Board Members Message by Heidi Kimiko Tolentino
On February 17th, the Portland chapter of JACL held its annual Day of Remembrance at Portland State University. The chapter welcomed a special guest speaker, Floyd Mori, Executive Director of the National JACL, Emeritus. This year”s focus was the 25th Anniversary of the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988: a Presidential apology and symbolic payment (Redress) for lost liberty and property.
Co-President Susan Leedham welcomed the audience and reminded them of the JACL”s long history of civil rights activism and the purpose of the Day of Remembrance. The Day of Remembrance is an annual commemoration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing of Executive Order 9066 that was responsible for the incarceration of over 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry, many of whom were American citizens.
Chip Larouche, Portland JACL Treasurer and JACL Pacific Northwest Governor, introduced Floyd Mori and shared a list of Mr. Mori”s impressive accomplishments. Mr. Mori was City Councilman and Mayor of Pleasanton, California, California State Assemblyman, and the National Executive Director of JACL. He most recently spearheaded a joint JACL/Direct Relief International earthquake and tsunami disaster relief effort for Japan, raising 6.5 million dollars for the cause.
Mr. Mori took the stage and quietly immersed the audience in stories from his own life as a young Nisei in rural Utah. He spoke of how the pain of rejection can shape or change your life depending on how you react to it. Mr. Mori shared the story of the time his classmate had a birthday party and he was the only one who was not invited. However, he chose to go anyway and had a great time. He took the rejection and turned it around for a positive outcome. He then moved to the treatment of the Japanese community during World War II. They were rejected, rounded up and sent to camps. People”s reactions to the government”s actions differed widely. But in the end, Mr. Mori argued that there needed to be understanding and recognition that everyone had their own reasons for their actions and how they conducted themselves during a very difficult time. Ultimately, the Japanese community united around the Redress effort, despite their differences.
After Mr. Mori”s recollections and insight, moderator Linda Tamura began the panel discussion. Linda Tamura is a professor at Willamette University and the author of, "The Hood River Issei" and "Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence". Professor Tamura has graciously and expertly led the Day of Remembrance panel discussion many times.
The first panel guest was Professor of History, Hillary Jenks, of Portland State University. Professor Jenks is currently working on converting her award-winning dissertation, "Home is Little Tokyo: Race and Metropolitan Development in Twentieth Century Los Angeles", to a book. In her research, Professor Jenks used Los Angeles” Little Tokyo and Gardena, California as case studies. As a panel member, Professor Jenks talked about the importance of coalitions leading to Redress. One important ally was Mervyn Dymally who served in the State Assembly, State Senate, as Lt. Governor of California and as a Congressman. Congressman Dymally learned of the Redress movement from his constituents in Gardena, and was instrumental in building a coalition with the Black community in Watts.
The second panelist was Joe Wahl, President of the Portland JACL chapter in 1986, during Redress. Mr. Wahl is currently assistant director of the City of Portland”s Office of Equity and Human Rights. Mr. Wahl relayed stories of his own life, being born in Japan to a Japanese mother and white father. His father died when he was only four years old and his mother moved the family to Astoria, Oregon, where his father”s family lived. Mr. Wahl spoke of his own experiences growing up as a bi-racial boy in Astoria and not being accepted. He also explained that it was only later in his life that he learned of the incarceration camps from his wife”s family. He then became heavily involved in Asian studies and civil rights at the University of Oregon and eventually became President of the Portland JACL chapter. Mr. Wahl paid tribute to his fellow board members and community leaders who worked tirelessly for the Redress movement.
The final panelist was Tung Yin, a law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School. Professor Yin teaches courses in national security law, terrorism and the law and federal criminal law. His focus has been legal issues that arose from post 9/11 counter-terrorism policies and practices. Professor Yin talked about the recently-leaked Justice Department white paper on "kill lists" and American citizens, and the lack of transparency surrounding these documents. He raised troubling questions on the use of drones killing Americans overseas without oversight from anyone, not the Justice Department or Congress. Professor Yin also talked about how the War on Terrorism differs from traditional warfare, but that the Presidential power to use drones to kill overseas without transparency has very troubling parallels to the Japanese incarceration experience.
The panelists then expertly answered questions from the audience about an array of topics. Many of the questions came from members of the Portland JACL youth group, Unite People. The event was brought to a close by co-President of the Portland JACL chapter, Jean Yamamoto.
Floyd Mori, Linda Tamura and the entire panel did an impressive job of enlightening the audience on the powerful, tireless work that made Redress possible, as well as bringing to light current events that continue to plague civil rights in our country today. It reminds us all why civil rights organizations like JACL are still a crucial part of American society.