Blog Newsletter

Redress and Reparations: Building Japanese American/Black Solidarity

By Ken Nitta

Miya Iwataki’s mother, Sadae, was incarcerated at Manzanar during WWII. Her father, Kuwashi, was a staff sergeant in the 442nd (the most decorated Army division of its size and length of service). She was taught cultural values such as the importance of hard work and family. She was taught not to “make waves” and “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down”. For over 40 years there was very little discussion about the incarceration camps because of the pain and shame it caused. At the time, asking for Redress or even bringing up incarceration was controversial. Some thought that a Presidential Commission to study incarceration was called for while others felt that “making waves” and bringing up this painful history was unnecessary.

During the 1960’s, Civil Rights and the Black and Chicano movements led Miya and other young Asians to reflect on the wrongs perpetrated on the Japanese American community. Leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X inspired Asian Americans to find their voice. During the Vietnam war protests the general chant was “bring our boys home”. Asians broadened those demands with signs of “stop killing Asians”. Her early experience with activism was working with Black and Chicano organizations and building community programs in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. 

Miya and other Japanese Americans discussed WWII incarceration and the need for an apology and monetary compensation. She especially wanted this for the first generation Issei who “lost the most and worked the hardest.” This prompted the formation of the National Coalition for Redress and Reparations (NCRR) a grassroots organization committed to winning redress/reparations and supporting other communities’ struggles for justice.  She was sent to a Gardena, California town hall meeting. Congressman Mervin Dymally, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus was a keynote speaker. During a question and answer session Miya asked Rep. Dymally what his position was on Japanese American Redress. He did not know JAs were fighting for Reparations. He met with Miya and attended NCRR organizing meetings. They learned that as a young man living in the midwest, Dymally thought the incarceration of Japanese Americans was wrong and wrote newspaper articles about this injustice. 

Miya and other NCRR members were political novices with no prior legislative or lobbying experience. Rep. Dymally offered to introduce redress legislation in Congress and became a friend and mentor to NCRR.  He helped arrange their first lobbying trip to D.C. and hosted a welcome reception to introduce them to Congressional members and staff.

“Winning reparations is part of our legacy, and we’re paying it forward. Reparations for African Americans is the right thing to do, it is long overdue and it is achievable.” 

Miya Iwataki

Legislation to form a Presidential Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) was passed in 1980. NCRR lobbied for hearings in cities with large Japanese American populations, not just Washington D.C. In 1981 Issei and Nisei stood up and broke 40 years of silence as they told their stories during 20 days of hearings in 10 cities. Over 750 witnesses testified, putting a human face on the concentration camp experience for the nation and the world.. 

Miya recalls that the “testimonies changed my life”. For the first time she and other Sansei (third generation) heard stories of incarceration from Issei and Nisei. She recalls a woman tearfully revealing how she witnessed her brother being shot in the back by a guard; and another woman bitterly testifying that the whole incarceration experience felt like “rape”. “I am still moved to tears” Miya says years later.

In their report, Personal Justice Denied, the CWRIC found there was “no military necessity” for the incarceration camps; they were the result of “race prejudice, war hysteria and a lack of political leadership”. They recommended a Presidential apology, and $20,000 individual compensation, and a Community Education fund.  This was put into legislation HR 442 and SB 100, authored and led by Reps. Noman Mineta and Robert Matsui, and Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga respectively. It took six years to get this legislation to a floor vote. 

Miya recalls that NCRR kept the momentum going with rallies, issuing press releases and lobbying. In addition the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Jewish groups including the Anti-Defamation League supported this legislation. Black legislators including Reps. Ron Dellums (D-Oakland) and Julian Dixon (D-Culver City) helped get other California Congressional leaders on board along with local Black legislators like LA City Councilman Robert Farrell.

