34th annual Day of Remembrance in San José
San José, CA – On Feb. 16, more than 250 people gathered at the Buddhist Church hall in San José Japantown to commemorate the 34th annual Day of Remembrance. Days of Remembrance events are held in Japanese American communities to commemorate Executive Order 9066, issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942, which led to the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II. The San José event was organized by the Nihonmachi (Japantown) Outreach Committee (NOC).
The event was emceed by Reiko Nakayama of NOC, and began with an opening aspiration by Reverend Hajime Yamamoto of the Wesley United Methodist Church. The remembrance speech was given by Joe Yasutake of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. Mr. Yasutake began by saying it was good to see so many young people, who made up about 40% of the audience.
He told his family’s story, in which his father, who worked as a translator for the federal government Immigration and Naturalization Service, was arrested right after Pearl Harbor as an ‘enemy alien,’ along with thousands of other Japanese immigrant men. These men, along with thousands of Japanese taken from Latin America and smaller numbers of Italian and German immigrants, were held in Department of Justice camps during the war. Mr. Yasutake ended by asking why we should be talking of events of 70 years ago. He then said that after Sept. 11, 2001 one heard about the treatment of Arab Americans and American Muslims.
The next speaker was Sara Jaka, of the South Bay Islamic Association, which is located a few blocks from San Jose Japantown. She said that coming to the Day of Remembrance event made her feel both “fearful and hopeful,” hearing how actions then and now are driven by racial prejudice, but also seeing people coming together in solidarity.
The theme of the program was “Civil Liberties and War: Commemorating the 70th Anniversary of Korematsu v. United States.” Fred Korematsu was one of three people who were arrested for not going to camp, who took his case all the way to the Supreme Court of the U.S. In 1944, the court, in a 6-3 decision, upheld the government’s “military necessity” argument for the concentration camps for Japanese Americans.
The next speaker was Dale Minami, who was the lead attorney of the legal team that challenged Korematsu v. United States in court in 1983. Mainly made up of young Asian American attorneys, the legal team was able to show that there were no arrests of Japanese Americans for espionage. Further, they showed how the government prosecutors altered, suppressed and destroyed evidence, including reports from military intelligence that showed that there was no need for the camps.
Minamii said, “We need to remember the losses and humiliation of Japanese Americans. We also need to remember the triumph of redress [the official government apology issued in 1986] as part of the long march to social justice by the National Coalition for Redress and Reparations, the National Council for Japanese American Redress, the Japanese American Citizens League and others. This was made possible by the struggle of African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans who fought for civil rights.”
He went on to quote Fred Korematsu’s statement to court, who said in 1983: “I would like the government be shown wrong so it will never happen again.” Minami continued “The only victory is continued activism and education” and “justice is not a gift, it is a challenge.”
Another highlight of the program was an award presented by the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee, to local congressperson Mike Honda, who was an annual speaker at the Day of Remembrance events.
The Day of Remembrance included a performance by the San José Taiko )Japanese folk drums) and candlelight procession through Japantown. The evening ended with a closing meditation by Rinban Ken Fujimoto of the Buddhist Church.