When the Japanese Canadian Redress settlement was signed on September 22, 1988, I was 29 years old. Although the settlement had no direct impact on me, there was one way that I did benefit directly. A short time after the cheques were mailed out, I went on tour in Europe with Uzume Taiko and Kokoro Dance. As I was going to be overseas on my birthday, my mother gave me $310 in honour of the 31st birthday I’d be celebrating in Frankfurt. We never had much money to spare as I was growing up, and this represented the most cash my parents had ever been able to give me (not counting housing, clothing and feeding me for eighteen years of course). As someone struggling to subsist on a professional taiko player’s salary (i.e., very little), the money was much appreciated. I know I was touched that my mum would take a portion of her Redress cheque and share it with me. It may not seem like a huge amount now, but $300 went a lot further in those days.
In the months following the settlement, my mother talked about using some of the money to finally visit Japan—a place she had never seen, except in books. Sadly, circumstances never allowed her to fulfill that particular dream. When I saw her this past spring I asked her about it. She just shrugged, smiled wistfully and said, well, it never worked out.
Shikata ga nai. It can’t be helped. The words were unspoken, but they lingered in the air just the same.
I don’t know what my parents did with the bulk of the Redress money. I never asked. I do know that Redress meant a lot to my mother and a lot of other nisei—both the acknowledgment and the financial compensation that gave weight to the grand words—although it is not something that they talk about much.
During the Redress negotiations, proponents of individual compensation argued that while the wartime internment was imposed on the community as a whole, it impacted families and individuals in various and profound ways and that a community fund, as was proposed by some, would fail to honour that reality.
Conversely, opponents of individual compensation argued that the community risked looking greedy and self-serving, and warned of a backlash against Japanese Canadians on the part of the general population.
Twenty years later, we can look back at both the Redress struggle and its aftermath with the benefit of hindsight and say that for the most part those fears were unfounded. When the details of the agreement were made public, including the $21,000 individual compensation payment and the $12million community fund, the sky failed to fall, and it was in fact met more or less with equanimity on the part of the public.
Given that the worst failed to materialize, what were the benefits of the Redress victory for the Japanese Canadian community? I think that in order to fully answer the question, one must look at the state of the community today and compare it with the years following World War Two.
Insight into those postwar years can be found in back issues of this paper. The Bulletin was formed to help facilitate communication among the various individuals and groups that made up the nascent community. As a community-driven publication, the magazine reflected, to a large degree, the thoughts and concerns of its membership.
n researching the history of The Bulletin during this 50th Anniversary year, it is fascinating to see, in British Columbia at least, the evolving nature of the community’s view of itself and its relationship with Canadian society at large following the lifting of wartime restrictions. The impression one receives from the various articles and editorials in those early issues is of a community cautiously righting itself—clinging proudly to its newly-regained (and bolstered) citizenship while fearful of having it all taken away again, as if it all might be a mirage.
Above all, what comes across in the editorial pages is a fierce patriotism, an allegiance to Canada that is all the more remarkable in the face of the country’s betrayal of its own citizens in the years following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Shrugging off the festering racism that was the root cause of the internment in the first place, this was a community that was determined to put its best foot forward, to prove its worth—again.
Over the next 40 or so years, the pages of The Bulletin would chronicle the gradual rebuilding of the community, both materially and emotionally. As the memories of the war years receded, one senses a greater sense of ease, aided in part by growing acceptance within mainstream society. Still, one gets the sense, reading between the lines, that insecurity lay not far below the surface.
The seeds of the Redress movement were planted in the Japanese Canadian Centennial year, a time when community pride began to resurface. These seeds were nurtured in part by the sansei—the third generation—who were coming of age even as the memories of the internment years began to fade. Through involvement in Tonari Gumi and various historical projects, the sansei began to engage with the community.
If the Centennial was the catalyst for the community to rouse itself from its slumber, the Redress movement was a kick in the pants, igniting heated arguments among community leaders (and community members) not seen since the internment. At times it seemed that the Redress movement would sink beneath the weight of the controversy it generated, but Japanese Canadian are nothing if not stubborn and, well, we know how things turned out.
As we come up to the 20th Anniversary of the Redress settlement, I myself would measure its benefits not in financial terms, but in Japanese Canadians’ renewed faith in the country they have worked so hard to be a part of. Sometimes, it can be helped . . .