Mako Nakagawa Delivers Keynote Address At 42nd Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage

The following is the text of the keynote address delivered at the 42nd Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage on April 30, 2011, by Mako Nakagawa.

Good afternoon.

I am very pleased to be able to join you on this wonderful occasion. We stand here today on sacred ground. If we listen, we can hear the cries of pain and agony, feel the confusion and worries, soak in the laughter and hope, and be touched by the strife to maintain collective dignity and courage. This land holds many, many stories which we must not let fade without being recorded.

The Manzanar Committee chose four Champions of Civil Rights as the theme for this year’s Pilgrimage. These people were not born super heroes. They were simply ordinary people who managed to accomplish extraordinary feats in the protection of our civil rights who were true to themselves and true to their own unique convictions.

They had courage under pressure. Everyone here today benefited from their efforts. Some may not recognize the names of Fred Korematsu, William Hohri, Frank Emi and Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, but we are all in for a treat when we read about them in our program. Let the stories of these great role models inspire you. These three men are now deceased but their names will live on.

Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga is the only female, and the only survivor in this group. She is very much alive—and full of life. She has been that way her entire life. She claims her body is slowing down, but she certainly is not slowing down in spirit, in mind, in mouth, and in kimochi.

After going through tons of official documents, her big discovery is well-known, and will be shared coming up next on this program. But it is her more recent writing that brought me into direct contact with her. She authored, Words can Lie or Clarify. I sure wish I came up with that title.

I was involved in working with the Seattle JACL Chapter on the Power of Words (POW) resolution. Aiko and I immediately hit it off. We quickly recognized in each other the sense of urgency to replace euphemisms the US Government deliberately created in the 1940’s.

Euphemistic terms such as “evacuation” and “relocation” suggest we were victims of a natural disaster and were rescued. As “beneficiaries” of this “mercy” mission, we owe a debt to our rescuers. This is government fantasy of the 1942 incarceration. We recommend these euphemistic terms be replaced with more realistic and accurate words such as “forced removal,” “ousted,” “expulsion,” etc.

Euphemisms lead to strange distortions of facts, false notions of what truly occurred, and inaccurate assumptions regarding our incarceration during World War II. Some people on the outside actually expressed envy because they thought we were being pampered. Some actually believed, and resented, that we had steak and lobsters for dinner while the rest of America was limited to food rations.

In our POW resolution we recognized terms such as:

  • We identified Non-Aliens, Assembly Centers, Relocation Centers, and Pioneer Communities as euphemisms.
  • We urgently need to replace terms such as evacuation, relocation, internment, and Japanese Internment Camp.
  • We promoted replacement terms of “forced removal, incarceration and American concentration camps.”

So, with Aiko’s support, and the support of many others, plus a lot of hard work, the Power of Words committee was able to bring the resolution through JACL (Japanese American Citizens League). We finally made it to the top level of the National JACL Council at the Chicago Convention last summer. I am proud to announce on July 3, 2010, our resolution won the overwhelming support of the JACL Council with a vote of eighty chapters voting “yes” and only two chapters voting “no.” Even the most optimistic of us were thrilled at the approval margin. We considered it a mandate. WOW!

Among of the words listed as “preferable terms” to replace the euphemisms, is the term “American concentration camps.” As anticipated, there are some people who take issue with this term. We encourage debate and discussion of all the words identified as “targeted terms” and “preferable terms.”

The debate/discussions can serve as great learning opportunities. Education is our core goal. Open dialog, discussion, even dissension are a healthy part of the American way. Remember, the people we honor today did not shy away from speaking their piece. They did not shy away from controversy. They acted on their beliefs and insisted their voices be heard.

And now I challenge you—everyone here, but more specifically, to you young folks here today. We must do more than applaud our heroes of the past. We must do more than have a compassionate tear for those who endured the gross racial profiling and the miseries caused by the wrongful imprisonment into these American concentration camps.

What you KNOW and what you FEEL are not enough. It is what you DO that will speak to who you are. We need to not only admire those who we honor; we need to support their cause of civil rights. We need ACTION!

What can you do?

  • Write to JACL and commend the council for the bold stand passing the Power of Words resolution by such a landslide.
  • Discuss with family and friends the issue of euphemisms and their role in promoting misinformation, and non sense propaganda.
  • Write articles, papers, letters presenting where you stand on the issue.
  • Don’t shy away from the term “American concentration camp.”
  • Read more and give the literature on the terminology issue a fair hearing.
  • Encourage all the organizations for which you have contact to switch from terms considered euphemisms and misnomers and adopt terms that much more accurately describe the truth of this history.
  • Encourage JACL to stay true to their bold posture on the terminology issue.
  • Create your own new ideas to better educate ourselves and those who we still might influence.
  • Join Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, Sue Embrey, Frank Emi, Raymond Okamura, Edison Uno, Roger Daniels, Karen Ishizuka, etc., etc., etc.

We are all ordinary people who rarely strive to become extraordinary. We strive to get extraordinary progress on the issues we believe in—to make this world a better place.

Now is the time for us to take pride in who we are. Let us describe OUR experience with terms of OUR choosing, from OUR perspective, guided by OUR memories, OUR scholarship and OUR sense of integrity. We have no need to apologize, or shy away from terms expressing OUR victimization for being different from the histories of other groups.

A rose is a rose. A concentration camp is a…what [a concentration camp]? Again—A rose is a rose. A concentration camp is a…[concentration camp]!

In light of the stories coming out of the Muslim, Arab, and Sikh communities, the need to share OUR stories is ever more vital and urgent. Let us tell our stories utilizing truthful terms. Let the legacy of our experience be that it never happens again to any other group of people. Ni do to nai yoo ni. Never again. The Constitution failed us in our time of need. NEVER AGAIN!

I will close my speech now and hope you will promise to do two things.

1. Read more of what the historians/scholars/authors say about the terminology issue.

2. Take action supporting YOUR convictions.

Maybe one day I will see your name along side of the heroes we honor today. More important, we can gaze together at how we, each of us, contributed to the preservation of our civil liberties. LET US ALL BE CHAMPIONS of civil rights!

Gambare! Gambare! Gambare!

The views expressed in this story are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.

Mako Nakagawa delivered the keynote address at the 42nd Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage on April 30, 2011,at the Manzanar National Historic Site. Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.

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