Day of Remembrance
Out of the darkness rolled the sounding drums, calling out voices of identity and shared fellowship. A single heartbeat spread its threads out weaving and combining into the tapestry of identity. Picked up by each of the different groups, the murmur became a song, the song a battle cry, proclaiming loudly, "We are immigrants, Asian Pacific Islanders, and proud, and we will not be ignored in our fight for justice!"
Thus began the 13th Annual Day of Remembrance put forward by the National Coalition for Redress and Reparations (NCRR), and co-sponsored by Korean Immigrant Worker's Advocates (KIWA), East West Community Partnership, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights-Los Angeles (CHIRLA), and UCI's Nikkei group, Tomo-no-kai. The event, marking the 52nd anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, which put 120,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps in 1942, took up the theme this year of "Our Immigrant Heritage: A Struggle for Justice." Through a diversity of different media, from slideshows to speakers, from drama to poetry and music, the event embraced the diversity of Pan-Asian America to collectively deal with the topic of our common threads in America, along with the need to continue fighting against those forces which threaten the future of immigrants today.
Following a powerful drum set by UCI's Jodaiko Taiko group, UCLA's Korean Cultural Awareness Group, and the Pilipino Bibak Dance Ensemble, the event went on to a description of NCRR's events of the past year. From working on providing redress for those victims of the internment process that haven't as yet received payment, to organizing and aiding in a joint protest with MANAA, the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, to boycott the "Rising Sun" movie with its blatantly stereotypical and racist depiction of Asian Pacific Islanders, NCRR has remained quite active in the last year. Even further, NCRR members participated in co-sponsoring a reception for the Korean residents of Utoro, Japan, who seek reparations from Nissan Motor Corp., and from the Japanese government, helped youths organize and form the Alliance Working for Asian Rights and Empowerment (AWARE), in protest of the police practice of photographing suspected API gang members, and finally helped senior citizens in the downtown L.A. Little Tokyo Towers organize for better living conditions.
After the NCRR presentation, Angelo Ancheta of CHIRLA made a presentation on the entire topic of immigration stating that, in a sense, the American public has "come full circle" in its take on immigration, with current policy decisions reflecting the repressive policies of the past with its movement to deny citizenship to children born of illegal immigrants, remove or cutback social, vocational, and educational funding for immigrants, and increase the oppressive policing policies of the Border Patrol and INS programs. Ancheta stressed the importance of identifying and recognizing the socio-political and historical aspects of the current push against immigrants in America.
A series of short vignettes followed Ancheta, detailing the experience of Vietnamese, Pilipino, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese immigrants in the U.S. through a variety of different media. The presentation on Vietnamese American immigrants proved especially moving in its slideshow portrayal of the refugee experience and the conditions that still plague refugees fleeing from Southeast Asia for sanctuary today, both in the dangers of sea travels, and the impoverished conditions often awaiting them in refugee camps. "I thought the vignette was a powerful moving portrait of the hardships that the refugees had gone through," senior Sunny Le said, "The images that were shown mirrored much of what my family experienced from 1975, from boarding the boat, being exposed to disease, owning nothing of value, and experiencing the alienation of settling in a town in America where we had no other Vietnamese Americans to support us." In a combination of music and poetry, the Pilipino American presentation gave an impassioned and powerful depiction of Pilipino identity and history, and detailed a strong affirmation of ethnic pride. As senior John Delloro stated, "It successfully related the experiences of being a Pilipino American in all three time frames, past, present, and future." For the Chinese American population, the vignette consisted of a series of poems read from Angel Island, and a slideshow presentation of the historical conditions of their community, eventually leading into a discussion of their current condition in the US As senior Julia Lau said, "I thought the story of young and old showed the diversity of Chinese American experience." In the Korean American presentation, the specific circumstances of their immigrant population were masterfully detailed through drum-accompanied poetry, and a slide presentation of common working conditions awaiting laborers. "It was very moving and personal to me because my mom is an immigrant worker," senior Alyssa Kang said, "Immigrant workers are the backbone of our community, and we as 2nd generation APIs have benefited from the fruits of their labor." Finally, the Japanese American presentation, through drama and poetry, addressed many of the issues of identity and place in the US that confront the Nikkei population today.
Following the vignettes, Glenn Omatsu, from the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, spoke of the need to tie in API concerns with the concerns of other People of Color, to focus attention on corporate accountability for the conditions leading to the current backlash against immigration, and to draw a class analysis, as well as a racial analysis, in an evaluation of the current state of immigrants in America today. As Omatsu related, "Historically, big business has recruited immigrants as a source of cheap labor but has never been concerned with their rights." Through these analyses he focused attention on the importance of recognizing the ways in which global corporations fuel the diaspora of immigrants around the world, while drawing in the manner in which racism and the lessening of human rights in America add to the current push against immigrants. Finally, Omatsu offered several avenues in which APIs can act to protect the rights of their fellow workers, citing the recent campaigns to unionize the New Otani Hotel in Los Angeles and to protest against the Jessica McClintock company in order to obtain the payment of back wages for 12 Chinese immigrant garment workers in the San Francisco Bay Area. By standing in solidarity with these campaigns, Omatsu argues, as well as providing "widespread education within our own community about these basic issues" of protecting immigrants, fighting racism, and focusing on corporate accountability, Omatsu offered a solid solution to the current immigration situation.
Following Omatsu's presentation, the Cambodian population received recognition, with Master Ponn Yinn playing a flute to accompany the poetry of Chantara Nop. The flute Yinn played on carried added symbolism, since he had fashioned it from the handlebars of the bicycle he had used to escape from his prison camp, and the significance of this increased its melodic power in accenting the poetry read over the stage.
Finally, NCRR presented its Fighting Spirit Award (designed to recognize "individuals who have dedicated themselves to the fight for Justice") to James Matsumoto Omura, a courageous journalist, who, during the 40's, stood firm in his commitment to journalistic integrity in reporting in the Rocky Shimpo on those Nikkei members of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee who resisted the draft in protest of the unjust conditions that their families were undergoing as a result of the internment process. Facing trumped up criminal charges and a subsequent blacklisting in the Nikkei community, the award helped to vindicate the work that he had done, and the tremendous struggle he had to endure, in order to maintain his integrity.
Overall, the program had been powerful, reaffirming, and educational. From its various approaches, from its speakers to its cultural vignettes and performance pieces, the Day of Remembrance proved its power and worth, not only in addressing the Nikkei community's history and current struggles, but also in describing the common threads that tie all Asian Pacific Islander communities in America together today, and the threats to our fellow immigrant relatives that threaten the very constitutional rights on which this country was born. The drums still beat on, rallying the people together for the battles that still need to be fought and describing the routes available to us to change the face of America today.
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