JCCA President’s Message
“Stop here, we’re going to take a group photo.” A call goes out to the marchers as we make our way around False Creek. We look back, squinting in the bright sunlight, and pause as the rest of the group catches up. I was busy chatting with Don Chapman, the Founding Organizer of this Inaugural Rights and Freedoms March.
Don and I had been communicating via email about his idea for this march in Vancouver, and this was our first in-person meeting. I was pleased to be representing the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association at an event that was bringing “the spirit, passion, and inspiration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Movements and annual celebrations into a Canadian context and focus.”
Don was inspired by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Marches in the U.S., and so it was fitting that this march was taking place in 2015, the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s Civil Rights March, and on April 17th the 33rd anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
When we reach David Lam Park, there is a ceremony with speakers including a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American military aviators in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Second World War. Colonel Dick Toliver shared his moving remembrances of Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King.
After the ceremony, I meet brothers David and Dick Toliver, and we share family stories. I tell them I’m a yonsei, fourth generation Canadian, British Columbian. My mother’s side of the family, brothers from Japan sailed to the US in the 1800s. Two of the brothers made their way up to Canada and settled in Cumberland on Vancouver Island. My father’s side came on a ship called the Suian Maru in 1906 and settled in Vancouver on Oikawa Island and Annacis Island.
Soon it’s time to leave the park. They are taking a bus and I am walking back along False Creek to Olympic Village. The long walk gives me time to reflect. We still have the dream, but our human rights work is not done. The colour of our skin continues to be a factor in how we’re treated, our socio-economic status, employment opportunities, and whether we’re targeted for scrutiny and detention.
I remember as a child visiting my grandparents in Slocan, a tiny town near Nelson in the Kootenays. Like other Japanese Canadian families, no one talked about the internment, and it wasn’t until I was an adult, when I learned about the racist act by our Canadian government, and when I figured out why my grandparents were living in such a remote area.
They had everything taken away from them when they lived on Vancouver Island, and then they were imprisoned, first at Hastings Park and then in camps in the interior of BC. It wasn’t until five years after the war ended that Japanese Canadians were told they could return to the west coast. The government officials told my grandfather to “go back” to Japan to which he responded he wasn’t going anywhere because he was born in Canada and this was his home. And he did stay.
Unfortunately, he died before Redress was achieved. He was denied the respect, and the apology to acknowledge that what the Canadian government did to him and all 22,000 of their citizens was wrong.
We owe much to our elders who made the arduous journey to this country. They suffered, endured, thrived, and just when they thought they were secure and established in their homes, businesses, and communities they were dealt a blow. They persevered and rebuilt their lives thereby ensuring the survival of our community. We must continue the work so that their stories and their voices are not lost, and not just preserved, but shared. When we and others do not know our history, we all suffer the consequences of repeated mistakes.
We see the numbers of those who lived through the internment decreasing, and at the same time there is an increase in the numbers of those who are not familiar with the internment including those who do not know the stories and history of their families.
Within our community we have diversity including multigenerational multiracial Japanese Canadians, new immigrants, young leaders, and respected seniors. There is a place for everyone and by working together we can strengthen our community. By the way, if you are a student or know a student, we are hiring for two summer student positons starting later this month. Please check out the posting in this issue on page 13.
One of the easiest ways you can support the community is by becoming a GVJCCA member, renewing your membership to the GVJCCA, and encouraging others to join. There are special rates for students and seniors. You can also support this great publication, The Bulletin / Geppo. Receive it electronically or as a hard copy. The Bulletin / Geppo provides a forum for us to learn and remember our history, and to celebrate the past and present stories of our community.
Speaking of history, in the next edition of The Bulletin I will share some thoughts about the unveiling of the signs that tell the history of Japanese Canadians in Hastings Park in 1942. The event will take place just as this current edition is being produced.
And, I hope to meet with more of you at our community events. Perhaps at the 3rd Annual Tonari Gumi & JCCA Golf Tournament on June 14. I will be attending many events to connect with our community and also to engage with other communities so that we can learn from each other, and to bring a higher profile to our organization.