by Lorene Oikawa
The Asian Canadian community came out to the 20th Anniversary explorASIAN gala on June 11th to celebrate the success of this year’s Vancouver Asian Heritage Month events. The Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society which is the organization behind explorASIAN hosted a wonderful evening to honour the Japanese Canadian community. Three of the leaders in our community received special acknowledgement: Grace Eiko Thomson, and Mary and Tosh Kitagawa. They are a part of the GVJCCA family and their names are well-known to The Bulletin – Geppo readers. Thanks to Grace who curated important exhibits such as Levelling the Playing Field: Legacy of Vancouver’s Asahi Baseball Team, and is a co-founder of the Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society. Thanks to Mary and Tosh’s work, the Japanese Canadian UBC students who were forced to leave in 1942 finally got their degrees. These are only a few highlights of their many accomplishments.
The GVJCCA was also recognized with a Community Builder Award. I was honoured to receive the award on behalf of the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association.
I posed the question, who is the GVJCCA? I pointed to the board, our human rights committee, our young leaders committee, our volunteers, our members, our supporters, and the Japanese Canadian community including many Nikkei groups we work with. We are a big extended family.
I also responded by sharing our mandate, a non-profit organization that builds communities and advocates for social justice primarily for people in Canada of Japanese heritage and their families. We were founded in 1952 and in 1958 we started publishing The Bulletin – Geppo, a journal of Japanese Canadian community, history and culture. We represent Japanese Canadians in the Metro Vancouver region and we represent the “home and heart” of Japanese Canadians because of the strong historical ties to this area. We were here when Japanese Canadians returned home.
To know us you also need to know the history of Japanese Canadians. I provided some of the highlights of Japanese Canadians in British Columbia with a reminder that not all Japanese Canadians were fishers. For example, my mother’s side of the family came from Japan in the 1800s and worked in the mines in Cumberland. From the Oikawa journal I shared the story of the 1907 anti-Asian riots. I also shared the story of the forced removal of 22,000 Japanese Canadians and their incarceration, and the confiscation of their homes, businesses, farms, land, vehicles, fishing boats, and possessions. The injustice was compounded when Japanese Canadians were not allowed to return to the west coast until April 1, 1949, four years after the war ended, and also not allowed to vote in BC until that year.
Japanese Canadian history is BC history. The GVJCCA organizes forums, workshops, conferences, walking tours, and just launched a book, Honouring Our People: Breaking the Silence, to help people understand how historical injustice relates to today and the important lesson of not repeating the racist acts. We look forward to working with our community and the provincial government to gather and implement ideas about preserving and using our stories for education. We will also be taking the opportunity to engage with people during the 75th anniversary of internment in 2017.
Our work is also about connections with other communities, because racist attacks are not limited to our community. After 9-11, Japanese Canadians were shocked to see Muslims unfairly targeted as terrorists just like Japanese Canadians were once labelled enemy aliens. With the recent shooting in Orlando, the targeting of Muslims continues as we also stand with the LGBTQ2 community. We are also working to stop the long standing injustice against Indigenous people.
I accepted the honour for the GVJCCA on behalf of our Japanese Canadian community, our ancestors who came to this country, and the 22,000 Japanese Canadians who suffered, those who survived and thrived to make a better life for us. They provide the impetus for our work. We will continue our work for Japanese Canadians and all Canadians, because a just inclusive society benefits us all.
Our work does continue, with one change, and a few new faces helping out this summer. Besides being the president of the GVJCCA, I’ve been the chair of the GVJCCA Human Rights Committee for about two years, and a member of the committee for about eight years. I’m handing over the reins of the committee to Judy Hanazawa who is no stranger to human rights and a former committee chair. Thanks to Judy for taking on the work, and I will continue to participate in the committee and am still working on a number of our projects including an updated human rights guide which will be posted on our website.
We have a few new faces at our GVJCCA office at Nikkei Place. We are pleased to have three talented students working for us this summer. Xavier Bryant is our Event Coordinator, Eleanor Panno is our Communications Administrator, and Nathan Yeo is our Archival Assistant. They are already hard at work and you’ll see them on July 30th and 31st at our annual wild salmon barbeque and Musubi SPAM sushi food booth, and our community booth at the 40th Powell Street Festival.
I was talking to one of our long time JCCA volunteers and she said the wild salmon barbeque was such a successful fundraiser when they started it in the 1980s. She said, “everyone craved the taste of the fresh grilled fish and it’s been a staple of the festival ever since. Now, grandparents bring their grandchildren.” Don’t miss out on this Japanese Canadian tradition.