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Day of Remembrance Event Calls for
Open Discussion on Internment Experience

• President Donald Trump’s signing of the executive order on January 27 to restrict U.S. entry of the nationals from seven countries was a stark reminder for the Japanese American (JA) community of Franklin Roosevelt’s 1942 Executive Order 9066 to intern 120,000 Japanese Americans.

• Trump’s executive order was immediately followed by chaotic confusion where travelers from the seven designated countries were refused entry or detained for long hours of questioning at the ports of entry across the nation.

• At the opening of the annual “Day of Remembrance” event held at the Chicago Historical Museum on February 19, the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society President Jean Mishima said: “In the milestone of commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, today more than ever, [that order] is a reminder how important it is to defend our basic civil right for all.”

• Chicago’s JA community holds the “Day of Remembrance” event every February to commemorate Executive Order 9066, which was signed on February 19, 1942, and the subsequent internment of approximately 120,000 JAs during World War II. Marking the 75th anniversary of the order, this year’s event filled the Chicago History Museum’s auditorium with attendees to its full capacity.

• Mistress of Ceremonies Anna Takada welcomed the audience. Following the posting of colors by the Chicago Nisei Post No. 1183 Color Guard, Zoe Ariyama read one of the Civilian Exclusion Orders issued by the Roosevelt administration.

• Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s representative read his message, which outlined what Executive Order 9066 entailed. Due to the order, 120,000 JAs were incarcerated, most of them U.S. citizens, into 10 different concentration camps across the nation, the message said. Despite the internment, many of the JAs volunteered to fight in the war to defend America with their lives, and that changed the nation’s prejudice against JAs in the U.S., it continued. President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and officially apologized for the internment; and in 1992, George H. Bush signed an appropriation bill authorizing payments to be paid out to all the surviving internees. In his message, Rauner encouraged everyone to “remember Executive Order 9066 together” and also “remember that President Gerald Ford rescinded it in 1976.”

• The message from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also reminded the fact that 120,000 JAs were removed from the West Coast region and then incarcerated by Executive Order 9066; that they did not engage in any conducts to help the enemy but exhibited their loyalty to the U.S. as the members of the 442 Regimental Combat Team and intelligence did; and that the internment of the Japanese Americans was not justified by military necessity. It also mentioned that Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and that the Day of Remembrance helps people to become more aware of the U.S. history. In his message, Emanuel stressed that the City of Chicago has been a proud home of JAs and that on this day we should stand together in the memory of the wartime JAs and their hardship and courage.

• Additionally, two short films about the internment were shown in the event.

• “The Orange Story” tells a story of Koji Oshima, proud owner of a small corner grocery store. He must now sell his business and report to an assembly center, to be confined in an internment camp. When he tries to buy an orange at the store that had been his, a girl who had been friendly utters many unexpected words to him. The film is an emotional testimony of the plight of an elderly JA who lost everything under Executive Order 9066.
• The film was written and directed by Erika Street Hopman and produced by Jason Matsumoto of Ho Estu Taiko ensemble and others. It was funded in part by a grant from the State of Illinois.

• “A Song for Manzanar” is a story of a young woman from Hiroshima, Japan and her family. Moving to live in the “country of freedom,” she is now in the Manzanar confinement site with her husband and child. The film depicts her closeness with her younger sister in Japan, and her dogged efforts to get a letter out from Manzanar to her sister in Hiroshima.
• The film is based on a true story about the grandmother of the producer and co-director, Kazuko Golden.

• Following the screening of the two films, third-generation JA Dwight Okita read his poems “The Nice Thing about Counting Stars” and “In Response to Executive Order 9066.” The former in part draws upon his mother’s diary of her teens. Eating candies and looking up at the night sky in the backseat of her family car or outside of her house was the teenager’s favorite weekend activity, but now she was confined in an internment camp with all her belongings in what she could carry. Though there was still the night sky with stars in it, there was no use to count stars at the internment camp when her white house and family car are just images in your memory. And the song “White Christmas” from the radio that Okita’s father remembers was a song being sung only for the white Americans.
• “The Nice Thing about Counting Stars” is printed in many textbooks.

• The event closed with a panel discussion with Dr. Richard Morimoto, professor at Northwestern University, as the moderator. Jason Matsumoto, Erika Street Hopman, Kazuko Golden and Dwight Okita joined the panel and discussed the media through which historical occurrences such as Executive Order 9066 are distributed to the general public, as well as the power printed publications and digital arts have as such media.

• Golden talked about what it means to turn her grandmother’s experience into visual images. She said the Japanese-American internees have avoided talking about their experience to their children and grandchildren, but it’s time for them to break silence and do so now.
• “‘A Song for Manzanar’” represents a woman’s voice saying, ‘Stop racism.’ We came from Japan, and heritage song is critical to bring ancestry. I would encourage each of you to teach your children and family members to trace their Japanese heritage. You don’t need to feel ashamed of your heritage, because you are Japanese Americans,” she said, to a large applause.

• Matsumoto, who transformed a painful historical experience into an emotional short film, said his “The Orange Story” can be an educational tool.
• He has been asking history teachers and university professors what they are using as history class materials, and telling them about “The Orange Story” to encourage them to use it in their classes.

• Okita said that short poetry can express many things in quick images. Tomato seeds in his poem and oranges can evoke in readers’ minds many feelings just because they are such mundane things, he said.
• Because the Japanese internment is not widely known to the American public, it’s important to openly discuss it, as well as the fact that it actually happened, through the media such as “The Orange Story” and “A Song for Manzanar” so that the same mistake will not be made again, Okita said.

Panelists from left: Dwight Okita, Jason Matsumoto, Erika Street Hopman, Kazuko Golden, and moderator Richard Morimoto

The audience of 2017 Day of Remembrance

An image from The Orange Story