San José, CA - More than 300 people packed the San Jose Buddhist Church hall on Feb. 20 to attend the 31st annual Day of Remembrance event in San Jose. This event commemorates Executive Order 9066 that was issued on Feb. 19, 1942 and which led to the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans in U.S. concentration camps during World War II. The theme of the event was “Fighting Against Fear” which made connections the Japanese American experience during WWII and the attacks on Arab Americans and American Muslims today. The San Jose Day of Remembrance was organized by the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee (NOC), a grassroots community organization that was formed in the late 1970s out of concerns about the impact of corporate redevelopment on historic Japanese American communities.
The event was emceed by NOC member Masao Suzuki, who pointed out the forces of “racism, war hysteria, and political misleadership” that led to the World War II concentration camps for Japanese Americans were also at work today in attacks on Arab Americans and American Muslims. Jimi Yamaichi, who was sent to the concentration camp at Tule Lake, California, told the audience about his fight to join the local carpenters union, which excluded Japanese and other Asians before World War II. Jimi Yamaichi was also among 26 young men at Tule Lake who refused to be drafted into the U.S. military along with hundreds of others at other camps.
The special guest speaker for the evening was Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations. Billoo commented on CAIR courage award that had be given to Mr. Yamaichi, and in turn was thanked by the emcee, Masao Suzuki, for her work on his behalf after he had been questioned by the FBI in connection with the Federal Grand Jury targeting Midwest anti-war and international solidarity activists. Yasmine Vanya of the South Bay Islamic Association also spoke and thanked the Japanese American community for their solidarity and support in the days following Sept. 11, 2001.
The middle of the program consisted of a candle lighting ceremony as the names of people of the ten World War II concentration camps were read. Etsuko Kohagura, who was also in the Tule Lake concentration camp, her two daughters, a granddaughter, and two great-grandchildren lit the candles as a shakuhachi (a traditional Japanese wind instrument) played in background. After the ceremony, the audience took candles for a procession around Japantown, the historic center of the Japanese American community in San Jose where the Buddhist Church is located.
After the procession there was a short speech by Karen Korematsu, the daughter of Fred Korematsu. Fred Korematsu was one of three Japanese Americans who fought the concentration camps through the courts, eventually taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. While the 1944 Supreme Court ruled that the camps were legal because national security outweighed individual rights and allowed racial discrimination, this was overturned in 1983 when it was shown that the U.S. government deliberately lied to win the case. The state of California just celebrated its first “Fred Korematsu Day” on his birthday, Jan. 30.
The last speaker was Congressman Mike Honda, who represents the 15th district in San Jose. He spoke about how fear led to Japan bashing in the 1980s and compared this to the rising tensions with China today.
At the end of the program the Suzuki, reminded the audience about the continuing struggle of Japanese Latin Americans. The U.S. government held more than 2000 Japanese civilians from Latin America in Department of Justice prison camps at Crystal City, Texas and other sites to be used as prisoner of war exchanges. Japanese Latin Americans were excluded from the 1986 and 1988 redress (apology) and reparations (monetary compensation) awarded to almost all Japanese Americans held in concentration camps on the grounds that they “entered the country illegally” (true enough, since they were rounded up at the behest of U.S. government and brought to the United States at gunpoint). He urged the audience to support the Campaign For Justice (CFJ) efforts to establish an official commission to report on Japanese Latin Americans.
In addition to the record turnout, the audience had large number of young people from local colleges and a good turnout from the local peace and international solidarity movements and the American Muslim community. Local state assemblyman Paul Fong also came with a proclamation from the California state assembly commending the Day of Remembrance event.