Sunday, March 1, 2009

Day of Remembrance 2009 for Japanese Americans

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 last Sunday.

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 blogs

Kiku Hori Funabiki, now in her eighties, is working as a contributer on a book recounting the release and resettlement experiences of former camp internees.

Still angry at the treatment which she believes led to her father's early death after the war, she said, 'We were behind barbed wire. We had searchlights. We were supposed to be being protected. Why were they aiming the searchlights at us!'

Kiku, who was born in San Francisco, was seized as a 17-year-old about to graduate high school and sent with her invalid mother and two older brothers to the Heart Mountain camp, Wyoming. Already her father had been rounded up by security services and taken to a stricter Department of Justice Camp for those considered to be more of a security threat.

She stayed in the camp for three years, choosing to remain with her mother who was receiving medical care while her brothers were allowed to leave earlier. Her brothers, however, could not go back to the West Coast as it had been declared a military exclusion zone for 'enemy aliens.' Eventually her father rejoined his family in Heart Mountain.

In a moving poem in an earlier anthology to which she contributed, entitled 'Silence...No More', she wrote of her father, Sojiro Hori...

for a father detained in five
prisoner-of-war camps in America
for the crime of being Japanese
and joined his loved ones
in yet another barbed wire compound
then returned home to die at seventy-three
in San Francisco...

After the war, Kiku studied at UC Berkeley and worked in the airlines industry. But she also became an ambassador for the redress and reparations movement, fighting successfully in the campaign that led to President Ronald Reagan issuing a formal apology on behalf of America in 1988 for the unjust treatment of Japanese Americans, along with a token $20,000 award to every former internee, and an educational grant to publicize to future generations the horror of what had taken place.

Her poem* details some harrowing experiences of people in the camps, written after she appeared before the Commission on the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. She then read it when she gave testimony before the Committee on the Judiciary in Washington D.C. in 1984.

Through her campaigning she became friends with Michi Weglyn, a young girl interned in the Gila River camp who became a costume designer in New York and the authoress of the first book to prove the injustice of the internment, 'Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps'.

'She gave me a couple of fashion plates - design templates - from the "King and I",' Kiku reminisced.

On Sunday Kiku appeared on stage, with the writers and producer of a short documentary on the life of Michi Weglyn, for the lighting of a candle in honour of those who were in the Gila River camp.

What did she think of the Day?

'It's essential,' she said, echoing one of the themes of the event, a consciousness of the passage of time and the importance for people to tell their stories while they still can.

With the new anthology due, Kiku is leading the way.

*Her poem can be read on a San Francisco State University website:

Pics show: Kiku; a pic of the first anthology Kiku contributed to, titled 'From Our Side of the Fence: Growing up in America's Concentration Camps' and edited by Brian Komei Dempster.
The pic is taken from the Kearny Street Workshop website:

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