 In 1987, Rep. Norman Mineta alerted NCRR and other groups that the legislation was coming to a floor vote and NCRR “needed to pull out all stops” to lobby Congress before the vote. Miya said they organized a “People’s delegation” of 141 people who “used their own money and vacation time” to travel to Washington DC to “lobby for Justice and Redress”.  Rep. Dymallly brought Miya to DC three weeks early to schedule 101 Congressional visits and allowed the NCRR delegates to use his office as a staging area and press center. Many had never previously lobbied or visited Washington DC, and called it “a life-changing experience.”.

The Civil Liberties Act was enacted in 1988 calling for a Presidential apology, and $20,000 compensation for each living incarceree. The following year Rep. John Conyers introduced HR 40 to establish a Black Reparation Commission similar to the CWRIC.

Today, Miya is working with NCRR, Nikkei Progressives and the National Nikkei Reparations Coalition supporting reparations for Black Americans. “Standing together to fight for redress and reparations gave our community the strength to speak out for justice;” and a recognition of our shared history with communities of color.  “How could we see this and not recognize the importance of allyship/solidarity with the Black community in fighting for justice?” she says.

“Winning reparations is part of our legacy, and we’re paying it forward. Reparations for African Americans is the right thing to do, it is long overdue and it is achievable.” 


Kokoro Corner: Values-Centered Living

By Spencer Uemura

あけましておめでとうございます。今年もよろしくお願いしす。(Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu. Kotoshimo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.)

Happy New Year to all! Thank you for your continued connection and involvement with our chapter of the JACL. We can’t do this work without you!

For this month’s Kokoro Corner, I wanted to discuss the importance of values-centered living that comes from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). To briefly summarize ACT, the goal is to accept difficult feelings, clarify values, and commit to take action in accordance with one’s values. When our actions are not directed by our values, we can experience fear, avoidance, as well as low mood and motivation.

In the past few months, I have noticed how my own fear has pulled me away from my values, and left me with greater avoidance and hopelessness. Specifically regarding the ongoing crisis in Palestine, I felt worse and worse as news of Israeli war atrocities increased while I continued to feel stuck. In recent weeks, thanks to kind conversation with friends and time for reflection, I’ve looked toward my values of Compassion, Connection, and Justice. I remember the impacts of WWII intergenerational trauma on our community, Japanese people in America and those still in Japan. Our people, too, have felt the pain of oppression and brutality, the sting of barbed wire and the horror of mass bombings.

We carry that pain in us, and that pain can flood back in from time to time. For me, that pain had left me feeling helpless and hopeless, a feeling like “shikata ga nai” or “it can’t be helped”, when there are very tangible ways for concerned citizens to advocate for change. By reconnecting with some of my deepest values, I’ve been able to care for my own pain that I’d been avoiding and see that the egregious violence upon Palestinian people is parallel to the abuses of power that our community has weathered in the past.

For those curious about how Nikkei groups are pursuing advocacy for the Palestinian cause, Tsuru for Solidarity (@tsuruforsolidarity on Instagram) and Vigilant Love (@vigilantlove on Instagram) are organizations that have been co-founded by Japanese Americans dedicated to solidarity, healing, and systems change.

In this new year, I invite you to consider your inner values and how you might let them guide your actions. Whether you have a value for Love, Spirituality, Courage, or Authenticity (to name a few) there are always ways to reprioritize those in our lives.

May our lives be firmly rooted in our deepest values.

*Please note this may or may not reflect the views of other members of the Portland JACL or Portland JACL Board.


Chris Lee: Portrait of a Portland JACL Board Member

Portland JACL board members pose with artist/photographer Kip Fulbeck at the Project workshop in May of 2023

Chris Lee is Portland JACL’s former co-President and current Vice President. We interviewed Chris and asked him to share his experiences as a board member. 

Chris, when did you first get involved with Portland JACL?

I first started attending board meetings in late 2013, but have participated in JACL events for a long time. Before Unite People was created, I was part of the youth group at Epworth. Robbie Tsuboi had us volunteer at community events such as Mochitsuki, DOR, and the community picnic. 

How long have you been a board member and what made you decide to become a member of the JACL board? 

