by Lorene Oikawa
As we publish this edition of The Bulletin/Geppo, we are preparing for Asian Heritage Month, the annual celebration of Asian Canadian arts, culture, and heritage.
The April 16th opening event at the Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre, the SFU campus at the old Woodward’s building, provided a great sampling of dance, music, art, and poetry that we will get to experience during the month of May. The beating of taiko drums, and the plucking of the strings of the koto was a wonderful prelude to this year’s tribute to the Japanese Canadian community.
I shared with the audience that I am a yonsei, a fourth generation Canadian. The roots of my family in British Columbia go back to the 1800s when my family made an arduous two-month-long journey from Japan. My family’s journey to Canada is similar to many immigrants who seek a better life in this country. There are many stories that aren’t well known even to their families, of the men who arrived to work in the mines in places like Cumberland on Vancouver Island, and to work in the fishing industry.
By the 1900s there were about 5,000 Japanese Canadians, men and women, many in Steveston, and about four blocks west of the old Woodward’s building there was a growing and thriving community around Powell Street near what we know as Oppenheimer Park. In that park some baseball history was being made. A team called the Vancouver Asahi played smart and won against their larger opponents. My grandfather was a pitcher for the Asahi.
Besides sharing my personal connection to the area, I also let the audience know that the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association represents Japanese Canadians which includes multi-generational individuals and families as well as newer immigrants from Japan. The Japanese Canadian community is about ten times the population of the 1900s – so not huge in numbers, but with an extensive history in this city and province.
The Asian Heritage Month Society is providing an opportunity through the sharing of arts and culture to gain a better understanding of the journeys of many Asian Canadians and learn about the hardships and racism they faced in Canada such as the incarceration and forced dispersal of Japanese Canadians during World War II. With the greater understanding of our history we are better able to build inclusive and welcoming communities. With the Asian Heritage Month Society, the GVJCCA invites everyone to join us and other Asian Canadian communities to celebrate and discover the beautiful diversity, and the range of arts and culture we have in Vancouver, traditional unceded Coast Salish territory.
In The Bulletin/Geppo, you will see the events highlighted by explorASIAN for this year’s Asian Heritage Month including a history walking tour that City of Vancouver Councillor Geoff Meggs and I will be leading on May 7, and the Legacy of Redress Forum organized by the GVJCCA Human Rights Committee on May 14. Both events are free and open to the public. We encourage survivors and their families to attend the Legacy of Redress Forum to share their stories about the incarceration and forced dispersal of Japanese Canadians. We want to hear what does the legacy of redress mean for you and your family. Please register before each event by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 604.777.5222.
In 2009, we discovered and documented some of the stories of the internment at our Honouring Our People conference. I am pleased to let you know that the GVJCCA has produced a book sharing some of the stories from the conference. We hope the stories will inspire others to seek out their family stories and share them, and encourage a deeper understanding of the history of Japanese Canadians. The book launch is on June 4 at 2 p.m. at Nikkei Place and we will have books available to purchase. The books are $20, and at the book launch we will have a launch special of two books for $30. We will accept cash and cheques.
All of this information is also posted on our new website, www.gvjcca.org. Join us on May 21 at 11 a.m. at Nikkei Place for a special website launch. Drop by and meet with GVJCCA board members, enjoy some refreshments, and get a quick introduction to our new website.
We have lots to tell you about and we are working on different ways to connect with the community. Let us know what you think.