President Lorene Oikawa’s Message – July 2017

I was asked what I love about Canada. I adore our home and native land, majestic mountains, rain forest, pristine water, and northern lights, but we are more than our amazing nature. My love for our country is really about the people. From First Peoples to Settlers, our diversity is what defines us and makes us strong. Our history is not without blemish. We must remember the historical injustices along with the good. We need to learn from our history so that we become resistant to hateful messages and we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. Embracing diversity and creating an inclusive history of Canada will make us even stronger, and we will be a more resilient country.

On this Canada Day and throughout the year, especially since it is the 150th anniversary of Confederation and the 75th anniversary of the uprooting, dispossession, and internment/incarceration of Japanese Canadians, we must remember our ancestors. The first documented arrival from Japan was 140 years ago, but there are stories of earlier contact.

Some indigenous oral history told to me by a friend, recalls visitors who were from far away, and yet, bore a resemblance to First Peoples. She thinks it was travellers from Japan. The history of First Peoples is a lot longer than settlers’ history, and we have much to learn.

During the festivities of Canada Day, 150 is being highlighted, but we must acknowledge it’s only a small part of the true history of Canada which is closer to 15,000 years. Indigenous peoples had their own communities and culture long before settlers arrived. 150 years has a very different meaning for them, because colonization has meant the destruction of their way of life.

We are using the hashtags #Canada150 #Canada150plus and #Canada15000 to show respect and acknowledge the history before Confederation. Just as we are calling out for people to remember our Japanese Canadian ancestors and other racialized settlers, we share the call from indigenous peoples for reconciliation.

Some Japanese Canadian pioneer stories were featured in our Discover the Stories of Japanese Canadians in Surrey event in May. We also encouraged the documenting of your family stories. We are profiling some of the Surrey stories in upcoming issues of The Bulletin. You can read Part 2 in this edition of The Bulletin.

If you are spending time with family during the summer, make a special effort to seek out your family stories especially from the older generations, and record them. Don’t wait for the perfect time, just do it now, because you may not get another opportunity. You can use your smart phone and film their responses. Ask them about their childhood. Ask them about their parents, and grandparents. Do it for your family and do it for our community. Too many times we regret not recording the story and we say we thought we had more time with them.

Sharing our stories can help people to understand the long history of Japanese Canadians and their contributions to our province and country, and the historical injustices against Japanese Canadians and why it must not be repeated.

In June, Statistics Canada released alarming data about a 60% increase in hate crimes against Muslims in Canada. Overall, hate crimes have increased about 5% and violent hate crime offenses have increased 15% in 2015. Although the number of incidents against Jewish Canadians decreased for the same period, Jewish Canadians are the most targeted group based on religion. With the reports of increasing incidents in the past year, it is very disturbing to think that what was shocking for 2015 will probably be eclipsed by the next set of numbers.

We need to speak up when we hear the kind of fear mongering that encourages the hateful attacks against a group of people. Recently, a former Canadian ambassador, Martin Collacott, penned an opinion column in the Vancouver Sun lamenting the numbers of non-white immigrants and how they will replace the white population.

I tweeted a response “An opinion that reminds me of the anti-Asian rhetoric in 1942” and a reminder that it’s the 75th anniversary of Internment, and I was quoted in one news article. There were others who also responded and pointed out that the author, who is a senior fellow at the right wing Fraser Institute, was misleading the public by expressing sentiments of a particular group rather than factual evidence. For example, he is trying to blame increased traffic on non-white immigration. One SFU professor posed the question, if the immigrants were white then would there be the same reaction.

If you know our stories, then you would recognize sentiments such as “Whites are being outnumbered” and “Non-white immigrants are taking our jobs, draining our services,” are lines that could have been lifted from 1942.

In the US, President Trump has tried to perpetuate racism with an attempted banning of Muslims from six countries. An appeals court has ruled against the ban. Trump is fighting the ruling citing concerns about terrorism. It’s the rationale that was used for the incarceration of Japanese Americans and Canadians. Except back then it was said that they were enemy aliens which was refuted (although not publicly) by the head of the RCMP and Canadian military. In 1942, 22,000 innocent Canadians, children, women and men, were uprooted, dispossessed, and incarcerated based on fear mongering and not any evidence.

So when someone says to you, “why do we need to know the stories of Japanese Canadians, it’s all in the past,” you can let them know that the ugly racist rhetoric is being used in 2017 and unless we speak out now, it will be too late to stop it.

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I had the honour of addressing and congratulating the students at their graduation ceremony at the Vancouver Japanese Language School last month. I would also like to reiterate thanks to the parents and teachers who have been guiding the students on their journey. I took the opportunity to remind the students to learn their history and share the stories so they can effect positive change in the world.

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We are grateful for receiving Canada Summer Job funding and we will have three students who will be working for the GVJCCA during the summer. They will be a big help with our annual Wild Salmon BBQ and Musubi Food Booth and Community Booth at the Powell Street Festival on August 5 & 6. Please drop by. It’s our major fundraiser for the year so not only will you enjoy delicious fresh salmon and SPAM sushi, you are helping us with our important work such as producing The Bulletin and working to stop racism.

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Our work is as important today as when we formally started this iteration of the organization 65 years ago. I was looking at some old Bulletin magazines from 1977, the centennial year recognizing the 100th anniversary of the first documented Japanese immigrant to Canada, and I came across the description of the work of the JCCA. It talks about first forming to look at the “many legal injustices prevailing against the Japanese Canadians and of combatting widespread racial discrimination.” In 1977, “the Association continues today to function as a watchdog of minority-rights, as a voice representing the Japanese Canadian community and as a central organization initiating and coordinating community-related activities and programs.” It’s a good reminder of the work we must continue to do especially during these uncertain political times.