Profile: Ken Noma & Lillian Nakamura Maguire
When the National Association of Japanese Canadians held its Annual General Meeting in Kamloops September 14 to 16 there was a palpable sense of optimism in the air, fueled in large part by the presence of a contingent of youth from across the country. Conspicuous among the almost forty delegates and guests in attendance, the youth delegates—the youngest of whom was twelve—brought a positive energy to the proceedings, contributing to discussion groups and presentations throughout the weekend. In a community that often bemoans the lack of interest among younger generations, the presence and active participation by younger Nikkei was like a breath of fresh air. Led by young leadership co-chairs Lindsay Tsuji of Toronto and Lisa Schoenhofer of Ottawa, the youth delegates proved to be full of ideas and opinions, something that bodes well for the future.
For Ken Noma and Lillian Nakamura Maguire, President and Vice-President respectively of the NAJC, the challenge is how to provide opportunities for youth to take leadership roles in the community while at the same time keeping a steady hand on the wheel of the national organization. Both are entering their second terms at the head of the National Executive Board and Lillian is also chair of the Human Rights Committee. They spoke to The Bulletin by e-mail shortly after returning home following the AGM.
Ken Noma + Lillian nakamura Maguire
in their own words
Ken, you’re based out of Toronto and Lillian, you’re in Whitehorse, maybe you could provide brief bios for those who don’t know you.
KEN NOMA: My father and his siblings were born in Maple Ridge, British Columbia but before the outbreak of World War II returned to Kagoshima, Japan. The plan was for my grandfather to rejoin the family a few years later but he was interned in Princeton and was not reunited with the family until the cessation of hostilities. Apparently my grandmother was not enthused about returning to Japan and tore up a picture of the couple taken in Victoria; someone had taped it later and placed it into the family album.
After the war, jobs were very scarce in Japan, forcing my parents to seek opportunities in Tokyo. My brother Tosh and I were born in the Haneda District of Tokyo. The situation became so dire that my mother speaks often about being forced to sell some of her kimonos in order to put food on the table. The burden became too much and as a result the family returned to Kagoshima. My father took advantage of his Canadian citizenship and immigrated alone to Canada to earn enough money to send for us. He, along with many Japanese immigrants, was sponsored by the Lever Brand Mushroom Company in Toronto which still exists today. Having contracted tuberculosis at work, he was hospitalized in Hamilton and after recovery, found employment at the hospital and was working there at the time that my mother, brother and I were reunited with him in January 1959. The journey by boat was very long as was the train ride across Canada which was quite an experience since I had never seen snow or ice before.
My elementary, secondary and university education was all in the city of Hamilton where my parents and my sister Ann and her family still reside today. I obtained my Bachelor of Education degree at the University of Toronto in 1976 and I was one of the lucky 70% of the graduating class that was able to find employment that summer. Hamilton will continue to be my Canadian home. Although I regard myself as Canadian, as a result of having spent the first eight years of my life in Kagoshima, I am forever spiritually connected to my ancestral prefecture of Kagoshima. I was raised under the shadow of the active volcano Sakurajima in Kinko Bay and it has shaped who I am today.
I was hired by the East York Board of Education (now part of the Toronto District Board of Education) to teach special education and history at Overlea Secondary School (now Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute) in 1976. I was seconded from my teaching duties to work at the East York Board office to initiate Pacific Rim programs and as the Anti-racist consultant from 1990-1995. My teaching career has all been at my first school and I retired in 2006 after 30 years in the classroom. Teaching has been a rewarding experience and I have enjoyed the interaction with the students from the Flemington and Thorncliffe neighbourhoods.
