Central Valley before the war. He explained about the oppressive racism and added that the local community was largely silent after Executive Order 9066 was issued. One exception was author John Steinbeck, who vocally protested our incarceration. I loved the note that Kerry left us with, encouraging us all to be storytellers — to tell our stories and pass them on.

This was a special Day of Remembrance for me because I was able to commemorate the day with my parents, with some of their new friends from Fresno, and with a couple who drove all the way from Palisades Tahoe.

The Day of Remembrance is especially notable for my family because my Dad and Paul Tsuneishi organized the very first Los Angeles Day of Remembrance on Feb. 19, 1979. It was held outside the former Nishi Hongwangi Temple, the place where buses picked up and brought Japanese Americans to assembly centers such as Santa Anita. It is adjacent to where the Japanese American National Museum and the Go For Broke Museum are currently located.

I was struck by the way I was able to feel connected with a group of people I had not previously known by spending an afternoon together and absorbing our shared history, honoring people, and enjoying a special meal. Kudos to Joy Goto and to all the speakers and participants for creating a meaningful event.

The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei News.

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