I’ve been on the board for almost 10 years. Originally, I joined to give back to the community. The demographics in Portland, as a city, and Oregon, as a state, are predominantly white. The experiences that I had growing up in the Nikkei community were really positive for me and would not have been possible without the hard work, struggle, and sacrifice made by generations before us. Having places and events to be surrounded by other Japanese and Asian Americans is really important. Everyone should have somewhere they feel like they belong and have community. My goal was to help ensure that we have that here. 

What has your experience been like as a board member?

I’m not sure that I want to help lead an organization through COVID again, but I am very proud of the programming and advocacy that we were able to do during such a challenging time. With so many challenges in the world today, it feels good to be doing something positive. 

Being on our board and serving as a co-President has been one of the most fulfilling things that I’ve done in my life. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people through the work that we do. Our board members are all very passionate about our mission and our community. We are an entirely volunteer board and you can tell by the energy and passion that people bring with them. 

One of the surprising benefits of serving on our board is the impact it has had on my career. Throughout the years, I’ve learned a lot from my fellow board members. Not just about planning and running events, but things that they bring from their day jobs and professional experiences that help our board. Watching how they interact with our community and the various stakeholders that we interface with, has been an incredible learning experience.

I’ve even been able to include my participation on our board as part of my development plan at work. For the last 12 years I have been working at Western Energy Institute, a trade association in the energy industry. I started as a Program Manager and am now the Director of Program Development. I am responsible for our leadership development programs and creating new programs.  When I first joined our board, it was early in my career. Both my President and COO at that time were curious about JACL. I was on an ok career trajectory at that point, but wasn’t always passionate about my work. Being a part of our board helped me change the narrative with them in a positive way. It also gave me an opportunity to show leadership skills that I otherwise would not have been able to display in the office.

Who would you encourage to consider becoming a board member?

I think there are many different reasons that somebody should consider joining our board. First and foremost is the community aspect of our organization. As a board member you’ll have the chance to meet people and build community. The other part of our mission is around civil rights. If you’re curious about social justice and advocacy then this is a great way to learn more and engage more actively. As a volunteer board, there is flexibility for board members to bring in their own interests and pursuits too. Ultimately, anybody that is looking to give back or get more involved in the community would be a great candidate to join our board. Even though it is work, we have fun too. I would be happy to meet and talk with anybody that is curious. 

Thank you, Chris, for sharing your experiences with us and for all the work you have done for our community!  If you are a Portland JACL member and are interested in learning more about being part of the board or volunteering with our organization, please reach out to Chris at

National JACL Newsletter

2023 National Convention Demonstrates ‘Rooted in Community’

Jillian Toda-Currie

Last month, our Vice President, Chris Lee, gave a preview of the JACL National Convention which we both attended for the first time. I want to give an update and summary of what happened, starting with a reflection on the overall experience. 

Three ways ‘Rooted in Community’ was demonstrated

The 53rd convention was held in Los Angeles in late July with the theme of “Rooted in Community.” The convention embodied this theme to me in three ways. 

First: the convention was hosted at various venues throughout LA’s Little Tokyo, including the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC), Hompa Hongwanji Temple and the Japanese American National Museum (JANM). Spreading out at various venues isn’t typical. While we had to pay close attention to the day’s locations, we were more integrated into Little Tokyo. We were also encouraged to support the neighborhood’s restaurants, markets and cafes (which we gladly did).

Second: days before the convention began, attendees were informed that our accommodations were moving from the Hilton DoubleTree in Little Tokyo to the Westin Bonaventure in the Financial District. The Local 11 union representing thousands of LA’s hospitality workers went on strike in July. Out of dozens of hotels, the Westin was the only to have negotiated a contract with the union by that time. The move meant many additional hours of work by JACL staff and extra travel time for convention attendees, but this was the right decision. I could hear the workers chanting outside of the DoubleTree as our bus arrived in Little Tokyo and I felt proud that the JACL had supported workers in the community. JACL went beyond just talking about being rooted in community, but also used our finances to take action. 

