“Carrying the Light for Justice”
February 22, 2004 San Francisco Day of
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
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
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
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
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
Whether we are from families who had members serve bravely in the
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
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
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
We are the bearers of the light!
We are the bearers of the light!
We are the bearers of the light!