“Carrying the Light for Justice”
February 22, 2004 San Francisco Day of Remembrance Speech

By Reverend Michael Yoshii
Buena Vista Methodist Church

Published in Nichi Bei Times, Tuesday, March 10, 2004

I want to thank the planning committee for this opportunity to address you all here today for the 2004 Day of Remembrance program. It’s a privilege to share with you some thoughts on what it means for us to remember the legacy of the camp experience and the redress movement, in the context of the world we’re living in today.

One thing that strikes me about DOR 2004 is that most of our Issei pioneers are no longer with us on this earth, and year by year, our Nisei and Kibei community are also departing from this world. I want to acknowledge the presence of my parents here today, Tad and Lily Yoshii. My father’s family was from Oakland, and were interned in Topaz, Utah. My mother’s family was from Fresno, and were interned in Jerome, Arkansas.

I know my parents, who are in relatively good health in their early 80’s have witnessed the passing of many friends and contemporaries in recent years. And as as a pastor, it is a sad reality to witness the Nisei generation gradually diminishing year by year. So at this Day of Remembrance we remember many who have departed from this world, and the experiences they have taken with them. I hope the spirits of these ancestors are with us today as we ask their blessings upon this gathering this afternoon.

The theme for this Day of Remembrance is “Carrying the Light For Justice” Generation to Generation, People to People.” What does it mean to “Carry the Light For Justice” as we reflect on this Day of Remembrance?

Honoring the Legacy of the Internment and Redress movement
One of the primary goals of the Day of Remembrance is to honor the legacy of the internment and the redress movement. We are reminded as we gather that there was a time in our history when our country was in the dark about the very truth about the internment. There was a phase in American history, when Americans wanted to pretend that it never happened. There was a time when a majority of Japanese Americans were silent as well, as our stories remained put away in some dark corner of a closet accompanied with ambiguity, shame, and unhealed wounds.

But because of those who persisted in bringing forth the truth through the redress movement, those stories have come into the light of day. When Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act on August 10, 1988, and named the wartime incarceration as a breach on the constitution, no longer was darkness casting a veil around our collective experiences, but the light of truth was breaking through like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.

When it was named that the causes for this dark blot on American history was war time hysteria, pre-existing racial prejudice, and failure of political leadership, it was to confess that war can cause darkness, racism can cause darkness, and unjust political leadership can cause darkness. But the darkness can be overcome by the presence of the light, with the help of people who bear the light.

So we come together today to remember and give thanks to all of the bearers of light who brought our experiences out of the dark recesses of anonymity and benign indifference, and into the light of history and ultimately the light of justice.

“Carrying the Light for Justice: Generation to Generation” means that the bearers of the light of justice are continually passing the torch of that light on to newer generations of light bearers. And the greatest act of gratitude for those who receive that legacy is to carry that light forward. We are already witnessing in this program today, a new generation of young people bringing forth the light of justice within the Japanese American community.

Expressing Solidarity With Others
But the redress movement was not just the accomplishment of the Japanese American community alone, but took place with critical support of those outside of the community as well. There would have been no Redress had there not been allies outside of the Japanese American community from mainstream support as well as other ethnic groups. There would have been no Redress without the historical foundation of the Civil Rights Movement which preceeded it in the 50’s and 60’s which layed a moral and ethical framework for civil rights in this country.

Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the notion that “we are caught in an inextricable web of humanity….an injustice to one is an injustice to all.” The civil rights movement was an interconnectedness of people working for a common cause of justice. Likewise, redress cannot be understood outside of the context of a larger movement for justice within the United States, and across the globe for that matter. So, as we have been the beneficiaries of the Civil Rights movement led by Black Americans, and the support of communities outside of ourselves, ought we not be in continual support of those who seek justice in their own arenas. Ought we not support those who continue to struggle in the LGBT communities for basic human dignity and equal rights? Ought we not support the voices for reparations for the African American community today? Ought we not support the status of Koreans in Japan?

And as we honor the legacy of the internment and redress movement, ought we not recognize that there is still work to be completed in the Campaign for Justice for Latin Japanese, as well as the unfinished business of those other categories of interned still seeking redress? Ought we not support ongoing efforts to establish historical educational institutions in places like Tule Lake?
In other words, the need for ongoing solidarity and support work continues to lie in front of us, not behind us. “Carrying the Light for Justice, Person to Person” means that our work is about continued coalition building, collaborative organizing, and mutual support for issues which continue to affect the creation of a just world.

The Need for Ongoing Education About the Internment
As we speak about carrying forth the light into a new day, the need for ongoing education about the incarceration and even the redress movement also continues to be important. For in the minds of young people today, 1988 is probably a year an average high school student might remember as the year of their birth. That’s recent history…..but 1941, that’s ancient history!

