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San Jose

Day of Remembrance Highlights Solidarity with Arab and Muslim Americans

by Naomi Nakamura |
March 1, 2003
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(Fight Back! News/Staff)
Inter-generational candle-lighting ceremony. A candle is lit for each of the concentration camps for Japanese Americans during World War II. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

San Jose, CA - A standing ovation greeted Maha El Genaidi’s denouncement of “Bush’s secret government of oil barons and multinational corporations,” as she blasted the attacks on Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians at the annual Day of Remembrance program. The theme of the program was “Race Prejudice, War Hysteria, and a Failure of Political Leadership,” and it made the connection between the World War II internment of Japanese Americans into concentration camps and today’s attacks on civil liberties as the U.S. government wages war on Iraq.
This year’s program made a special effort to build solidarity with the Arab and Muslim American communities. In addition to Ms. El Genaidi, who is an educator about Islam, the program included an invocation by Ahmad Al-Helew, president of the South Bay Islamic Society, whose mosque is near Japantown. The Aseel Dance Troupe of the Arab Cultural Center in San Francisco performed Palestinian dances.

The keynote speaker, Lisa Nakamura, who works with the Nosei Network of younger Japanese American activists, told the audience how she went to protest the recent registration and arrests of Middle Eastern men, because it reminded her of what Japanese Americans went through during World War II. “My grandfather went though a military tribunal in Hawai’i,” she said. Local congressperson Mike Honda criticized the PATRIOT act, which erodes civil liberties, and new laws being discussed by the Bush administration which would allow the government to make secret arrests and to strip citizenship from Americans who were associated with ‘disfavored political organizations.’

Grace Shimizu of the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project reminded us that the Latin American Japanese who had been kidnapped by the U.S. government were still denied redress on the grounds that they were ‘illegal aliens.’ The connections between Japanese Americans and Latinos was also highlighted by members of Teatro Vision, whose new play, “Conjunto,” was about the experience of Japanese, Mexican, and Pilipino American farmers and farm workers during World War II.

Other speakers at the program included Reverend Sakamoto of the San Jose Buddhist Church and the president of the San Jose Japanese American Citizens League, Kenzo Kimura. The Marimo Kai Koto group performed traditional Japanese music on the koto, followed by contemporary Japanese American drumming by the San Jose Taiko, who accompanied the audience for a short candlelight procession through Japantown.

The last speaker, Mary Ellen Sawada, minister of the Wesley United Methodist Church in Japantown, repeated the call of Arlene Tatsuno Damron. Ms. Damron, who had been interned during World War II, asked the audience “to remember, to reflect, and to live for justice.”

After the program, a member of the audience, Victoria Takeda, said, “All the Day of Remembrance programs are excellent, but this was the best one ever!”