Third: in the same way that the people of Little Tokyo make it a community, it was the people (JACL members) at the convention who brought the theme to life. There were people catching up with old friends and I met several who had attended so many National Conventions that they were losing count. Hearing from other chapters was a good reminder that while we have many differences, we also have many of the same obstacles and are part of a greater JACL network that hopes to address those and evolve the organization with the changing community. This year’s logo, designed by Tom Watanabe, also recognized change. The logo features a “friendship knot” and Watanabe said, “The use of gradation serves to depict a transition over time while also showcasing the beauty of the Southern California sky.”  

Convention Summary 

The agenda for the convention was packed with plenaries, workshops, receptions, film screenings and more. I couldn’t attend any of the film screenings because of concurrent sessions, but they sounded fantastic. Luckily, two of the six feature-length films shown had been screened in Portland: Manzanar, Diverted, which our chapter screened in spring 2022 and No No Girl, which our chapter screened this past February at our Day of Remembrance event. I’m glad that other JACL members were able to view these important films. 

Another film that our chapter screened for our Day of Remembrance (2022), Reparations by Jon Osaki, was shown at the National Council to all delegates. The short film raises awareness of the work that has and continues to be done toward reparations for the Black community. The film’s message – reiterated by Osaki, who spoke with us – is that we all must stand in solidarity with Black folks in the struggle for reparations because it is part of our collective liberation. This discussion laid a good foundation for one of our resolutions that the delegation voted on. 

The National Council session resulted in all three proposed resolutions passing. The first resolution supports advocacy for the rights of people who are transgender and nonbinary. The second resolution is to oppose legislation which attempts to establish alien land laws that would limit land ownership based on country of origin. The third resolution supports the California AB 3121 Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans. JACL will send copies of this resolution to California Governor Gavin Newsom, Secretary of State Shirley Weber, State Senator Steven Bradford and Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer communicating the JACL’s support for the efforts to address the longstanding impact of slavery. 

The amendment to the Constitution and Bylaws that would standardize and simplify the membership structure was unfortunately tabled until next year’s convention. While it’s disappointing to have to wait a whole year, this will ensure that the topic gets sufficient time for explanation and discussion. Expect to hear more about these changes next summer, when the convention will be hosted in Philadelphia, PA. 

Something else coming up in the near future is JACL’s visioning work. The plenary, “Envisioning JACL’s Future Together,” summarized the hopes, opportunities as well as challenges JACL faces. A visioning initiative will be underway to listen to the community’s ideas, concerns and needs so that JACL can envision the future as we approach JACL National’s 100th year (2029). 

2023 JACL National Convention logo

Although updates on this work at the National level are forthcoming, it’s never too soon for our chapter to do our own collective visioning. We know youth are the future, and the work that Unite People has done demonstrates this. The formation of our chapter’s Advocacy Committee in the last few years highlights collaboration that is essential for maintaining ties across communities. But there is plenty more to be done to ensure our chapter thrives (and continues to be the largest chapter!). 

What do you want to see in Portland JACL’s future? Do you have ideas for how we can strengthen our membership? We’d love to hear from you! Reach out to a board member with your ideas, or contact us on our website:

National JACL Statement

Jacksonville Shooting Highlights Need to Continue the Work of Racial Reconciliation and Repair as Highlighted by the March on Washington

On Saturday, August 26th, a gunman targeted and killed three people specifically because they were African American. This is another one of the countless shootings which occurred this year already, but tragically comes on a time of remembrance for civil rights history. 

This attack came juxtaposed on a historically symbolic day for civil rights, where JACL joined hundreds of thousands of advocates in honor of the 1963  March on Washington which featured Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. This year’s theme, “A Continuation not a Commemoration” is a renewed commitment to build a nation that lives up to its ideals – one that protects and values Black lives. Following this act of racialized violence, this theme could not hold more truth toward the need to dismantle systemic racism and white supremacy in all forms. 

