Portland JACL Newsletter: March 2014 Issue
Board Member Message by Heidi Kimiko Tolentino
This year’s Day of Remembrance opened with outstanding performances by Portland Taiko and Four Directions, a Native-American drumming group. It set the tone for the focus of the event, Shared Injustice: The Japanese American and Native American Experience. Both groups played pieces that represented a call to their communities to come together. There was a celebratory feeling in PSU’s Hoffman Hall that was enhanced by one of the members of Four-Directions drumming with Portland Taiko and then a surprise performance by Consulate General Furusawa who graciously took a turn on the Taiko drum.
Leo Rhodes, a homeless advocate who himself had been homeless, shared his poem remembering the Japanese-Americans who were interned on the reservation where he grew up. Leo spoke also spoke of his interactions with Poet Laureate, Lawson Inada, and the time tahey spent talking about their shared experiences.
After a welcome from Emcee, Jeff Selby, and from Portland JACL’s President, Kirk Tambara, the panel was introduced by moderator, Jackie Peterson. Ms. Peterson is Professor Emerita of History at Washington State University and received her PhD from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She is a public historian, exhibit maker, documentary film maker, oral historian and public artist who works on behalf of Portland’s early immigrant communities. She has also been a lifelong advocate for indigenous rights for Native American tribes and civil rights for American’s communities of color.
The first two panelists, Yoji Matsushima and George Nakata, were both born in Portland’s Nihonmachi and have been life-long friends. Each spoke of the Nihonmachi community and its eventual forced abandonment because of Executive Order 9066; the Order sent many of the community’s Issei men to jail and their families to internment camps. Mr. Matsushima and Mr. Nakata shared their stories of having to close their family businesses, of taking only what they could carry from their homes, of traveling on trains to parts unknown and of having to make a new life behind barbed wire. Both men shared the numbers the government issued their families during internment. The Matsushima family – 15181- and the Nakata family – 15066. Mr. Nakata remembered being asked, “How can you remember that number when it was given to you at such a young age?” To which Mr. Nakata replied, “How could I forget?”
Mr. Matsushima and Mr. Nakata stories were followed by Donita Fry and Elizabeth Asahi Sato’s. Ms. Fry described her background as Shoshone Bannock from Fort Hall and Irish and French Canadian. She is a Council Coordinator of Naya Family Center and spent her childhood growing up on her tribe’s reservation in Southeastern Idaho. Ms. Fry spoke of growing up on the reservation and hearing the stories of her people from her grandparents. Her grandmother told her stories of being taken from her home and forced to live at boarding schools where her history and culture were stolen from her. Ms. Fry spoke of historical and intergenerational traumas that have affected her community and her own personal journey. She shared that these traumas continue to affect them and that there must be a collective healing to strengthen and rejuvenate the Native American community.
Elizabeth Asahi Sato, who followed Ms. Fry, is the Founder of Rise to Excellence, a Consultancy firm in Camas, Washington. She is also an America Leadership Forum of Oregon, Senior Fellow and has served on a variety of local boards and commissions. Ms. Sato’s mother is Japanese and her father, Native American. Ms. Sato spoke of how the beat of the drums during the two performances reminded her of how much the Japanese-American and Native-American cultures have in common. She spoke of strength, respect, honor and the ability to overcome tremendous odds. She also called the audience to remember that the fight for social justice is not done. She argued that until a woman that looks like her can have access to education, to jobs and not experience discrimination, the work must continue. For her, this is not just an issue for her two communities, but for humanity as a whole.
The final two panelists were Mary Renville, Edmo and Peggy Nagai, A.B., J.D. M.A. Ms. Renville is a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota and works part-time for the National Indian Child Welfare Associate and has many years of experience in both reservation and urban Native communities. Ms. Renville opened by asking the question of why discrimination happened to these two communities and other communities of color. Ms. Renville gave an historical recounting of the Catholic Church’s Doctrine of Discovery that gave European “explorers” a call to subjugate peoples they encountered and bring them to faith and gave these men the right to the “spoils of the land”. This doctrine has never been officially repudiated by the church and its historical and present day applications still affect communities of color today.
Ms. Nagae was the final member of the panel to speak. She is recognized for her work as a member of the National JACL Redress Committee, the lead attorney for Minoru Yasui in reopening his WWII Japanese American case, Yasui v. United States, and a Clinton appointee to the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund Board. Ms. Nagae spoke of the Doctrine of Scrutiny that was established during the Korematsu v. United States case and gave the United States’ courts the right to weigh the constitutionality of a law against the government’s interest. In the case of Korematsu, the Supreme Court found that the exclusion of the Japanese community from certain areas was lawful under this interpretation. She continued by explaining that this Doctrine of Scrutiny continues to affect the rights of Americans today. An example of this is the 2012 amicus brief, Hedges v. Obama, that give the government the right to indefinitely detain and question people of suspicion. Therefore, Ms. Nagae argued, the work is not done and we must continue the fight so that what happened during Internment will not happen again. Her point was solidified with a final song from Four Directions, which brought the day to a close with a feeling of connectivity between the Japanese American and Native American communities.