|The Los Angeles chapter of the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (now called Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress) has organized more than twenty-five Day of Remembrances (DORs) since its founding in 1980. Other organizations like the Japanese American Citizens League and more recently the Japanese American National Museum have joined NCRR as co-sponsoring organizations. The annual Day of Remembrance program is held to commemorate the unprecedented and unjust incarceration of Japanese Americans in United States concentration camps during World War II. The occasion also reminds us that even today, racism, fear and scapegoating can be directed toward any ethnic or minority group. NCRR’s DORs promote grassroots activism. Community activists, artists, and performers and public officials have participated in each of the Day of Remembrances.|
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The Day of Remembrance commemorates the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. EO 9066 enabled the U.S. government to incarcerate over 110,000 Japanese Americans in temporary assembly centers, concentration camps and other detention centers in remote areas of the United States.
Japanese Americans lost their homes, personal property, and businesses. Within 48 hours after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the FBI arrested over 1250 first generation Issei men. Most had not been charged with a crime, but were nonetheless sent to Department of Justice enemy alien internment camps. It would be weeks before their wives and children could find out where they had been taken. The separation of families, the loss of constitutional rights, the uncertain future, and the racism directed against Japanese Americans took its toll. Emotional breakdowns, rapidly deteriorating health and a loss of hope and self-esteem affected many of those incarcerated.
The Day of Remembrance is special because it addresses pressing issues facing the Japanese American community. In 1982 the theme was “One Community, One Bill.” The U.S. government must truly apologize for the incarceration by providing meaningful, individual compensation. Although many politicians and community leaders thought it unrealistic, NCRR fought for individual monetary compensation and an apology from the United States government through the efforts of a united community. In 1984 it was “Forward to Justice, Redress and Reparations Now!” as the movement for a reparations bill gained momentum. The support of other civil rights and religious groups was sought. “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied. Our Time has Come” was the 1987 theme as Japanese American Congressmen prepared to push for reparations in Washington DC.
With each succeeding DOR, NCRR was able to reach a broader audience. Mainstream media, including television stations, began to cover the DOR, and the public became more aware of what had happened to its fellow citizens. Invited elected officials, first Congressman Mervyn Dymally who sponsored NCRR’s reparations bill in the House of Representatives, and then Japanese American legislators, spoke at the Los Angeles DOR. Congressman Xavier Becerra has spoken at a number of the commemorations to update the audience about reparations for Japanese Latin Americans.
Prominent grass roots artists designed the artwork for the DOR posters, flyers and postcards. Many of these posters have become collectors’ items, and all are cherished for their bold or poignant messages. As a grassroots organization NCRR volunteers made presentations to church congregations and community meetings, posted flyers in storefronts, held press conferences and organized lobbying delegations to Washington, DC. NCRR also worked with pro bono lawyers to file lawsuits on behalf of those denied redress and reparations.
An important component of the yearly DOR was the participation of performance artists. Artists such as Cold Tofu, Glen Horiuchi, Lane Nishikawa, Nobuko Miyamoto, Keiko Matsui, Traci Kato-Kitiyama, and Judd Narita inspired us with their humor, creative talent and dedication. Amazing taiko performers energized the crowds with their unique style of drumming.
And, finally, the DORs sought to recognize individuals in the community who had really made a difference in the fight for justice by presenting them with the “Fighting Spirit Award.” Among the honorees were Frank Emi, Reverend Paul Nakamura, Tom Shiroishi, Bert Nakano, James Omura, Bernadette Nishimura, Lily Okamoto, David Monkawa, Jim Saito, and the Fair Play Committee.We hope that you will learn much about the Los Angeles Day of Remembrance commemorations and gain some insight into grassroots organizing through reading about the historic redress and reparations campaign and NCRR’s support for those who continue to face discrimination today. NCRR urges readers to continue the good fight for what’s right and just in this world.