Just as a quarter million Americans led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. first marched against segregation 60 years ago, this year’s march both memorialized and advocated for the continuance of the honorable Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work against anti-Blackness, segregation, and white supremacy. 

In the 60 years since the March’s beginning, our country’s legacy of racism continues to harm, disenfranchise, and claim the lives of Black individuals at the hands of hate-fueled violence. In addition to revealing our country’s longstanding history of anti-Blackness, the shooting also underscored the critical need to ban assault weapons.

The intersection of racism and gun violence is resulting in dire consequences. This is particularly true in a state such as Florida which has passed laws to enable and embolden gun owners to brazenly turn to gun violence as their first option. This mixed with a series of policy changes targeting multicultural and particularly African American communities, incidents such as this are frighteningly more likely to happen. We must do better as a nation if we are to make true on the hopes and dreams of the past.

August 28, 2023

For Immediate Release

JACL National Statement

National JACL Statement

JACL Disappointed by Affirmative Action Decision

The Japanese American Citizens League is dismayed by the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the use of race as a general consideration in the holistic admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina. These programs had been constructed in accordance with previous Supreme Court decisions, yet the court once again shows blatant disregard for its own precedent, creating new law.

Today, the majority rejected the precedent that race might be considered generally amongst other characteristics. The Grutter case further affirmed the court’s previous support for diversity as a compelling state interest. The opinion by Justice O’Connor in the Grutter case suggested a time limit of 25 years before affirmative action might not be necessary. Unfortunately, disparities in opportunity due to race remain persistent and pervasive, particularly in the education system and college admissions process. For the court to at once ignore a time frame for affirmative action to be legitimized through court precedent, and shorten it when the disparity clearly remains, is concerning and inexplicable. 

Furthermore, the court asserts, “Many universities have for too long wrongly concluded that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned, but the color of their skin.” The court has wrongly concluded that these touchstones of identity are NOT also inextricably linked to one’s racial identity. For Asian Americans, while we may all have unique experiences individually, as the past two years have shown us with the increases in anti-Asian hate, discrimination persists against us because of our race, not because of who we are as individuals. This experience is not unlike that of other students of color.

Also in its arguments, the court uses the Hirabayashi case to establish our nation’s distaste for discriminating based on race. We remind the court that the Hirabayashi case, despite this inspirational quote, did actually affirm that discrimination against a minority was legal. It is that backdrop of historic state-sponsored racism that has necessitated programs such as affirmative action, to redress persistent racism, where this country and its institutions have continued to discriminate systematically against minorities making college less attainable, or even a seat on the Supreme Court that has remained elusive to an Asian American.

It is well known that an overwhelming majority of Asian Americans support affirmative action initiatives. We reject the perpetration of the model minority myth, suggesting that Asian Americans are disadvantaged relative to others presumably, by the plaintiffs and the court majority, less deserving minorities in the admissions process.  While these decisions are limited to higher education for now, they may also set a precedent around similar race-conscious initiatives in hiring and other programs, such as workplace DEI initiatives.

JACL remains committed to ensuring that all Americans have the opportunity to achieve the heights of educational opportunity. We also recognize the scarcity of opportunity at highly selective colleges and universities which means the majority of students applying to these schools will not be accepted, despite being highly qualified themselves. We do believe that colleges are capable of selecting individuals for admission who are qualified, and also support the need for diversity and representation. We reaffirm the court’s past precedent affirming the need to create diversity at schools and reject the court’s rewriting of law in today’s decision.

June 29, 2023

For Immediate Release

Seia Watanabe, VP Public Affairs,

Matthew Weisbly, Education & Communications Coordinator,


A Reflection on Sakura

By Spencer Uemura

It’s May and we are deep into Spring! It is around this time of year that I tend to feel a renewed energy for pursuing goals in my life that have laid dormant over the winter months. The world seems to blossom in a burst of colorful petals and birdsong as I also come to life again.

