Lives not lost, but remembered
In the December Bulletin we carried an announcement of the creation of the Dr. Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Award by the National Association of Japanese Canadians. It was a chance to pay tribute to a man who embodied the concept of justice and fair play, a man who, at a young age, defied the United States Government and ultimately won. As a US citizen he refused to accept the curfew and forced removal imposed on Japanese Americans following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and was jailed for his principles. He lost an appeal of his case to the Supreme Court in 1943, but his conviction was overturned in 1987.
As Gordon said in 1988, “I never look at my case as just my own, or just as a Japanese-American case. It is an American case, with principles that affect the fundamental human rights of all Americans.”
This month we say goodbye to Gordon Hirabayashi, who passed away on January 2nd in Edmonton at the age of 93 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s. I met Gordon only once, briefly. It was back in the late eighties, and I was travelling through Edmonton with Kokoro Dance, a dance company co-founded by Gordon’s son Jay. Fittingly, at the time we were touring Rage, a butoh/taiko collaboration based on the Internment and inspired in part by Gordon’s experience during the war.
We are fortunate to have a preponderance of quiet heroes in our community. Gordon was one such hero.
Last month we lost another one of those quiet heroes (although she would have scoffed at the description), and I lost both a mother and a mentor, when Fumiko Greenaway passed away in Nelson, BC, at the age of 82, on December 21.
In the mid-seventies, having lived in Europe and in central Canada, our family moved into a little housing co-op on Union Street in Strathcona, a move that would have an enormous impact on all of our lives. It was here, blocks away from the historic home of the Japanese Canadian community, that Fumiko rediscovered her Japanese roots. She would spend the next several decades immersed in the Nikkei community, working mostly behind the scenes, happy to stay out of the spotlight.
Fumiko had a way about her that earned people’s trust and respect and over the years she built up an incredible network of friends and acquaintances. She was able to maintain a non-partisan stance, refusing to be drawn into the politics of a sometimes-fractious community, preferring instead to move things forward wherever possible. It was a position that served her well.
When she and my father Tod left for Nelson in the late nineties she was missed by many on the west coast. Those who knew her will not be surprised to hear that she quickly became a favourite at the care home where she spent the last few years of her life.
As I write this, a cup I brought back for her from Japan sits by my computer. It’s a simple white cup with her name on it in black type—FUMIKO. For the past two years it sat in a glass case outside her room at the care home. It’s a simple reminder of her that is somewhat bittersweet in that she never made it to Japan herself, even after the Redress settlement gave her the funds to make the trip. It was, I think, one of her few regrets in life.
A celebration of Fumiko’s life will be held in February, a chance for her friends and family to share memories of her and smile. Look for details in the February Bulletin.
Reflecting on the lives of Gordon and Fumiko, and others who have passed away this holiday season, I am reminded again of the importance of family and of community. As someone wrote in reference to Gordon’s passing, “we carry our parents with us wherever we go.” Comforting words indeed in a cold season.
I’d like to wish all our readers the very best for the coming year. May the Year of the Dragon bring you peace, health and happiness.