President’s Message September 2016

by Lorene Oikawa

The long, hot days of summer are transitioning into preparation for back-to-school and the routine of fall. We say it every year, but it does seem as if time is flying by.

We were fortunate to have three wonderful, talented summer students, Xavier Bryant, Eleanor Panno, and Nathan Yeo, who put a lot of effort into our summer events such as our wild salmon barbeque and musubi food booth, and community booth at Powell Street Festival. The barbeque is our main fundraiser for the year, and requires a tremendous amount of planning and preparation. In addition to our barbeque, we also had a full schedule of events this summer including the launch of our book, Honouring Our People: Breaking the Silence, and the Hiroshima-Vancouver Peace Concert.

Most of the year, we depend upon volunteer help which means our office doesn’t have regular hours. With your donations and support, we are looking to get part-time administrative help. Starting in September, we are very pleased, one of our summer students, Xavier, who was our event coordinator, will be helping us on a limited part-time basis until we can get a permanent position in place.

This summer, we had a new communications summer student position, in addition to our event organizer, and archival assistant, and in that role, Eleanor took a lot of photos and regularly posted to social media. We have some great new photos that we will continue to share throughout the year.

Speaking of new, we hosted the first Hiroshima-Vancouver Peace Concert and welcomed performers from Japan. The concert was well received, and the delegation of 16 were very pleased with the response and our support. There was some talk about making a return trip in a year or two, and if they do return, the GVJCCA would be happy to host again. Thank you to everyone who attended and supported the concert.

The Hiroshima Goodwill Cultural Mission is a group of citizens who organized this whirlwind trip, travelling to Montreal for a concert on Sunday, August 7, which had a simultaneous performance in Hiroshima to share the connection between the sister cities. The next day they hopped on a plane, arriving in Vancouver on August 8, and I had the opportunity to spend a bit of time with some members of the delegation. For some, it was their first time to Canada, and unfortunately they did not have much time to see the city, because the concert was the next day, August 9, and then they flew home on August 10.

The concert presented the amazing talents of nationally known Japanese dancers, singers, a koto player, and an Aikido master. By sharing their traditional culture and music, it brought us together, and even if we didn’t understand the language, we understood and appreciated the art and beauty underscoring the message of peace.

Thanks to David Iwaasa for his help including providing some interpretation at the concert, Takeo Yamashiro and the Hiroshima Kenjin-kai for their support, locally based Chibi Taiko for a rousing welcome at the start, speakers, City of Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan for his welcome, Consul General Asako Okai, and former Canadian Ambassador to Japan, Joseph Caron. Thanks to Vancouver Shinpo and The Bulletin / Geppo for the special promotion of the event. Thanks to the facilities staff of the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre for their assistance. A very special thanks to the performers and the delegation leader, Yasumaro Yoshinaka, who also brought messages of peace from the Mayor of Hiroshima.  Thanks also to Katsukuni Tanaka, one of the delegation organizers, who was instrumental in making the connections to make this concert happen.

From the culture of Japan to the culture of Japanese Canadians, the GVJCCA is now helping organize our community on another initiative. In the last Bulletin we provided information from the provincial government announcement calling for nominations of Japanese Canadian historic places, but we didn’t have any other information. We do have one major concern which is the short timeline. The deadline to submit nominations is September 9. A group of Japanese Canadian organizations including the GVJCCA and Japanese Canadian individuals met on August 11 and we shared similar concerns. A letter was quickly drafted outlining our concerns, and sent to Heritage BC.

On August 18, we found out a bit more at an information session with Heritage BC, who has been contracted to do the work, and some government representatives. Individuals from our community, and people who met on August 11, reiterated concerns about the timeline. It was pointed out that because of the racist act of internment, our Japanese Canadian community was forcibly dispersed and many are no longer living in BC, and it will take time to get information to them.

On behalf of the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) and the GVJCCA, I also expressed concerns not only about the restrictive timeline, and potential for missing Japanese Canadian voices and important sites, but also about the care and attention given to the language used to describe Japanese Canadians.

In one of the promotional materials, “Japanese community” caught my eye and the eyes of some of our seniors. The omission of “Canadian” brings back bad memories. During World War II, the government labelled Japanese Canadians as enemy aliens, stripping their citizens of their Canadian identity, subjecting children, women, and men to forced removal, dispossession and incarceration. Canadians of Japanese ancestry were not allowed to move back to BC nor vote until four years after the war ended. Our Japanese Canadian ancestors were determined to rebuild and successfully fought for Redress. We must continue their work and not let others use language that removes our citizenship.

A Facebook group, JC Sites BC, has been set up to share information and provide a place where we can post nominations as we hear about them. This informal tracking will help the community to spot any missing important sites. Please also see the media release posted in the Facebook group, in The Bulletin, and on the GVJCCA website. At the time the media release was produced, we received word that the government will be extending the deadline to the fall, but we have not been given a date so it’s best to nominate as many places as possible and as quickly as possible. You can also help by getting the word out. Japanese Canadian history is BC history, and recognition of Japanese Canadian sites is one step towards ensuring the contributions of Japanese Canadians are not forgotten.