On Sunday, December 9, 2018, Tonari Gumi played host to a celebration luncheon in honour of the 30th Anniversary of Redress and 60th Anniversary of The Bulletin. Presented by the GVJCCA Board and the Human Rights Committee, the afternoon was a chance to pay tribute to those who fought long and hard to gain recognition and redress for the injustices visited upon the community during and after World War Two, and to recognize the important work that The Bulletin has done over the years, beginning in 1958, as Japanese Canadians were reestablishing themselves on the west coast. The following speech was given by Kikiai Collaborative member Angela Kruger.
by Angela Kruger
First, thank you to Judy for inviting me to speak today. It’s an honour to be able to speak at this event, and to speak alongside folks who have worked so hard in our community and beyond.
Judy asked me to speak about my story, to offer a yonsei/gosei—I’m gosei—perspective of what Redress means, and what has developed since Redress. I’m going to mostly do what Judy asked me to do, but with one minor adjustment. Instead of talking about what has developed since Redress and until now, I’m going to speak more about what we can do together starting now, and moving forward, as we get back on the bus, or into our cars, and head back to our homes, wherever it is we’ll all be going to, and thereafter. So, I’m going to tell a bit of my story, and use that as a way to imagine different futures.
I want to be able to tell my story. It’d be nice, too, to be able to talk about how that story is connected to Redress, and I guess it would be ideal if it had a happy ending. And I can make that happen. That story goes like this:
I grew up at my grandparents’ house, on my Japanese Canadian side, with my mom. My grandparents didn’t talk about the internment, really, nor did they talk about being Japanese Canadian. As a kid, I did get bullied sometimes, but I also had lots of good friends. When I was in university, I took a class in which we had to interview someone who was older than us, and I chose to interview my grandpa. I soon found out that John, who just spoke here earlier, had also interviewed my grandpa, and he published that interview in The Bulletin.1 Interviewing my grandpa and writing that assignment were my first foray into Japanese Canadian history and identity politics. And although I knew what Redress was, I never wrote about it in that paper—because my grandpa never talked about it.
When I graduated in 2014, my grandma called me and told me that something called the Japanese Canadian Young Leaders Conference was going to be held in Vancouver that year. I tried to register to attend the conference, but somehow, ended up helping to organize it, and ever since then, I’ve been involved in the community. I’ve helped to organize two national conferences for young Japanese Canadians, I’ve sat as a Director of the Board of the GVJCCA, I’ve been a member of three NAJC committees, I still sit on the Advocacy and Outreach Committee of Powell Street Festival Society now, and I’ve attended a number of community events like this one in various capacities. This involvement is largely due to the many achievements of Redress, which other speakers have pointed to today.
Now, I attend Queen’s University as a graduate student studying with Japanese Canadian scholars. My supervisor is Jeff Masuda, who is, like me, mixed Japanese Canadian, and whose work, however tangentially he may describe it, is, I think, connected to his identity. Audrey Kobayashi, who was so critical to the success of the campaign for Redress, and whose academic work has contributed much to Japanese Canadian and critical race studies more broadly, sits on my Thesis Examining Committee. I work as a Research Assistant on a project called The Right to Remain, which takes place in the Downtown Eastside and aims to support tenant organizing in Single Room Occupancy hotels, as a means for exerting a right to home, a right to not be displaced—which, of course, is the very right of our community that was violated, irreversibly, in 1942. The state may have stolen Japanese Canadians’ homes and dispersed us across the country, but evidently, we have found ways to reconnect.
1This interview was published in the January 2001 issue of The Bulletin.
All of the events in that story really happened, and all of the claims I made are things that I actually believe. It is a true version of my story.
