Honouring Our People: stories of the internment
By Judy Hanazawa
From Friday, September 25 to Sunday, September 27, 2009, the Greater Vancouver Japanese Citizens’ Association and the National Association of Japanese Canadians co-presented the conference, “Honouring our People – Stories of the Internment.”
This conference was organized by the GVJCCA Human Rights Committee with planning input and funding provided by the NAJC.
With so many organizations in our community, our Committee recognized the significance and value of hearing and documenting the stories of the issei and nisei—those who remember the years immediately before, during and after the Internment. Our seniors are getting older and many sansei and younger people have said they are missing and wish to have knowledge of their families during that time. We recognized the importance of putting together a gathering for sharing these stories while being aware there was work to do to encourage people to come. It was not until a few weeks into September that we became fully aware there would be well over 100 people attending.
We worked with the Japanese Canadian National Museum to integrate the conference opening with the opening of the joint exhibit featuring Leslie Komori’s Lemon Creek Map Project and Michael Tora Speier’s Broken Only at Sky on Friday, September 25th.
While the first conference day encouraged participants to meet old friends and watch Liz Nunoda’s play, Rick and Ned (about a sansei who grows and understands himself better through becoming close to his uncle Ned, an Angler prison camp survivor), the main feature of this conference were the story tellers and their stories.
Conference guest speaker was Dr. Satsuki Ina, a Japanese American licensed marriage and family therapist and specialist in community trauma, who worked extensively with Japanese American Internment survivors. Dr. Ina discussed trauma—a natural human response to an extraordinary force such as a tsunami, or a force of human design such as war, or the wholesale internment of innocent people. About intergenerational storytelling, her enlightening presentation gave participants suggestions such as “your community, your country, need to hear and record YOUR story, not the story as filtered though the language of the perpetrator.” And also, “it’s important to share as many facets of the story as possible . . . one thought, memory can trigger another . . . writing down your memories can often lead to reawakening thought, memories, smells, tastes, and…emotions. Some of those memories will be precious for your family history, some of those will be important to be shared and archived for safe keeping for future generations . . . ” To the question of “What do I do with my story afterwards?”, she encouraged participants to write their story, share it beyond this conference with children, grandkids, and stated “these stories need to be part of the Canadian narrative, not just a thing that happened to a minority group . . . talking about your survival, consequences suffered, recovery and redress are all part of not just your personal healing from an unjust, race motivated crime against innocent people, but a greater story woven together by the threads of each individual story, that can serve to teach your country, our world, about the tragic consequences of discarding our most cherished democratic principles, and about the gambatte spirit of our issei and nisei Canadians. ”
Our conference was a resounding success due to the amazing participation of the story tellers. Many demonstrated their willingness not only to share their stories, but to be video documented so that their stories could be preserved. There were varied and incredible stories of uprooting and hardship, resilience, homelessness and multiple moves, separations and losses along with joyful childhood memories. Each story teller provided their personal perspective and many shared their feelings as well as their memories. There were additional stories about the cultural and identity challenges of being Kika Nisei—born in Canada, brought up in Japan and returned to Canada. Other participants spoke of internment community organization—how people worked together, shared and cooperated to ensure families were looked after and how the close-knit internment communities were missed when families were dispersed once again.
On Saturday at lunch committee member Tatsuo Kage gave a presentation on Japanese Canadian stories of the Internment.
On Saturday evening, participants enjoyed a dinner program which featured an open mic tribute to elders, a musical presentation by Harry Aoki and an intergenerational presentation by Mas and Naomi Yamamoto.
On Sunday, participants took part in a forum to review their experience, and discussed future related activities generated by the conference and what they might be.
We would like to express thanks for the support of many varied conference volunteers, including videographers, our GVJCCA office assistant Alison Scott, for the work of Lorene Oikawa who mc’d the proceedings during conference gatherings, Randy Enomoto who mc’d during the Saturday dinner, Leslie Komori who oversaw all the video documentation, and to all other steering committee members. I know because we were committed to this conference project that we each worked so hard to make our individual contribution. For example, photos, old documents and other memorabilia were pinned on 8 display boards made by Tosh Kitagawa, which added so much to the enjoyment of conference participants.
As one of our group of conference planners, and a story circle facilitator, my thanks go to all those who participated. It was a privilege to be a part of such an awesome event, to hear the stories, and to engage in a process where people were so willing to learn, give their support, and most important, to give the gift of their unique story to the younger generations and others. Thanks very much.
Lunch time speech by Tatsuo Kage
September 26, 2009
On behalf of the Organizing Committee of Honouring Our People Conference, I would like to extend our heartfelt welcome to all of you. As a member of the Japanese Canadian community I feel great that we are having this conference with many Japanese Canadians from all over Canada attending, and even from South of the border.
My involvement in the Japanese Canadian Community stretches back almost 30 years, when I worked with the Redress Committee of Vancouver. After the Redress Settlement I conducted research on the so-called “repats”, people who were exiled in 1946, which resulted in a book called Exiled Japanese Canadians published in Japan in 1998.
This morning we listened to our friend from California, Satsuki Ina, who has done a lot of work on the effects of the internment during the Second World War.?I was particularly impressed with her observation of the behavior of Issei in the camp.
As you heard, Satsuki mentioned Senninbari, a belt with a thousand stitches. For younger people it may not be familiar, but for me it brings back fond childhood memories. Around 1940, at the entrance of a train station in Tokyo, I saw a woman standing and holding a white cloth with a needle and red thread. My mother, traveling with me, approached her and sewed one stitch, making a small knot. It was supposed to bring good luck for a soldier in battle and protect him by wearing it as stomach warmer or haramaki. These days, even in archives or a museum it may not be easy to find one of those. So, I brought something with a slight resemblance.
I hope this conference will encourage all the Nikkei people to talk openly about their life experience and let their children and grand children know about it. Further more, this conference should encourage other people such as postwar immigrants like myself to speak out about our wartime experiences. A common lesson to be learnt is that war brings nothing positive or constructive, but only hardships and tragedies. So I propose that all of us pledge for peace, that disasters would never happen again for us and for posterity. I hope you will enjoy the rest of the conference.