Published on October 1, 2011.
This occurred sixty-five years ago.
Sixty-five years ago, more than 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien, were systematically evacuated from their homes and relocated into ten internment camps. Sixty-five years ago, more than 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were confronted with a questionnaire that forced them to take a deeper look at the word “loyalty” as well as all the ties, hidden messages and unsaid understandings that revolved around that word. Sixty-five years ago, more than 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were dishonored and shamed in the land of the free, one that promised “liberty and justice for all…‘but not for [the Japanese]’” 1 during World War II.
I attended the Day of Remembrance event on Saturday, February 17, 2007 at two o’clock in the afternoon inSan Francisco’s Japantown. I also attended another Day of Remembrance that was held on the UC Berkeley campus on Thursday, February 22, 2007 at seven o’clock at night in Heller Lounge. These were both days held in commemoration of the unconstitutional relocation and mass internment of those 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry sixty-five years ago, during World War II. It was a time to acknowledge that history, share stories from within the camps, and recognize the issues that revolve around current challenges to civil liberties in the post-9/11 period.
The first event inSan Franciscowas produced by the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC); other groups involved included the Bay Area Day of Remembrance Consortium as well as the Day of Remembrance Committee. There were also various other sponsors and advertisers and volunteer groups, such as the Japanese Community Youth Council and the UC Berkeley Nikkei Student Union. The second event in UC Berkeley was, in fact, hosted by the Nikkei Student Union and sponsored by the Asian Pacific American Student Development, East Wind Books, and the Civil Liberties Youth Empowerment Project.
During both events there were many performances, ranging from the reenactment of a particularly insightful scene from the play, After the War, by playwright Philip Kan Gotanda, to video clips of personal experiences within several of the camps to the deep and powerful pounding of drums by Cal Taiko. It was perhaps those presentations done by the younger generation that I was able to connect with most. The music beaten out in a rhythmic pattern to the joyous shouts and cries of the students, the spoken word and poetry slam that was delivered with such passion and sincerity made me understand that the past never dies nor is ever truly past. What happened during the time of the internment camps still affects many Japanese Americans. The memories still linger in haunting, recurring episodes to this day.
Each act was unique in its own, yet a single thread held them all together, just as the candles representing each interment camp were held up by the same wooden foundation: it was the idea that a great wrong had been done that would never be forgotten. The only concern then seemed to be how to prevent the same wrong from being committed again towards another minority group—Muslim Americans.
The second Day of Remembrance seemed to be somewhat of an extension from the first event inSan Franciscowhere similar performances conveyed similar messages. However, I was very much surprised to discover that there was not so much an emphasis on the pain and suffering of the people who were incarcerated in both events. Tears were not shed. There were no quiet sobs in the audience, no unintelligible whispers of prayers or deep sighs of regret. In a way, it was difficult for me to grasp the dire circumstances that some of the Japanese Americans faced more than half a century ago simply because nobody cried or uttered more than a few words about what it was to endure that harrowing experience. Of course, there was mention of the difficulties in even attempting to create some semblance of normalcy within the camps in setting up classrooms for the children that were also forced to evacuate from their homes. There was even talk about the utter loneliness that seemed to dominate the desolate landscape where the internment camps were situated.
Still, there was no real mention of the deeper feelings of shame and disgrace that the incarcerated Japanese Americans were sure to have felt at the time. No, in my eyes, those in attendance on the Day of Remembrance, those who had witnessed the very horrors of Manzanar and Minidoka and Jerome and Poston and Heart Mountain and Rohwer and Gila River and Topaz and Amache-Granada and most especially Tule Lake showed no fear nor regret; instead, they exhibited a strength that I could not even come close to comprehending or realizing. There was definitely an element of pride and a sense of overcoming and conquering those feelings of failure and humiliation. Rather than mere acceptance and tolerance for those events that have come to pass, an air of defiance swept through the entire room. Just like the “no no boys,” the Japanese Americans who attended the commemoration did not feel that they needed to prove anything, let alone voice out in any way the deeply rooted feelings of pain that were caused by the movement that had systematically removed them from their homes into camps where the barbed wire and the guns were faced inward. Nothing needed to be said. Their silence spoke volumes.
The solemn candle-lighting ceremony that came towards the end of the first event was all that was needed for a formal acknowledgement of the injustice done. The quiet, bowed heads, the slow yet measured shuffles across the stage until the final candle was lit appeared to be the first step in a sacred ritual designed to inspire the Japanese American community to “speak up and be unsilent.”
- At Internment Camp, Exploring Choices of the Past (nytimes.com)
- JACL Ratifies Power Of Words Handbook: What Are The Next Steps? (manzanarcommittee.org)
- San Jose’s Obon Festival celebrates Japanese culture (mercurynews.com)
- Manzanar Committee Urges Japanese American Citizens League To Ratify Power Of Words Handbook (manzanarcommittee.org)
- A Japanese-American veteran of World War II shares his story (dvidshub.net)
- RCC Hosts a Preview Opening of the Center for Social Justice & Civil Liberties (seizingourdestiny.wordpress.com)
- Exposures: Bill Manbo’s Images of Japanese-Americans in Detention (nytimes.com)
- They Came for the Japane Too … (faktensucher.wordpress.com)
- WWII: Japanese-Americans in San Diego (utsandiego.com)
- From prisoner to decorated soldier (dvidshub.net)