Having made two films focusing on the Japanese American camp story and also having spoken before large groups on this topic, I’ve often found interesting reactions to the incarceration story from people — Asian and non-Asian alike. There are those who are extremely grateful to know more about this dark period in American history, and others who would prefer to ignore or forget about it.
When I spoke before a town hall group in Dallas, I was told to keep the subject as light as possible, especially since the well-heeled audience was mostly elderly and conservative.
I hate to admit it, but I understand that reaction. Recently, I was talked into going to see the movie “12 Years a Slave” after adamantly refusing, I didn’t care how important the subject matter was. As I shut my eyes and ears during the first torture scene, I couldn’t understand how a black filmmaker, writer and cast could engage in such emotionally and physically wrenching material. It was interesting that the director and star were in fact British, not American. Perhaps it was easier for them to look at the coldest and harshest reality of something that happened a continent away than for those whose own forefathers endured it here.
It was not until my anguish died down that I understood the true importance of this film. Painful as it was, we must be reminded about of the worst part of our history — over and over again — so that we know how not to repeat it.
I was recently taken aback when the very conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia admitted before law school students in Hawaii that the 1944 court decision to uphold the Korematsu and Hirabayashi convictions was wrong, but could happen again. “In time of war … it is the reality,” he said.
Many of us have feared that, but to have it validated by a Supreme Court justice is an even scarier thought. So, even though some of us have gotten a little tired of making the incarceration the central motif in Japanese American history, we must continue to address it — over and over again.
February is a month dedicated to doing just that. Observing the signing of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, the Day of Remembrance (DOR) is currently being observed throughout the country. I was curious to know how this event originated, so I looked up its history on the informative Densho Encyclopedia website (encyclopedia.densho.org).
I discovered that the first DOR held in 1978 in Seattle was not in February but over the Thanksgiving weekend. Credit was given to playwright Frank Chin as the person who originated the idea to help charge the redress movement. The second one was moved to Portland, and Feb.19 became the established date from that day forward. The approximate date of its celebration has remained over the past 35 years as its popularity grew, and DORs are now being celebrated in more than 20 cities throughout the country.
Los Angeles’ annual event is being held this Saturday, Feb. 15, at the Japanese American National Museum. A multi-generational program features performances by poet Hiroshi Kashiwagi, writers Velina Hasu Houston and Akemi Kikumura Yano, and performance artists Jude Narita and Sean Miura.
It seems to be a tradition commemorated in California cities in particular with DORs being held in San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Fresno, Merced, Manzanar, and Cupertino. I am pleased that UCLA is acknowledging this year’s DOR with a free screening of our film, “A Flicker in Eternity,” about the courageous and talented Stanley Hayami, on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 12:30 p.m. in the Charles E. Young Research Library, Presentation Room. Hope to see some of you there.
Other cities like Seattle, Portland, Chicago and Washington, D.C. will also celebrate this important date. The Nichibei Weekly has been helpful in compiling a complete listing, including program information, at nichibei.org.
Even though some of us may be a little tired of the camp story, it’s one we constantly need to be reminded about. Fortunately, as we learn more, the stories get more nuanced, and there are still so many more that need telling.
Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.