I am leading off my column this month with the well-known graphic symbol, designed by Frank Shobo Fujii, in support of the first Day of Remembrance in Seattle in 1978.
For each generation of the Japanese American Community, but especially for the Sansei generation of which I’m part, this symbol helped to open a whole new dimension of understanding – how the internment collectively affected all of us. It portrays the Issei (ichi) – Nisei (ni) and Sansei (san) generations bound together by Community and Culture, as well as by our history of being imprisoned in concentration camps within our own country.
It was on February 19, 1942, that Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the infamous E.O. 9066, which required that all Japanese Americans on the West Coast be evacuated to U.S. concentration camps. So, around the date of February 19 every year, special events are happening in Communities across the country for people to gather and contemplate the incarceration experience on a Day of Remembrance. This Executive Order drastically changed the course of history for those it affected, and this year will be the 80th year of remembrance of this unfortunate time in history.
What should we remember? For me, it is the recognition that it took a lifetime of hard work, risk, and reward to build an honest life for the Issei immigrants to this country. Then, with the stroke of a pen it was all taken away, including their freedom. Think about all the farms, houses, hotels, businesses, property both real estate and otherwise, artifacts, and family heirlooms that were lost during the evacuation. Where would our Community be if that had not happened?
Before the evacuation, all the larger cities on the west coast had thriving Japan towns or Nihon-machi. Those were all pretty well decimated and have never recovered since the War. I am a member of the Seattle Judo Club. Before the evacuation, the West Coast had a thriving and high caliber judo Community. Although active now, the evacuation obliterated countless Japanese cultural arts and schools, including judo, kendo, taiko, ikebana, performing arts, nihongo gakko, and more for decades thereafter.
While normally a mild-mannered elderly man by day, in the evening after a couple glasses of sake my Grandpa, Shigeto Tamiyasu, would magically transform into a younger and talkative man with clear recall of the events from his pre-war life in Oregon. My Grandma, Kisayo Tamiyasu, also had very clear memories of those days, although no sake was needed for her.
They spoke of a time of risk and hard work as they built a life around farming a stretch of land in Oregon. They raised five kids in the fields of this farm, which eventually became a successful venture. My Grandma recalled that they had recently purchased a new car – then the “evacuation” order was posted in their area. As a result, they lost everything: the farm, the equipment, their many possessions, and certainly their brand-new car.
The Tamiyasu Family was herded first to Tule Lake, since my Grandpa was an official in the local Buddhist Church, then they were moved on to Minidoka. They had two more kids along the way. My Mom, Toshi, graduated from Hunt High School in Minidoka, behind barbed wire.
So, I would urge you to participate in the local Day of Remembrance events this year. There is much that we must remember, but we must also celebrate the resilience of those who endured this period in history and survived to build the Community we enjoy today.
Typically, the NVC and NVC Foundation observe the Day of Remembrance at a ceremony sponsored by the Washington State Legislature in Olympia. We can thank Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos and Senator Bob Hasegawa for organizing this annual event, which will take place on Friday, February 18th this year.
Moving on to NVC Foundation business, all our Board and membership meetings in 2022 are anticipated to be conducted on a hybrid basis, meaning that you can attend either in person at the Vets Hall or join online through a virtual connection.
Our January meetings will be held on Friday evening, January 28. Our February meetings will be on Friday evening, February 25th. Both meetings will discuss the election of new Officers and Board members, with the final vote on the slate by our Membership at the February meeting. Our Board consists of a full 17 members, which includes 6 Officers. Please consider getting more involved with the Foundation by volunteering for a leadership role on our Board!