LILLIAN NAKAMURA MAGUIRE: I was born and raised in Regina. I had six siblings and my parents were Sadato and Aiko (Kikuchi) Nakamura. My parents, originally from Fukuoka-ken, settled in what is now Surrey, BC around 1939. In 1942 my Dad was sent to a work camp in Lempriere, a railway stop south of Valemount, BC. He and my mother and my oldest brother were able to move to Manitoba, where my uncle lived. He worked on a sugar beet farm for a short time, but then got permission to move to Regina for employment as a chick sexer. Until his retirement in his seventies my Dad worked as a chick sexer and in the off season as a cabinet maker.
My mother, who was a nurse in Japan, was a stay-at-home mom. She stressed the importance of education, so like most of my siblings I attended post-secondary education in Saskatchewan and later obtained a Masters of Adult Education from Nova Scotia. Throughout my career I have had the opportunity to work in a post-secondary setting, and do adult education and community development work in the Yukon, Alberta, BC, and West Africa. Presently I work part-time doing human rights education work.
What’s your history with the NAJC and why did you join the board and the executive?
K.N. I became involved with the Toronto Japanese Canadian community 1976 helping out with the Centennial celebrations and the Nikka Festival Dancers. Around the same time I became involved with the Toronto JCCA. When the Toronto NAJC was formed we put our support behind the new organization as a member of the executive. I left the Toronto NAJC in 1990 to focus on my job as an educational consultant but rejoined the NAJC in 2009. Past President Henry Kojima, who I have worked with during the pre-redress period, persuaded me to not only run for the executive in 2010 but to seek the nomination for President. I can’t recall what arguments he used but it was effective—I believe he still owes me a dinner though.
L.N.M. I am relatively new to the NAJC. I was living in the Yukon during Redress and busy with family life, so only heard a bit about it from my parents after the Settlement was reached. That’s when I first got my parent’s story of their experiences. I first became involved in the NAJC as a member of the Human Rights Committee in June 2009, and took over as Vice-President and chair of the Human Rights Committee following the October 2010 AGM.
I had served on the board of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation from June 2005 to 2009 so I first met Art Miki at the meetings and also knew about the NAJC. I also met Terumi Kuwada at a CRRF event and she encouraged me to become involved in the NAJC. So after my term ended with the CRRF, I decided to get more involved in the human rights aspect of NAJC, to which I am very committed. I believe that it is a way to acknowledge the courage of my parents and the sacrifices they and other Nikkei made, and to work to prevent such things happening again.
The NAJC, or the modern incarnation anyway, was formed to represent the Japanese Canadian community in its fight for Redress. With the 25th Anniversary of Redress coming up in 2013, what role do you see the NAJC playing in today’s world?
L.N.M. I believe that NAJC must continue to speak out in support of equality and social justice and engage young leaders within the NAJC to stay committed to these ideals. We must also find ways to educate not only our own membership about everyday human rights issues, but also use our JC history as a lesson for all Canadians. We must not be afraid to speak up and take action and to mobilize as a group when we see injustice happening around us.
K.N. By receiving the government apology and symbolic compensation, we have accepted the responsibility of speaking out against racism and discrimination. The NAJC must be pro-active in this area.
The NAJC has identified the following priorities where it must provide leadership: human rights; ensuring the survival of member organizations; preservation of Nikkei history through Digital Storytelling; innovative and engaging programs; increasing our sustaining fund; and the recruitment and development of young leaders.
Speaking of youth, it was exciting to see so many youth attending the AGM—what can we do to get youth more involved in the community?
K.N. It was heartening to see so many future youth leaders at the Kamloops AGM and I could not help recalling the obstacles that the sansei of my generation faced when we became active in the Toronto scene. The 1977 Centennial celebrations was a major stimulus in the awakening of Nikkei pride across Canada and brought together all generations to talk about the internment and become involved in the campaign for redress. In addition, we explored questions around Japanese Canadian identity and culture. Unfortunately the sansei enthusiasm was dampened and repressed by nisei leaders within some community organizations – of course I am speaking about the Toronto scene but I suspect that this was the norm elsewhere. Rather than encouraging sansei initiative, they ignored or stifled or redirected this enthusiasm and as a result my generation became disenchanted and disengaged with community organizations until the formation of the NAJC and the redress movement. My generation, now in their sixties, could have contributed more to the well-being of our community and taken a leadership role if they had been welcomed rather than being met with suspicion by nisei leaders. With this experience in mind, I am determined that we not make the same mistake with the yonsei. The NAJC will engage and empower the youth and provide funding support to help them establish a young leader’s network across Canada. A new portfolio for youth has been created on the NEB with Lisa Schoenhofer (Ottawa) as its first director.
