Save the Legacy Sakura Campaign
Outcome, next steps, and reflections
On July 21, the Vancouver Parks Board voted to accept a redevelopment plan for Oppenheimer Park which would require the removal of three sakura trees. This result came despite the 1,800 petition signatures protesting the removal of the trees, several meetings with the City and other stakeholders, a number of proposals to find an alternative park layout, and strong public words of support from significant institutions in the Powell area and individuals from the Nikkei community across the country. The Coalition to Save the Legacy Sakura of Oppenheimer Park was very disappointed in the Parks Board decision, but on a positive note, the majority of the sakura will be spared and an official commemoration of the Legacy Sakura has been promised.
The Coalition decided to pay tribute to these three trees during Powell Street Festival. We decorated them with fuurin (wind chimes), set up a makeshift booth to display photos of the original planting in 1977, and invited children and adults alike to fold origami cranes to hang from the branches. It was obvious that the trees provided comforting shade under the hot summer sun, and the fuurin chiming in the wind added a unique, soothing element of spiritual summer relaxation, very appropriate for a Japanese Canadian event. Many who visited the Coalition table expressed sorrow, and even disgust in some cases, that the three trees are slated for removal.
The City indicated it will attempt to transplant at least one of the trees during the winter, and that construction of the new fieldhouse will start in April 2009. Also, the Coalition, among others groups, will attend a meeting with a City planning team on Sept 8 to discuss the commemoration project. We encourage anyone wishing to help us with the commemoration project to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or to check the website http://legacysakura.wordpress.com. Please watch for future updates from the Coalition, including information for an upcoming open forum relating to the commemoration process.
From my own individual perspective, my involvement with the Coalition has prompted some reflections on a few issues regarding the Nikkei community. First, the diversity of viewpoints within the Nikkei community was surprising even to me. Despite a Japanese cultural icon – sakura – at stake, there was a marked lack of consensus, perhaps caused by the differing value sets (which can include cultural, linguistic, political, and ethnic elements) held by each group or generation. These differences are something that community leaders must be mindful of and should work to bridge in order to improve community cohesion.
Second, organizations that are supposed to serve as stewards and supporters of Nikkei heritage and history were noticeably quiet in the Coalition’s quest to protect the Legacy Sakura over the past several months. While I understand not everyone agreed with the Coalition’s position, it was disappointing that there seemed to be a lack of interest from these organizations in the story behind the Legacy Sakura, a story of significant historical value as the gesture of hope and goodwill by the elders helped in the rebirth of the Nikkei community in the 1970s and 1980s.
Third, though the Legacy Sakura story was a catalyst to what eventually became the redress movement, it was somehow virtually forgotten. A legacy is only as strong as those who work to carry it forward. If our elders don’t tell their stories to the younger generations, there will be no legacy to remember. This led me to wonder what kind of legacy our own community leaders and elders would like to leave for future generations. While certain events may prompt the community to occasionally come together, an overall community consciousness remains fleeting. Openness, collaboration, and idea-sharing are things that we can use more of, so that groups are more aware of what others are doing, and why. It is essential that our elders lead by example by encouraging more purposeful communication within the community and by supporting the involvement of younger people, whose energy and new ideas will carry on the legacies of our elders and further strengthen the community as a whole.
I am truly grateful to have worked with those involved in the Coalition. Over the last five months, new friendships were forged and other friendships were renewed. I cannot say enough about those who made such sacrifices and exerted so much energy, passion, and enthusiasm for this cause. It is encouraging to know that there is a spirit of tasuke-au alive in the community. It is my hope that instructive lessons will be drawn from this experience, and that those lessons will help create a more open, collaborative, and positive community spirit.