I was at a local high school group this past week to share slides about the internment experience to a multi-cultural student training program. And when asked the question, “How many have heard of the internment of Japanese Americans,” only two hands went up in a group of over 35. Not only were students not aware of this as part of American history, but some even asked, “Who were the Japanese?” This was not surprising from a group which ranged in ethnicities from African American, Southeast Asian, Chinese, Multi-Racial, Latino, African Eritrean, and Middle Easterners.

Showing a few slides of the internment, most were shocked by the brief slides they saw, but it was also striking to see that their lives did not include an awareness of the Japanese American experience. I also previewed the film that we have seen today, “Caught in Between,” by Lina Hoshino. After viewing the film, one of the students from an Afghani Muslim background, clearly making a connection shared the story of a family friend who was missing from his family after “special registrations” took place after 9/11. After some time of anxiety and concern, they found out that he had been deported to Pakistan. They insist there were no terrorist ties. The students were in disbelief that this was happening. Stories were connecting people to people.

Telling the Story in a Changing World
We need to continually tell the Japanese American story, but the context and meaning of that story telling has changed dramatically since 9/11.

As we have seen in the film, our stories are now being lifted up out of the past and into the present context, to help bring forth light to the darkness that is surrounding Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities in today’s post 9/11 world. While we can take some solace in the fact that the legacy of the internment and redress has been a helpful reference point for those supporting the civil liberties of the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities…. and we find many referring to the Japanese American experiences as a caveat towards what we do not want to have happen to those now “caught in between”…..The sad reality is that this is not enough!
The same factors of wartime hysteria, racial prejudice, and lack of political leadership which led to the passage of Executive Order 9066 as an urgent “military necessity,” …..these same factors have contributed to the quick passage of the Patriot Act and Homeland Security measures leading to “special registrations” as necessary for our “national security.”

The detention and deportation of hundreds of people, and slated deportations for hundreds more are hauntingly too similar to the stories of those who were separated from loved ones during the days following Pearl Harbor.

And like those stories of Japanese Americans which went unheard when they took place during World War II, today, these stories remain in the dark. We need more bearers of the light to bring forth the truth. We need more bearers of light to bring forth justice.

One of the challenges that we face today is that we seem to be in an unending war.
And one in which the hysteria is easily whipped up by instant warnings of “Orange Alert.” While there was an end to World War II, the so-called “War on Terrorism” can go on for years, as we have heard our President state. And inasmuch as the invasion of Iraq has surfaced Saddam Hussain, we have to ask questions about this war.

Whether we are from families who had members serve bravely in the military, or
whether we are from families whose members were resisters to unconstitutional practices, we all share a common sentiment as people “caught in between” a world at war. And that is war is not good for anyone.

So, it is incumbent upon all of us to ask questions about why we go to war and what type of war we’re fighting. We need to be safe from terrorism, but why have we gone to war in Iraq when there were no substantial ties between Saddam Hussain and Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network? When we were told that it was necessary for a pre-emptive invasion to Iraq, against the wishes of the United Nations and the international community, there was no public debate about the fact there had been advocates for “regime change” in Iraq long before 9/11. We were initially told that locating “weapons of mass destruction” were the key to our national security. But now we learn from our own inspectors that there were no weapons of mass destruction to be found. The light of truth is gradually coming forth. For a community that has been victimized by war, we have a unique perspective on what it means to work for peace.

Community Solidarity and Unity

If there is one thing the legacy of the Redress Movement tells us is that there is power in the spirit of community, and power in people who are united by a common cause and purpose.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We cannot remove darkness with more darkness, we can only remove darkness with the light.” And when we have multiple bearers of light coming together in the spirit of community, the light from each one of us builds upon one another. More light increases the light. Your light gives me light and my light gives you light. But I will not receive light from your darkness. Nor will you from mine.

Our light can fuel one another because in the spirit of community and the spirit of unity, the dark day can be overcome.

So, this is the invitation to be involved if you have not been involved in the past. Get involved in an organization. Work to continue the legacy of the redress movement. And a word to the weary, for those who have been involved for years and have grown tired of the struggle. It is time to be renewed by the presence of new persons who carry forth the light of justice.

Carry the Light for Justice Into a New Day
So as you go forth from this Day of Remembrance may you “Carry the Light for Justice from Generation to Generation” …so that the story may continue to be told, and so that the story may never grow old. May the heart of our ancestors be our source of our light, our blessing and our support.

May you “Carry the Light for justice from People to People” remembering that an injustice to one is injustice to all

May you “Carry the Light for Justice” into a new day knowing that in the Spirit of Community, the light will increase because…

We are the bearers of the light!
We are the bearers of the light!
We are the bearers of the light!




Contact: Campaign for Justice