As I write this, I reflect fondly on my Hanami outing to see the sakura on the waterfront a few weeks ago. My spouse and I bundled up our infant daughter and went with some of her family into the blustery cold to see this year’s blooms. The waterfront was packed! I was both surprised and moved to see so many people out on a chilly weekday morning, doing something that feels so Japanese and so very Portland. The pom poms of delicate blush pink petals were so idyllic, I wished I was taller so I could see them up close.

However, it struck me that the crowds of people (and dogs and strollers) were noticeably dense around the cherry blossom trees, and lacking in the adjacent Japanese American Historical Plaza. The stones engraved with the experiences of our elders and ancestors sat lonely, overshadowed by the floral display just feet away. How many of the visitors learned that the trees were planted along the waterfront as a gift from Japan for the Plaza’s dedication? But maybe these are just my own assumptions about what I saw. Maybe I have my own feelings of guilt for not sharing this history with my White in-laws and my connection to it. Silencing myself felt safer than letting them know this deep part of my experience.

As a Japanese American mental health therapist, I feel like the month of May is my time to shine. It is designated as both Mental Health Awareness Month and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. As a response to fears of stigma and judgment, we can often hide our emotional experience and the impacts of our heritage. But in my professional role, personal life, and as a community member, I know the impacts that shame and silence have on our physical and emotional health. They can eat away at our self-esteem and challenge our resilience, exacerbating experiences like anxiety and depression, and leave us feeling lost.

We Japanese Americans are truly privileged to have an increasingly diverse community, full of intersecting and diverging experiences. These stories are vital to our strength. We cover a range of generations, from Shin-Issei recent immigrants to the Rokusei sixth generation descendants of immigration. We are multiracial and monoracial, bilingual and beginners, spiritual and secular. We are straight, queer, cisgender, transgender, and nonbinary. We exist across all of these experiences and identities, and we are here to stay.

So what are we to do? Maybe you’re like me, and you find yourself hiding parts of your heritage and cultural experience with others. Maybe you notice the ways that you try to put up a front, to convince others that life is not difficult for you. My encouragement is to start small and experiment with new ways of relating to those around you. This might mean sharing Japanese food with a friend who wants to try new food, opening up to a family member about some challenges in your life, or otherwise practicing making yourself more visible in your relationships. Like the waterfront sakura, your experiences are important and they deserve to be witnessed and appreciated. May we see each other and allow ourselves to be seen.

As before, I’m happy to be a resource for those who might have questions about mental health therapy. Seeking additional support can be a difficult but important first step, and I’d love to help if I can. Feel free to contact me at

Blog Newsletter

Kakehashi 2023: A Reflection on Identifying as Japanese American

By Lauren Sadataki

In March, I had the opportunity to join 36 other participants and three chaperones from across the country to participate in the first in-person KAKEHASHI Project trip in three years. On this trip, I had the pleasure of traveling to Gifu, and I also had the opportunity to meet high-ranking representatives of the Japanese government, including Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary and Special Adviser to Prime Minister Kihara Seiji and Parliamentary Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Yoshikawa Yuumi. One thing that stood out to me was that everyone greeted us by saying, “Welcome back to Japan” rather than “Welcome to Japan,” acknowledging our family’s history.

This trip was not my first time traveling to Japan, but it was the first time I was able to meet and travel with individuals who identify as Japanese American in a similar age range. Throughout my life, my family has been involved in the JACL Cleveland chapter. Every summer, we have a community picnic. It was through this involvement, that I was able to learn about the Kakehashi program. Visiting Japan with the intention of making a cultural pilgrimage was very different than visiting Japan as a tourist.

I was adopted from China, but I identify as Japanese American. One of the most memorable experiences on this trip, was that I was able to meet another participant, besides my twin, who was also adopted from China and was raised in a Japanese American household. We immediately connected during the trip, and soon realized that our stories were very similar. Prior to the trip, I felt confused about my identity, but the Kakehashi program enabled me to embrace that I identify as a fourth-generation Japanese American woman. It was very refreshing to hear that other participants could not speak Japanese, and no one judged one another for not being able to because we all understood why.

