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Canadian Nikkei Series

Province of BC Designates 56 Historical JC Sites: Interview with Lorene Oikawa and Sherri Kajiwara - Part 2

Shingo + Tsuchiye Kunimoto and family. Mission circa 1935

Read Part 1 >>

From my distant vantage point of Ontario, it seems that there are several initiatives out there in BC that are aimed at righting certain wrongs that Redress didn’t fully address. Any comment?

Lorene: I think being the historic “home” to Japanese Canadians we are more mindful of the injustice that happened here. Although not everyone in our community knows our history. Families typically don’t share their stories. Our stories need to be told. I remember going to Hastings Park during the summer school breaks for the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition), and seeing animals in the Livestock Barns and not having a clue that my family was incarcerated there, before being shipped to the interior of BC.

Hopefully, more people will learn about our history there. We worked with the Nikkei National Museum, and others on a community project, Hastings Park 1942, and now there is signage in the park. We are continuing to work on other elements including a website, educational resource, and an idea for an interpretive display. We are also working on a plan to document the names of all Japanese Canadians who were incarcerated there.

Can you tell us about other important issues that JC organizations in BC are working on?

Sherri: This is the first substantial initiative from the Province of BC since the verbal apology by Christy Clark’s government during the previous election year. There is currently a Parks Canada initiative to improve signage marking internment era road camps and incarceration sites in the works. The Japanese Canadian Legacy committee that was born out of the JC community coming together on the JC Heritage Places of Significance project is lobbying the Ministry of Education for stronger representation of our history in the core curriculum. These are all grassroots initiatives.

At the institutional level, the NNM is partnered on a 7-year research project called Landscapes of Injustice that is an academic look at the forced dispossession of the JC community in the 1940s. We previously partnered with lead scholars out of Queens University in Kingston, Ontario on ‘Revitalizating Japantown?’, a 3-year research project that looked at all the waves of forced dispersal from what is now known as Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) and are newly partnered with the same scholars for a new research project they’ve received funding for to continue their Right To Remain research, specifically in relation to SRO’s in the DTES.

Lorene: We, Japanese Canadians, are a smaller group than other ethnic communities, but we are very active. Many members of the GVJCCA are also working with other organizations and projects such as Landscapes of Injustice. I wear two hats as president of the GVJCCA and vice president of NAJC so I am always running into members at events, meetings and fundraisers! GVJCCA is doing a lot of outreach work.

We’ve been speaking out against the racist attacks happening in BC and across the country. Racism is not new, but since the election of US president Donald Trump, some have felt emboldened to act on their racist beliefs. Canadian Muslims are under attack, and recently there have been bomb threats targeting Jewish synagogues. GVJCCA have brought in Muslim speakers and arranged forums. We are also working with Indigenous communities. Our Japanese Canadian elders are seeing a horrible déjà vu of the racism they experienced. A Trump surrogate used the Japanese American internment as an example of what they could do against American Muslims.

What are other issues that BC’s JC organizations are tackling now?

Sherri: The biggest issue is education.

The challenge is, how to be a part of Canadian History or Social Studies education, and not just an elective at the elementary and secondary school levels. The NNM on a small scale is working to continue developing accessible, engaging resources like: TAIKEN Education; TAIKEN Video Resources; Taiken: History Mystery

And we are working to develop our online heritage offerings:

www.hastingspark1942.ca, www.tashme.ca and www.warriorspirit1916.ca

We would love to hear more from our community in the East. We do work closely with the JCCC in Toronto and encourage ongoing support for our friends there, but if there are any primary source artefacts, photos, documents, letters, etc. that are directly related to the forced dispersal and forced dispossession of 1942 and beyond, we would love to hear about them and have permission to access them for our Landscapes of Injustice project and ongoing archival work.

Lorene: We are working to build understanding, and safe, welcoming, inclusive communities. I’m organizing two GVJCCA events (listed below), and another community labour event. The GVJCCA Walking Tour, Reflections on Japanese Canadian Life & Work in the Powell Street District, takes place on May 13th in the Powell Street district of Vancouver. We will discover what life was like before the Second World War from the stories of a special guest, one of our Japanese Canadian elders, Grace Eiko Thomson.

GVJCCA Discover the Stories of Japanese Canadians in Surrey and learn how to share your family stories using poetry with Surrey Poet Laureate Renee Saklikar on May 20th at Surrey City Centre Library, from 1 to 4 p.m.

For those of us in Ontario, can you please tell us a little about the JC community that has evolved in BC in recent decades?

Lorene: There is a great number of Japanese immigrants and young children, and they do not know the history of Japanese Canadians. There are also other Ijusha newcomers who don’t know our history. There is a core group of younger Japanese Canadians in Vancouver who have been getting together for socials and getting involved in Japanese Canadian events which is hopeful.

Copy of Ottawa Star 1977 meeting the Queen

Is there a greater/growing awareness and education amongst the general population there about what Japanese Canadians went through before, during and after WW2?

Lorene: School curriculum is determined by province/territory. Unfortunately, Japanese Canadian history isn’t consistently taught in our school system. How much is taught will depend upon the teacher’s knowledge, interest, time, and access to resources.

What about the involvement/interest of younger BC Nikkei?

Lorene: “I asked one young Japanese Canadian university student why he got involved and he said there were two small paragraphs he read in school, and it only caught his attention because it’s part of his heritage. He was shocked because he never knew what happened to Japanese Canadians so he started to search out information. He said that most students would skim over it and don’t know our history.”

Our families don’t talk about what happened so a lot of us, Yonsei, or Gosei, don’t know the history of Japanese Canadians. Every time I do a presentation or speak at an event, I will have some people comment that they didn’t know about the incarceration. Even some people who say they know about the “internment” don’t really understand. I remember one person who said she knew about it, but then asked why my grandparents stayed in the interior and why they just didn’t go back to their home on Vancouver Island. I had to explain that everything was taken away from them. She didn’t believe me.

We need to be working at getting our stories included in the history of Canada, and sharing our stories. We can’t wait for someone else to do it and we can’t let someone else take our stories. These are our stories and we must make sure it’s authentic, and our voices. That’s why the GVJCCA has taken on a number of projects including the publishing of the book, Honouring Our People: Breaking the Silence which are stories from incarceration survivors, and walking tours, conferences, and forums. For more information about the book see the GVJCCA website: gvjcca.org

Read Part 3 >>

 

© 2017 Norm Ibuki

BC british columbia Canada community GVJCCA historical sites Japanese Canadian muslims NNM racism World War II

About this series

The inspiration for this new Canadian Nikkei interview series is the observance that the gulf between the pre-WW2 Japanese Canadian community and the Shin Ijusha one (post-WW2) has grown tremendously. 

Being “Nikkei” no longer means that one is only of Japanese descent anymore. It is far more likely that Nikkei today are of mixed cultural heritage with names like O’Mara or Hope, can’t speak Japanese and have varying degrees of knowledge about Japan.

It is therefore the aim of this series to pose ideas, challenge some and to engage with other like-minded Discover Nikkei followers in a meaningful discussion that will help us to better understand ourselves.

Canadian Nikkei will introduce you to many Nikkei who I have had the good fortune to come into contact with over the past 20 years here and in Japan. 

Having a common identity is what united the Issei, the first Japanese to arrive in Canada, more than 100 years ago. Even in 2014, it is the remnants of that noble community that is what still binds our community today.

Ultimately, it is the goal of this series to begin a larger online conversation that will help to inform the larger global community about who we are in 2014 and where we might be heading to in the future.