But it is also a limited version of my story. Often, what is omitted from stories is just as important as what is included in them. That story does not tell about what happened before Japanese Canadians got to Canada, about the violent taking and destruction of Indigenous lands, cultures, and peoples. It does not tell about how the state’s theft of Indigenous peoples’ homes is connected, but—and it is imperative that we understand this—also fundamentally different from the state’s theft of Japanese Canadians’ homes. It does not tell about how the dispossession of Japanese Canadians is shaped by and shapes other dispossessions endured by neighbouring communities. It does not tell us how dispossessions are always multiple, always continuous, and never discrete. It does not tell about the insidious ways in which questioning home, questioning belonging, questioning identity, questioning ourselves lasts, and lasts, and lasts. It does not tell about how Redress was and is amazing, but complicated, how its achievement was predicated on notions of Canadian citizenship defined by settler colonial ideologies that may, in some ways, “advance” or “progress” the Japanese Canadian community, but at the expense of other people, bodies, and communities who do not and, in some cases, overtly refuse, to fit neatly into the Canadian ideal. It does not tell about how what I just said—that Redress is amazing, and complicated—is an awkward thing to say in our community, an unpopular opinion to share, even a divisive one. It does not tell about how we, us Japanese Canadian people, are also more than complicated. Everyone is complicated. Everyone has a right to be complex. But often, we are something beyond complexity: we are damaged. Often, we don’t know how to disagree, nevermind how to talk to each other through or in spite of disagreement. Often, we don’t know how we hurt each other, or what to do about it if we ever do manage to recognize that we’ve done so. This version of my story that I just told you, although it is true, is limited—because it omits the very things that we need to acknowledge in order to develop just ways of moving forward.
I would like to tell a fuller version of my story. I’m going to start this one downstairs, in the downstairs of my grandparents’ house, in the basement, what my cousin and I now call the art room—because that’s where we make art—even though before that, it was the new computer room (different from the old computer room, which is upstairs), and before that, it was my childhood bedroom. The room is rather small, with two desks on one side, and a cot on the other. The window at the end looks out to the backyard, and the rest of the walls are populated by some of our artwork.
Yesterday night, I bent down on the floor of the art room, leaning over my project, which is too big to fit on either of the desks.
“You know what’s fun?” I asked my cousin, who was sitting on a chair by a desk, watching me.
“Gluing things?” he joked. He was making fun of me. (I was struggling with glue and some shreds of a Powell Street hachimaki, which I’m using in my art project.)
“Yeah,” I said, still struggling. “But also writing speeches.”
I looked up at him.
“I have to write a speech for an event on Redress. Like, now. Like, the event I have to speak at is tomorrow.”
He raised his hands in question, almost laughing (likely at my procrastination), but he indulged me in the conversation.
“You have to write about what?”
“Redress,” I said. “And what Redress means to me.”
A brief pause. “What does Redress mean to you?”
I said I don’t know. Because to be honest, I don’t.
“Well,” I began again. “Redress means like… something. I mean, Redress means a lot to me. Redress is amazing. Redress is incredibly important to Japanese Canadian history, to Canadian history, and to other communities for whom a precedent was set.”
He nodded, listening. My cousin is pretty good at reading me. He knew I had more to say.
“But Redress is also this historical moment that’s celebrated in these really, often, like, refrained ways. We’ve got a single story now. We’ve got kind of, like, ostensibly one version of our story. And we keep celebrating that one version.”
He kept waiting.
“Like, Redress is also damaging, you know? Redress leaves out a lot. Redress does more than we give it credit for, and not all of what it does are things that anyone ever meant for it to be doing! Redress, the way that we often celebrate it, obscures or worse, sometimes even comes close to absolving the violence of colonialism!”
He sat there, in the desk by the window, and looked at me, expectant.
“But I can’t say that!”
I went on. “This is going to be a room full of Japanese Canadian people, and some of them have dedicated the better part of their lives to keeping the legacy of Redress alive, of fighting for human rights, of refraining narratives, however singular they may be, because no matter what I say, those narratives matter and they always will and just everyone is working so hard and I can’t say that. I can’t say that Redress is anything other than amazing at this event! Even though it is. It is amazing. But it’s problematic. But I can’t say that.”
He still didn’t say anything.
“What am I gonna say tomorrow, Zale?!” (My cousin’s name is Zale.)
And Zale said, “I mean, considering I’ve never thought about this at all, like, literally never in my life have I ever thought about this, I also don’t know.”
I laughed, and we kept working on what we were working on. He put on some Billy Joel.
Eventually, we went upstairs for a snack and a tea, before he had to go home—because it was getting late, and because I had to write this speech. My grandma had tea with us too.
“You don’t have to stay up, Grandma, if you’re tired and you just want to go to bed.”
“No, that’s okay. I like to be with you guys,” she said.
I readied my tea and sat down with them.
“Did you apply for Redress money, Grandma?” (I thought I’d ask.)