My favorite part of the trip was in Gifu Prefecture. Gifu is known for its beautiful waterfalls and abundance of nature, similar to Portland where I currently reside. In Gifu, we had the pleasure of traveling to the timeless village of Shiragawa-Go, a historic mountainside settlement registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. It was fascinating to see how everything in the village was created with a purpose. For example, farmhouses were built to face the sun so that snow would melt from the roof to provide water for crops. We also visited the Gifu Sekigahara Battlefield Memorial Museum, where Japan was reunified under the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1600. Despite not hearing about this battle prior, it is considered as impactful to a nation’s history as Waterloo or Gettysburg.

Another memorable moment was the opportunity to meet with the Gifu World Youth Organization. Through this meeting, we were able to connect with community members aged 10 to 80+. I was amazed by the sheer number of community members who attended. During this meeting, we shared our families’ stories of immigration. Though I had assumed that Japan did not particularly care about those who had left the nation, it was clear some still do. Despite a few difficulties communicating, many community members asked insightful questions about our American experiences, and it was reassuring to hear that many community members wanted us to return to Japan and stay with them in the future.

Prior to the Kakehashi program, I was hesitant that I would be able to connect with my fellow participants. But, after the fact, I am blown away by the level of connection I was able to feel and am appreciative of the various conversations we had about our identities. I can now confidently say that everyone who was in Group A is my friend, and we continue to stay in touch via group chat and by planning meetups. By participating in the program, I feel an even stronger connection to my Japanese American identity and am more motivated to get involved with the Japanese American community in Portland. I am extremely thankful to JACL for organizing this program, and especially to our JICE coordinators, Hiroko Taniguchi and Haruka Tsuda, as well as local travel agent Ryohei Shimizu for going above and beyond. I highly encourage anyone who identifies as a Japanese American to participate in this program if they are able.

Blog Newsletter

The Personal Value of Connecting to the Past

Jenny Yamada

Last Spring, I joined my dad on a tour of Gresham Pioneer Cemetery. Most of the graves there were of notable families who have streets named after them. Nestled in a cemetery once reserved for Europeans is the resting place of the first known Japanese settler in Oregon, Miyo Iwakoshi. As the partner of a Scottish man, her grave was unmarked until 1988. Her story represents an important piece of our region’s Nikkei history. I grew up in Oregon and only learned about her a few years ago. This is disappointing. Actually, I’m a little mad about it. Especially considering she and her family may be the reason many Issei, including my great-grandfather, decided to settle here. 

In school, the lives of Native peoples and non-European settlers were at best side notes to the Oregon history curriculum. Multicultural perspectives were lacking. How we ended up at the cemetery that day is thanks to my dad who had found a card addressed to his grandparents from Miyo’s daughter, Jewel Nitobe. Ever curious, he discovered her mother’s historical significance and final resting place. 

I think about myself as a child growing up in the 80s and 90s, and how meaningful Miyo Iwakoshi’s story would have been to me then. I’m a mixed yonsei, raised in a predominantly white community. I never saw representations of Nikkei Oregonians. Having something to connect to in the past helps us better understand our experience of the world and form our ideas of self. It would have been validating to learn about her as a child. All children should have an opportunity to link to their history.

After this year’s Day of Remembrance where we showed the film No No Girl, the panel was asked and grappled with some tough questions from the audience. How do we keep the past alive as we near the 100th anniversary of Executive Order 9066? What happens as the younger generations become more diverse? Will we forget? Will history keep repeating? I share these anxieties. It’s in part why I started volunteering at JAMO and Portland JACL–to help preserve memories of our families and friends for the generations to come, to have some small hand in keeping the past alive. Sometimes the act of remembrance may feel repetitive, like the dominant culture doesn’t care. But I think of my younger self and feel what is at stake personally if we were to stop. I don’t want us to forget. As I shouldn’t have learned about the first Japanese Oregonian for the first time in my middle age. 

