delivered at the JACL Resisters Ceremony
Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Northern California
May 11, 2002
Most of you know that I was born and raised on a farm near Salt Lake City, Utah. I was a toddler when the war began and I have only faint glimpses of memory of the beginning of the war. I do remember clearly that relatives from California came to live with us and near us during that time, and I also remember their talk of “camp.” I had no idea of what camp was, so I did not pay much attention.
I do remember clearly the days when two of my older brothers left home and went into the Army. My oldest brother, who was the model son, never came back alive. I do remember the anguish of my family, particularly my mother, when the casket was brought home. Although I did not have the experience of camp, my family did experience the sorrows of war.
My wife was also a young child during evacuation and traveled to Utah from L.A. with her mother, father and brother to live with relatives. Her father lost everything.
My youth was a time that I was introduced to JACL through my older siblings. In recent months, I have often mentioned the various stages that I feel JACL has experienced over the years. I have said that the postwar years were a time when the JACL provided a major social function for our communities. The sports like baseball, basketball and bowling, and dances, and picnics were important in bringing our disrupted lives back together. My older brothers and sisters all participated in these social activities, and I, as a child, looked forward to the day when I would grow up and be able to participate in the fun. During this stage of JACL, our focus did not include a lot of civil rights issues.
During the era of protest, we focused on redress as our protest. We spent a decade and a half mobilizing our chapters into political action committees. We were dedicated and successful in our efforts and many of you here were part of that protest movement. During this stage of JACL, the social function was neglected and we have lost many of the programs that brought us together socially after the war.
So what of the war years? What did JACL do during that time?
It was a time of great stress and uncertainty. For decades prior to the war, the nation had been engaged in some very strong anti-Japanese sentiment that had a major impact on our feelings as citizens and as human beings. There was a vast empty feeling of fear as the war escalated and camp became a reality for most who lived on the West Coast. There were many conflicting feelings,
thoughts and ideas that flowed through our minds and hearts at this time.
Many were torn between the ideals of patriotism and justice. Unfortunate incidents that occurred within the Japanese American community were fraught with misinformation and to some, panic. We can look back by listening to the stories of those who were there, but I think it is hard for us who were not directly involved to actually feel what they felt nor can we fully understand why they did what they did.
However, I think we can understand a little about the deep sense of obligation that was felt by family members at this time. We did not want to shame our family name and we wanted to do the right thing. Our government, however, had placed our people in a no win situation.
Japanese Americans had experienced racial bigotry, and the fear of reprisal was always in our minds.
So the focus of JACL during this stage of our past was patriotism. The need to show a patriotic front became the activity that engulfed the actions of JACL and many of its leaders.
Like in other stages of our organization when we emphasize only one aspect of our mission, other aspects may be neglected. At that time, we did not recognize and we neglected to respect the right of protest and civil disobedience expressed by some who were in camps. These people felt deeply that the injustice of incarceration needed to be rectified before they could in good conscience answer the call to patriotism. This neglect has caused years of mental and social anguish to those who felt strongly that a correction of injustice was essential before they could express patriotism toward the government that held them and their families captive. In fact, their resistance was a means to emphasize the importance of the Constitution under which the laws of the country were designed to protect their individual rights.
Although we may never fully right the wrongs of the past nor may we fully understand the emotional reasons for their occurrence, the national council in our last convention in Monterey, recognized this neglect and it was their vote that established today’s event.
Today’s ceremony is a clear recognition that JACL neglected to support the resisters of conscience in their protest against injustice. In passing this resolution at our last national convention, JACL offers a sincere apology for the painful experiences and memories caused by this neglect. I know that words cannot sufficiently restore that which was lost nor erase the suffering that has occurred. But it is my hope that we can all share in a sense of pride and honor for having been here today. May all of us remember these events as a lesson that will improve our understanding and increase our resolve to forgive and move to the next stages in our lives.
Now I know that there are those who have expressed major concern that JACL would take the actions we have just taken. I challenge their assumption that all resisters were cowards, troublemakers and hooligans. We recognize those who were guided by the moral dictates of their conscience to protest injustice. We do not condone any of the physical and mental harassment that was perpetrated by some who called themselves resisters nor does today’s ceremony apply to them.
For those who served in the Armed Forces, we are proud of the legacy that they left us. We honor them today as we have in many local and national events in the past. Their service and valor, in large measure, are responsible for the positive image that we in the Japanese American community are blessed with today.
Let us today resolve to recognize that we must have a change in heart. Let me paraphrase the thoughts of a modern Zen author, Les Kaye, who admonishes us to see each other through new eyes. Our emotional priorities should be reoriented from self to others. This is when fighting stops and compassion awakens.
May we as individuals and as an organization strive to develop understanding and its accompanying virtue of compassion. The terrorists of today cannot find it within themselves to express compassion in any form. The legacy of wrongs in the past have festered into the horrible blisters of terrorism that we witness today.
May we learn from their folly in reasoning. Let us leave any wrongs that have occurred in the past where they belong and from where we can learn. Then let us bring in the future looking through a more selfless set of eyes that seek for understanding and a heart that has the capacity for expressing compassion to our fellow men and women.
JACL is grateful for your attendance today. We thank the committee that planned and worked hard to execute today’s ceremony.
May all of us here today be blessed to be a catalyst that will bring peace of mind and mutual respect to all who have suffered the pains of war and injustice. Thank you.