Yasuko Sakamoto translates for Issei testifiers at the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians hearing in Los Angeles in 1981. (Unity Newspaper photo)

By MIYA IWATAKI

I’ve never been able to talk about this. More people come up to me and say that I must speak out. My own children don’t even know … that my brother was shot in the back (by camp guards at Manzanar, where he died). — Testimony by Martha Okamoto, 1981 CWRIC Hearings

In a hushed hearing room at the State Building in Downtown L.A., the Japanese American people broke 40 years of silence and put a human face to the WWII concentration camp experience and significantly impacted the trajectory of the redress & reparations campaign. 

On Thursday, Aug. 26, at 6 p.m., “Reparations Then! Reparations Now!,” a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the CWRIC (Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians), will take place featuring powerful excerpts from testimonies at the 1981 Hearings in L.A. 

A moderated “conversation” with reparation leaders from N’COBRA, a legacy Black reparations organization, and the HR 40 Coalition will follow; closing with “Voices from the Community” bringing together Black and JA partners in the fight for justice and reparations, and a Call for Unity and Action around passage of HR 40, a bill to establish a commission to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans. 

I feel this hearing has been long overdue because I equate this evacuation with rape!  A rape victim finds it very difficult to talk about it and suffers from shock. — Testimony by Marjorie Matsushita

The event is sponsored by Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress (NCRR) and Nikkei Progressives (NP) and will highlight the courage and determination of the camp survivors, and the inclusive grassroots nature of the hearings that were key to the legislative, judicial and executive branch victories. August also marks the 33rd anniversary of the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (CLA), which provided $20,000 for camp survivors or their heirs, a presidential apology, and an educational fund. 

It’s unembellished, it’s straightforward, and it’s a devastating indictment of our government, and our society. — Testimony of Yuji Ichioka

The program, an intergenerational collaboration, will open with a video curated by Steve Nagano with powerful excerpts from 1981 hearings. It will celebrate the fighting spirit of our community and be an homage to those who stood up and testified against systemic racism and unjust actions of the government. That fighting spirit for justice and reparations continues today in the strong support shown by the JA community for Black reparations – over 300 letters have been sent to Congress demanding passage of HR 40.

David Imahara, a testifier at the 1981 L.A. hearings, speaking at Little Tokyo Towers when the first redress checks were given to the oldest survivors, Issei, in 1990. (Photo by JANICE YEN)

NCRR’s Jim Matsuoka and Dr. Amy Mass both testified in 1981, then 40 years later in 2021 wrote letters testifying their support for HR 40. Excerpts from both exemplify the “CWRIC 40 to HR 40” spirit. 

A moderated conversation with leaders of the Black reparations struggle will highlight the gripping journey to reach reparations, and the exciting advances taking place today. Included are Nkechi Taifa, fiery attorney, activist, scholar and founding member of N’COBRA; Kamm Howard, national co-chair of N’COBRA, who worked on the current version of HR 40; Akinyele Umoja, University of Georgia professor, author, long-time activist; Dreisen Heath, researcher and advocate in Human Rights Watch focusing on racial justice issues. Miya Iwataki will moderate.

CWRIC and CLA was more than a moment – it is a movement.

The event will acknowledge the inspiration and insights our community has gained from the struggle for justice and civil rights led by the Black community. The program will culminate with Voices from the Community, symbolizing the growing partnerships with the Black community and other communities fighting for reparations. A Call for Unity and Action will encourage audience participation in supporting HR 40, and will end with a surprise “group activity.”

The CWRIC 40th anniversary “Reparations Then! Reparations Now!” is a virtual event. To register, please go to: http://tinyurl.com/RepThenRepNow

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