Involvement in this community is an important part of this. We are fortunate to have many active members in Portland. Thank you for supporting us and showing up to DOR, the Nikkei picnic, Historic Plaza clean-ups, mochi-making, Unite People (Portland JACL’s youth group). All of this is valuable! I’m also grateful to those in the JA organizations who came together to dedicate Miyo Iwakoshi’s headstone. Without those pushing for her remembrance 35 years ago, half a century after her death, I’m not sure I would have learned about her.

Learn more about Miyo Iwakoshi and her family.

Visit her grave at the Gresham Pioneer Cemetery (100 SW Walters Dr, Gresham, OR).

Miyo Iwakoshi, left, with her grandchildren and daughter, Jewel Nitobe
 Miyo Iwakoshi, left, with her grandchildren and daughter, Jewel Nitobe. (Photo from the Oregon Historical Society archives.) 
Gravestone Miyo Iwakoshi
Gravestone of first Japanese person in Oregon, Miyo Iwakoshi at Gresham Pioneer Cemetery. (Photo by Jenny Yamada.)

Blog Newsletter

Learning from Past Historical Mistakes: The Legacy of Executive Order 9066

by Weston Koyama

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the forced removal and internment of Japanese Americans living on the West Coast during World War II. Over 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens, were uprooted from their homes and sent to internment camps in remote areas of the country. The legacy of Executive Order 9066 is a painful reminder of the injustice and discrimination that can arise in times of fear and uncertainty, and the importance of learning from past historical mistakes.

The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was a gross violation of their constitutional rights and civil liberties. It was based on racial prejudice and unfounded fears of disloyalty and espionage, rather than on any actual evidence of wrongdoing. Japanese Americans were forced to abandon their homes, businesses, and possessions, and were subjected to harsh living conditions and strict military supervision. The trauma and loss experienced by these individuals and their families cannot be overstated, and the effects of internment are still felt today.

However, the legacy of Executive Order 9066 is not only one of injustice and suffering. It is also a legacy of resilience, courage, and resistance. Despite the hardships they faced, Japanese Americans found ways to maintain their dignity and agency, and to assert their rights as American citizens. Many resisted the unjust internment by filing legal challenges, organizing protests, and creating art and literature that captured their experiences. They also made significant contributions to the war effort, serving in the military and working in essential industries.

Today, it is essential to remember the legacy of Executive Order 9066, not only as a cautionary tale of the dangers of discrimination and xenophobia, but also as a testament to the strength and resilience of marginalized communities. We must learn from the past to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

One way to do this is to ensure that the history of the internment of Japanese Americans is properly taught in schools and other educational settings. Many students are still not exposed to this history, and some textbooks do not accurately depict the causes and effects of Executive Order 9066. By incorporating the stories of Japanese Americans into the curriculum, we can help students understand the complexities of American history, and the importance of protecting civil liberties and promoting diversity and inclusion.

Another way to learn from the legacy of Executive Order 9066 is to support policies that promote equity and justice for all individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, or national origin. This includes advocating for immigrant rights, fighting against Islamophobia and anti-Asian hate, and working to dismantle systemic racism and discrimination. It also means recognizing the contributions and value of all members of our society, and creating inclusive spaces where all people can thrive.

Finally, we can honor the legacy of Executive Order 9066 by supporting and uplifting the voices of those who have been marginalized and silenced. This includes listening to the stories and perspectives of Japanese Americans and other communities who have experienced discrimination, and working to amplify their voices and advocate for their
rights. It also means promoting diversity in our media, arts, and culture, and recognizing the value of different viewpoints and experiences.

In conclusion, the legacy of Executive Order 9066 is a painful reminder of the injustices and discrimination that can arise in times of fear and uncertainty. However, it is also a legacy of resilience, courage, and resistance, and a call to action to learn from the past and work towards a more just and equitable future.