|1984 Keynote Address|
|by Bert Nakano|
On behalf of the sponsoring organizations, the JACL-PSWD, the LTPRO and the NCRR-LA Region, I wish to thank all of the distinguished ministers and speakers who took time from their busy schedules to participate in this 1984 Day of Remembrance. We also thank every one of you who joins us today in remembrance of that infamous day, February 19, 1942, when EO9066 set the motion for the incarceration of 120,000 Nikkei to the concentration camps.
Even beyond the remembrance of that dark period in JA history, and indeed American history, more significant is how we JAs are meeting the challenge today, in our continued struggle for RR (redress & reparations). Asian history, similar to other minorities, is fraught with oppression and racism. The deep psychological effects of the camps all but destroyed our sense of pride, identity, culture and history. Indeed, we can still see the effects of that past from generation to generation. Understanding that past, preserving our identity and pride, and the continuing fight against racism are what the RR struggle is all about. Above all, it is a part of a larger struggle that speaks to justice and equality for Nikkei of all generations.
Let us briefly recap how far we have come since the historic commission hearings, which took place in our communities three years ago. Numerous local ordinances on the State, City and County level have been successful in compensating Nikkei workers who were fired from their jobs as a result of Pearl Harbor. In the Courts, the victory in the Supreme Court case of Korematsu was significant. It is expected that the judges in Oregon and Washington will render similar decisions in the Yasui and Hirabayashi petitions. Also, in the Courts is the Class Action Suit by the National Council for Japanese American Redress group. In the legislative arena, there are now four bills in Congress. In the House are Congressman Lowry’s HR3387 and Congressman Wright’s HR4110. In the Senate are Senator Cranston’s S1520 and Senator Matsunaga’s S2116. The NCRR has been continuously active throughout the years in all fronts of the campaign. Mobilizing and gathering support for the Corum Nobis cases, involved in and/or initiating local ordinance struggles, doing on-going research and educations in our communities and others, in an effort to keep the issue alive and in the forefront. These step-by-step, hard-fought gains, all contribute to the goal of seeing a successful passage of the redress bills, which are now in Congress.
From all of this, we have gained many lessons in the process within our own JA community. I think one thing stands out as an accomplishment – an important step necessary to a successful campaign. A sense of unity, while mutually respecting the differences among the various redress groups, which NCRR from the onset advocated and struggled for. As such, the various redress groups, and ultimately, all generations and sectors of our community forged a united front on the basis of our common goal – winning reparations.
As we now enter this phase of the legislative campaign, there is no doubt in all of our minds that the struggle will become more difficult and protracted. Mustering enough support from Congressmen in Washington for a successful passage of the bills is an enormous task in itself. The conservative trend in our time will give the opposition more justification for budget deficits and other priorities focus. We have been told that anti-redress letters to Congressmen are on a ratio of 15 to 1. While it means that we all need to write to our Congressmen for their support; at that, its impact is limited in terms of our numbers and constituency power – speaking geographically alone, Asians beyond the West Coast are very dispersed. It tells us that it is equally important for us to continue our efforts toward educating other justice-minded Americans for their support of our struggle.
In this conservative atmosphere, we are seeing more and more anti-imports, anti-immigrants, anti-Asian messages, backlash or violence and all forms of racism. The pervasive pitting of one group against another are effectively perpetuated with the promotion of Asians as the “model minority” – the ones who have made it.
Given all that, the Nikkei community faces the challenge and responsibility of expanding and reaching out into the broader community to clearly define what the RR issue is all about. The concrete demand of $25,000 to compensate the concentration camp victims is a just demand – a principle we strongly uphold. But, this is not an issue primarily limited to Americans of Japanese ancestry. This is an issue, which affects all justice-minded Americans – it is an issue that goes beyond money – it hits at the heart of the very foundation of this nation’s ideals of democracy and justice for all Americans, regardless of race or color.
There is a surge in motion among grassroots and civil rights groups throughout the country today, broadly speaking to jobs, peace and social concerns. The emergence of Jesse Jackson too, represents those expressions, not only for the Black people but for all people in the Rainbow coalition. This is a significant step in the right direction, helping to bring together diverse communities – uniting the poor, the minorities, the women, etc. Is it not important for us, a small minority Asian community to become part of this larger motion? Drawing from the lessons of solidarity within our Nikkei community, we can broaden our campaign into the larger community in the same spirit of solidarity with other minorities, in mutual support and understanding of each other’s struggles, in unity with ALL Americans who are concerned with unemployment, cutbacks and the danger of war. In so doing, we strengthen our own struggle for redress and reparations for Japanese Americans.
It is also critical that we become involved in the entire electoral process in this election year 1984. The Asian agenda, which list RR as one of the key issues in the JA community, must be vigorously raised, along with all the other Asian issues, to all presidential and congressional candidates. It goes without saying that each and every one of us must get out there to register and to vote. To be sure, the ballot box alone will not do it, nor will all the other means at our disposal give us the assurance that victory will be ours.
As a grassroots organization, NCRR’s perspective and approach reaffirms to us that the strength of our movement lies in the expression of the people, united and determined in our difficult fight. It is an aspiration that speaks to and is, a part of our overall struggle for justice, equality and political power for Nikkei people.
This – the year of the rat, also signifies a beginning of a new cycle in our Asian lunar calendar. Change and action are some of the characteristics of the rat – it’s the year of the “go-getters” and we are GONNA GO FOR IT. We have worked hard the past four years – but the need is even greater for everyone to become more involved, building the momentum for the BIG PUSH in 1985. JOIN US NOW – FORWARD TO JUSTICE – REDRESS & REPARATIONS NOW.