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Japanese American community slams Trump’s National Emergency

By staff |
February 19, 2019
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Suzuki speaks at the San Jose Day of Remembrance.
Suzuki speaks at the San Jose Day of Remembrance. (Photo by Jack Owicki)

San José, CA - On Sunday, February 17, more than 400 people filled the San Jose Buddhist Church gym for the 39th annual Day of Remembrance event. Across the country, Japanese American communities commemorate the anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which led to the incarceration of more than 100,000 Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. The San Jose event was organized by NOC, the Nihonmachi [Japantown] Organizing Committee.

This year’s event came just two days after President Trump declared a National Emergency in order to build his wall on the Mexico-U.S. border. Criticism of this act and comparisons with Japanese American experience and the World War II concentration camps ran throughout the program, which had the theme, #NeverAgainIsNow.

Sumi Tanabe, who was incarcerated during World War II, welcomed the audience on behalf of the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin. Sumi was the first woman to be president of the church.

She was followed by Masao Suzuki, a professor at Skyline College. He pointed out that many Japanese unauthorized immigrants came to the United States through Mexico, just as Honduran and other Central American refugees are coming to the United States today. Like these refugees today, Japanese immigrants came to improve the life of their children. They had the saying “kodomo no tame ni” - for the sake of the children - to explain how they endured the hardships in America.

Suzuki described how the World War II concentration camps were caused by “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” These same forces are at work today with President Trump’s declaration of a ‘state of emergency’ to build his wall on the border. “The yellow peril of a hundred or more years ago has been replaced by a ‘brown peril’ today,” continued Suzuki. Suzuki called on the audience to support protests against the state of emergency and Trump’s wall.

Fahad Alam, President of the South Bay Islamic Association, thanked NOC and the Japanese American community to be the first to stand up for the rights of American Muslims after September 11, 2001. The importance of today’s immigrants was stressed by Teresa Castellanos, who is the coordinator of Santa Clara County’s Immigrant Relations and Integration services. She was followed by Chizu Omori, another Japanese American who was incarcerated in the Poston camp on the Colorado River Indian Reservation. Omori was also co-producer of the film, Rabbit in the Moon, a documentary on her family’s experiences.

The last speaker of the evening was Don Tamaki, one of the lawyers for Fred Korematsu. During World War II, Fred Korematsu, along with Min Yasui and Gordon Hirabayashi, had challenged Executive Order 9066 and took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. While the courts upheld the concentration camps under the guise of ‘national security,’ Don Tamaki and others fought to reopen Korematsu’s case many years later and were able to get his conviction vacated on the grounds that the U.S. government had hidden evidence. Tamaki criticized Trump’s national of emergency as unconstitutional.

The San Jose Day of Remembrance had a number of cultural performances, including singer Safiyah Hernandez, the young musician Jake Shimada, and the traditional San Jose Taiko [Japanese drum] performance. San Jose Taiko did a piece with poet Asha Sudra, and two of their younger members, one Vietnamese American, and the other the child of recent Japanese immigrants, on what Day of Remembrance and the Japanese American community meant to them.

In the middle of the program there was a candlelight procession through San Jose’s Japantown. It began with a candle-lighting ceremony, one candle for each of the ten concentration camps. The candles were lit by Betty Shibayama and Eiko Yamaichi, who had both been incarcerated during World War II, assisted by their children and grandchildren. The program ended with a benediction by Reverend Inouye of the Wesley United Methodist Church and closed by the Nihonmachi Organizing Committee emcee Reiko Nakayama.

Photos the San Jose Day of Remembrance can be seen at www.probonophoto.org/2019/Feb17DoRSJ/i-BXswz4z/A,courtesy of pro bono photographers Chris Cassell and Jack Owicki.

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