Monday, February 23, 2009

Day of Remembrance 2009 for Japanese Americans - 2

The 30th anniversary of the Day of Remembrance for Japanese Americans who were evicted from their homes and sent to American internment camps during World War II was held yesterday afternoon.

Over 200 people gathered to commemorate the fateful day of February 19, 1942, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that allowed for the exclusion, eviction and imprisonment of about 120,000 Japanese American citizens and residents who were living in Hawaii state and the West Coast..see previous blog

A fascinating, new documentary on the life of the young Japanese American author who exposed the weakness of the American government's case for exclusion and internment was screened as one the highlights of the remembrance ceremony.

'Out of Infamy,' a twenty-minute documentary, uses archived material that brings to life the story of Michi Nishiura Weglyn, and was shown with filmmakers Nancy Kapitanoff and Sharon Yamato in the audience.

It follows the story of Michi as a Californian farm girl and internee in the Gila river, Arizona, camp, rising to become an artistic costume designer for the Perry Como Show, a researcher, author and political activist. She married Walter Weglyn, a German Jew who narrowly escaped death in Holland, and died in New York in 1999 at the age of 72 years.

Her book, Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps, published in 1976, proved the falsehood of the government's claims that imprisonment had been a 'military necessity.'

Instead, with painstaking research through library archives she showed that 'our government had in its possession proof that not one Japanese American, citizen or not, had engaged in espionage, not one had committed any act of sabotage.'

Her book also included information on Japanese Latin Americans, who were used as exchange prisoners between America and Japan during the war, and gave impetus to the redress movement.

At the opening of the Day of Remembrance, another moving film was shown of photos of the internment years with a voiceover by 'Sox' Kitashima.

'Let Us Not Forget' portrayed one harrowing account of a mother of two small children shot by two military police as she sat waiting for her husband to return. The police also wrecked her home.

Later on in the war, said the film, Japanese Americans were asked to bear arms for America and many from the prison camps volunteered.

Mistress of Ceremonies yesterday was Carole Hayashino, Vice President of University Advancement at California State University, Sacramento. She presented the 2009 Clifford Uyeda Peace and Humanitarian Award to Bay Area human rights activists Chizu and Ernest Iiyama.

'We would like to share this award with activists all over the world for peace and justice,' said Chizu.

The couple met as internees in the Topaz Relocation Center in the Utah desert where they were both working in organizations that provided support and education to internees.

A former Poet Laureate of San Francisco, who was interned in Rohwer, Arkansas, read one of her poems entitled 'Letter to My Daughter'.

Janice Mirikitani is a 'sansei', a third-generation Japanese American, who is also a Founding President of the Glide Foundation, a non-profit organization with the Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, and married to the Rev Cecil Williams, Founder and Minister of Liberation at Glide.

During the afternoon the audience heard updates from Congressman Mike Honda in his keynote address and Mariko Nakanishi of Campaign for Justice - Redress Now! on campaigns to gain redress for excluded Japanese Americans who were not interned, German and Italian Americans, and Japanese Latin Americans.

Congressman Honda was particularly hopeful in the light of President Obama's election.

'We have a new administration, I believe we have renewed hope,' he said.

He is also hoping to recover $45 million that he believes is owed from the educational grant awarded in 1988 to raise public awareness of the camps, and to bring about the repeal of one final Act on the statute books that allows incarceration without the benefit of due process, ie can be used where there is suspicion without proof.

This is the Alien Friends Act (officially An Act Concerning Aliens) that authorized President John Adams to deport any resident alien considered 'dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States,' and which was aimed largely at Irish immigrants and French refugees critical of the administration.

The Act, along with three others that either expired or were repealed by 1802, were considered by Thomas Jefferson to be unconstitutional and void - see for further info.

The final speaker was Banafsheh Akhlaghi, Founder of the National Legal Sanctuary for Community Advancement, whose concern is American treatment of Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian peoples in the wake of 9/11.

In my next blog are interviews with people who were interned in the camps...

pics show: the candlelight procession in the rain to the reception at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California; Michi Weglyn, taken from the Day of Remembrance 2009 programme

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