A community reading of “The Pink Dress” in commemoration of the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans will be held on Saturday, Feb. 18, at 3 p.m. at Centenary United Methodist Church, 300 S. Central Ave. (at Third Street) in Little Tokyo.

After two years of presenting their annual reading of the inspiring children’s illustrated book on Zoom, the members of Centenary will be opening their event to in-person audience attendance in the church sanctuary.

“We feel this is a meaningful way for us as a community to honor Day of Remembrance,” says CUMC Pastor Rev. Ki Choi. “And this year, as we continue to emerge from the worst of this pandemic, and because the official day falls on the weekend, it seemed appropriate to open the event to the general public.”

Feb. 19 is officially recognized as the day that Executive Order 9066 was signed in 1942, authorizing 120,000 Japanese Americans to be sent to concentration camps during World War II.

“We hope that others less familiar with this period of history will be able to attend,” said Choi.

The book is a retelling of a true incident from camp experienced by a long-time member of the church, Moonza Kitashima, who passed away in 2020. A multi-generational cast made up of members of Centenary’s congregation will read the story, accompanied by the images from the book.

In the book, Tsuki, a young incarceree, wants to wear a beautiful pink dress to her junior high graduation, but the camp administration wants all students to wear green.

Author Leslie K. Gray, Kitashima’s daughter, wanted to share her mother’s story of courage in the face of racism with younger children in order to ensure that future generations learn from these past mistakes and not repeat them.

“We live in a time when it should be obvious that no one should be incarcerated merely because of the color of their skin,” she says, “but it is easy to forget that the U.S. has already been down that unjust road before. Remembering history helps us make sure it doesn’t ever happen again — to us or any other ethnic group.”

In conjunction with the event, an exhibition of selected paintings of the renowned Japanese American artist Masato “Eddy” Kurushima will be on display at the church.

These first-hand images of life in camp have toured around the country and been poignant visual reminders of what families and individuals suffered because of racial prejudice. This will be a rare chance for viewers to see the paintings up close.

Following the reading, there will be Q&A with the author led by Rev. Mark Nakagawa, West District superintendent of the United Methodist Church and a descendent of incarcerees.

“We hope that people of all ages attend,” says Nakagawa, who is also a local scholar of the Japanese American experience, “because this is a story that is important for Americans of all communities to hear.”

Suggested donation is $10 or whatever you can afford. On-site parking is available. Masking and distancing required while indoors.

For more information, go to http://centenarydtla.org or call (213) 617-9097.

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