Editor’s Note: The following is the text of a speech by Craig Ishii, Regional Director, Pacific Southwest District, Japanese American Citizens League, at the 39th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage on April 26, 2008.
I wanted to first thank the Manzanar Committee and Darrell Kunitomi for inviting me to speak. I’ve been coming to the Pilgrimage for the last four years so it’s an honor to be able to speak.
Now we’re here to honor and commemorate the struggles of the past. But what I thought that I’d just speak about briefly today is about what do those words, “honor” and “commemorate” mean to this generation? This is a generation that isn’t all Yonsei anymore and isn’t purely Japanese, but hapa, and shin-Nisei. So what does that mean to us?
My grandma passed away recently and although I told myself for years that I would ask her about camp, I waited too long. But I still tell myself that, nevertheless, even if I don’t know her exact story, I still stand on her shoulders and I still have gratitude for the experiences she’s endured.
My grandma was pretty awesome, and in so many ways similar to many of our family members. Great cook, very caring. But she was quiet about camp. She seemed to hold that “shi kata ga nai” attitude. And I more or less accepted it.
But then I ask myself how do I honor that?
For us, the real way to honor and to show gratitude for the folks who preceded us, for the folks who struggled and for the folks endured, is not just by commemorating, but by taking their legacy and applying it to the now.
By becoming active and standing up for issues that affect us now, we honor the legacy of our Nisei, Issei and also very important, our Sansei.
I’m going to repeat that: By becoming active and standing up for issues that affect us now, we honor their legacy.
We have property that is being sold in Little Tokyo, this was the community of our pioneers, this holds their stories, and their experiences. We honor their legacy by keeping Little Tokyo alive and insuring that the businesses, the developers and the people speak to the community.
We have folks who were involved in World War II, Japanese Latin Americans, Filipino American Veterans amongst many more who have not received the proper redress and reparations that they deserve. We honor their legacy by continuing to fight for those government reparations in solidarity.
We have issues that affect our larger API community. Issues of unfair access to health care, and limited ability to talk with doctors, or report hate crimes because of language barriers. There are even impending issues of California losing affordable housing with the propositions in the upcoming election.
On top of that, we even have issues where we don’t know exactly where our community is hurting because we don’t have proper numbers and our community doesn’t know where it stands!
These are real issues and they’re huge!!
So once again, for us to really honor and show our gratitude for the pioneers who first came to the country, for the generation who fought and resisted during World War II, and for the pioneers of civil rights and Asian American Studies and beyond, the real way to honor them is to move forward and use their legacy to move into the future.
We thank all of the folks who came before us, we stand on your shoulders. So as a community let’s take the next step. Lets stay active in J-Town, let’s be part of the non-profits there. Let’s push ourselves to learn about issues that affect the greater API community so that we can stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters.
Only then, we can truly say thank you. And so I hope that for the folks here today we can make that commitment, the commitment to learn.
This has been an awesome Pilgrimage and it was once again an honor to speak. Thank you.
The views expressed in this entry are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.
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