“Yeah! I got it.”
“What did you do with it?”
“Oh, I think I gave $1000 each to the kids.”
She’s only got three kids, so that leaves her with a lot of remaining Redress money.
“What did you do with the rest of it?” I asked.
She paused. “I think I banked it. Put it in the bank or something.”
My cousin was silent, just continued to drink his tea.
“Ian got it too,” she added.
Ian was my grandpa.
“Grandpa applied for Redress money?!”
For some reason, this surprised me.
“Yeah. And he got it. So did my mother and father. We all got it, in my family.”
“Do you know what they did with their $21,000?”
She shook her head. No.
I went back to my grandpa. I was still surprised that he’d applied for the money. (He was never interned or incarcerated—reportedly because his mother told the RCMP officer to piss off and threatened to write to the Queen if he mistreated her. So I figured he’d have his own unique experiences of the dispossession.
“Do you know why did Grandpa applied for Redress money?”
She shook her head again. Another no.
We said goodnight to my cousin, and I went upstairs to my current bedroom, which was previously my mom’s and aunt’s shared bedroom, and before that, was my grandparents’ bedroom. I lit some candles, turned on the Christmas lights that I’ve strung along the bedframe, and opened my laptop to start writing this speech.
All of the events in that story also really happened, and all of the claims I made are things that I actually believe. It is also a true version of my story, but the way I see it, it is fuller.
There is one main reason why this version of my story feels fuller to me. It feels fuller to me because it includes my very real concerns about the unintended consequences of Redress, but also my respect and love for my family, as well as the different connections that they have to the dispossession. For my grandma, those connections are obviously very immediate, and for my cousin, they are things that he has, apparently, literally never thought about in his life before. Both connections matter. This version of my story feels fuller to me because it is active and because it is expansive. It stretches outward. It does work. It makes me feel. It reminds me that yes, I may be damaged, and my family may be damaged—because I was paralyzed from writing this speech due to what I told myself I simply could not say, because my cousin has never thought about what Redress means to him in his life, and because my grandma and I didn’t used to be able to have conversations like what we had last night—but that’s okay. That just has to be okay.
I suggested earlier that we need less refrains, and more stories. More, and more, and more multiple, and—crucially—different stories. We need stories that make different omissions than the ones we are comfortable making. For example, when I ask my grandma about Greenwood, she says, Oh, we were just kids! We just played! You know, all my friends were there, so we just played! She says that they went up the mountain to collect fool’s gold, and that when she went back to Greenwood one time, she went up the mountain, but there was no more fool’s gold, and she sounded sad when she said this, like she was longing for a childhood pastime. Where do those stories go? How do we make space for survivors of, say, Greenwood, to long for Greenwood? Or at least parts of it? Can it be the case that a little girl who once lived on Moncton Street in Steveston, and then later, after her family was dispossessed of everything they owned, lived in Greenwood, was at once mistreated by the state and happily collecting fool’s gold on a mountain? If both things are simultaneously possible—because both things simultaneously happened—then how do we tell those stories? How do we redress the danger of a single story? 2
And equally, perhaps even more pressingly, what do we do about the fact that one of our refrains in this community is “never again,” but in the moments it takes for us to speak those words, people’s homes are being threatened in one of the very neighbourhoods from which we were once displaced?3
We can imagine different futures for our community, for those with whom we stand in solidarity, by telling these different stories, these stories that tell and omit different things. They all have power. They all connect us in ways that might be uncomfortable or at least new, but real connection is more important to me than inherited refrain.
2 Here, I will graciously credit Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for her TED Talk, “The danger of a single story”, which has inflected much of my thinking and certainly this speech.
3 I am referring here to the historic Powell Street neighbourhood, located in the present-day Downtown Eastside (DTES), in which gentrification has been overtaking and continues to threaten the homes—in every sense of the word—of people who currently live in the neighbourhood.
Angela is from the unceded territories of the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, where she is currently also completing her master’s fieldwork, specifically in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). She is gosei, of mixed ancestry, and while she’s here in Vancouver for research, she has been living with her grandma on her Japanese Canadian side in Kitsilano. Angela has sat on several different boards and committees across organizations in the Japanese Canadian community, and still sits on the Powell Street Festival Advocacy and Outreach Committee.