L.N.M. I think we need to make room for their involvement and support their participation. We need to LISTEN and take concrete steps to ensure their participation by ensuring representation on committees or boards, providing travel subsidies to attend meetings, allowing them to organize their own activities, and asking for their help with technology to communicate with younger members.
Lillian, you live and work in Whitehorse. What special challenges face Japanese Canadians living in far-flung places like the north?
L.N.M. In some ways it is a mixed blessing being in the north—on the one hand it is a relatively small, open community, so people know each other and it is relatively easy to gather together. People who venture north are usually people who like the outdoors and the sense of freedom. Most of the JC community are relatively new immigrants, between 20 to 40 years or so, some with young children. I think they provide support to each other in terms of sharing resources and information. Our president and his wife provide translation and other kinds of information to many of them. On the other hand, there are limited Japanese cultural and social activities for newcomers. They are largely operating within an English environment and there aren’t the range of activities and support services that one would find in a larger centre with English Second Language speakers. There are services here, but somewhat limited. There are fewer Canadian-born Japanese involved in our local Association—’d like to see more interaction and involvement with new immigrants.
You do human rights work in Whitehorse, tell me about that, and how it relates to your work with the NAJC.
L.N.M. I am a human rights educator for the Yukon Human Rights Commission (YHRC). It forms the backdrop for my work with the NAJC. A few years ago, the YHRC in partnership with other community groups, through my application to the Endowment Fund, received a contribution toward the production of a photo exhibit and pamphlet on Asian History of the Yukon. Two of the panels dealt with some northern Nikkei pioneers from the late 1800s to 1960s. In doing the exhibit we wanted to show the long history and contributions of these early pioneers and to reveal the “hidden history” that most Yukoners are unaware of.
I was surprised at the recent AGM how many educators or former educators are involved in the NAJC – why do you think that is?
K.N. The participation of educators in the NAJC has been a long established fact. The skills required for teaching can easily be transferred within the NAJC. Teaching demands that you have ability in public speaking, to motivate the audience, to articulate the message clearly, organizational skills and others. In addition, human rights and equity is an expectation within the classroom and as I noted, one of the pillars of the NAJC.
The community has changed so much in terms of demographics in the 24 years since Redress was achieved, sometimes is seems almost unrecognizable. What challenges do you see in the years ahead, and will there even BE a Canadian Nikkei 25 years from now?
L.N.M. Perhaps we, like a lot of Canadians, struggle with “identity” within this multicultural country. Maybe we will still be asking what is a Canadian Nikkei and what makes us unique? I think that most people at some point in their lives want to explore their heritage, and hopefully organizations like NAJC will be around to help them to understand the context for their unique history in Canada.
K.N. There is no doubt that there will be a Nikkei community 25 years from now. What it will look like, I have no clue, but it should be exciting. Will racism and discrimination still exist? Sadly, yes and therefore the role of anti-racist organizations such as ours is needed. As long as society categorizes, labels and marginalizes people, our task is never completed. The phenotype will be hard to distinguish since the rate of intermarriage will continue to increase but I think the inherent and intangible cultural traits will still be there. I can see chow mein sandwiches, spam musubi, shoyu wieners, tsukemono and Cumberland chow mein at Nikkei tables years from now—no worries and you can quote me on that. As long as the NAJC continues to carry out its founding mandate, in addition to providing innovative programs; supporting member organizations; and attracting young leaders, we will be fine.