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Book Review -- Righting Canada’s Wrongs series: Japanese Canadian Internment in the Second World War

September 22, 1988 is a day that I will remember fondly as it was the culmination of efforts by many Japanese Canadians who sought justice for the wartime violations from the Federal Government.”

             —Former National Association of Japanese Canadians president
                and Redress leader, Art Miki, from “The Bulletin”, August 2012.

As a Japanese Canadian, what is most alarming to me these days is that our World War Two internment story is beginning to be “forgotten” and with it, the stories of the Issei, the first JCs, as well as the remarkable post-war ones of the Nisei who prevailed against all of the odds.

When my interest in the Nikkei community was first piqued around 20 years ago, I was looking for, but couldn’t find, many of the kinds of stories that would fill in the blanks of who I am. Even back then, they were disappearing at an alarming rate. Even with some remarkable works that tell part of our story, our’s is still a rapidly vanishing one.

Now, as a teacher, I know that there are many Nikkei educators out there. We are, perhaps, the best placed people to educate young Canadians about our history. If you aren’t doing so already I would challenge you to consider making it part of your practice.

Even as I write this, it does strike me as “odd” that our cultural centres and associations aren’t more actively engaged with school boards, for example, advocating for more opportunities during Asian History Month (May) to educate Canadians about our remarkable and compelling stories.

My goodness, even my well educated teaching colleagues tell me they weren’t even aware that JCs were rounded up, property seized, imprisoned for the duration of World War Two, and even prohibited from moving back to the BC coast until 1949.

If there is hope, and I am ultimately an optimist, it is with the kids. Education is the key.

Righting Canada’s Wrong…

To those of you who are teachers (by profession or at heart) then, I want to draw your attention to this important book by Pamela Hickman and Masako Fukawa: Japanese Canadian Internment in the Second World War in the Righting Canada’s Wrongs series.

The presentation of material is an effective one that revolves around the stories of five Nisei internment survivors: Mary Ohara who lived on Salt Spring Island, BC; June Fujiyama of Cumberland, BC; Akira Horii who lived in Vancouver’s Japantown; Mary (nee Haraga) Okabe of the Fraser Valley, BC; and Mickey (Nakashima) Tanaka whose family was from Mission, BC.

The large, picture book format design will appeal to the middle and high school age audience. Included are a lot of large pictures, colour, and captions; there is not a lot of text. The book follows JC history in chronological order from 19-year-old Manzo Nagano, acknowledged as the first JC immigrant in 1877, focuses on the internment and up to the 1988 Redress Agreement. All in all, it is a good introduction to JC history.

Indeed, when I open the “Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8” document, there are abundant opportunities to connect the JC experience into our teaching. For example, “Aspects of Citizenship and Government in Canada” (grade 5); “Canada’s Links to the World” (grade 6); “The Development of Western Canada and A Changing Society” (grade 8); all afford a myriad of personal entry points into the discussion of the important role Japanese Canadians have had and continue to have in the on-going evolution of this country.

Did You Know?

*The “Gentlemen’s Agreement” (1908) limited immigration from Japan to 150.

*In the Vancouver Riot (1907), about 9,000 whites attacked Vancouver’s Chinatown and Japantown.

*In World War One, Japanese Canadians were not allowed to enlist in the army in British Columbia even though they were allowed to do so in every other province in Canada. One hundred and ninety-six went to Alberta to enlist; 54 died fighting for Canada. There is a monument to these Canadian heroes in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

*In World War Two, Japanese Canadians were not allowed to enlist in the army until near the end of the war. (Nisei Jack Nakamoto successfully enlisted in the army in Quebec City after trying all across the country. He is the only Canadian nisei who saw active duty in Europe.)

*In 1900, The Japanese Hospital in Steveston, B.C., started one of the first medical insurance programs in Canada.

As Nikkei educators, each one of us touches the lives of hundreds of students over our careers. And, we, more than any profession, are best placed to educate Canada about our experience.

Indeed, every day during the school year, I remind my students that it is important to attend their Mandarin, Korean, Arabic, Urdu, Serbian, Russian, Romanian, or any other second or third language classes that they attend as this will make them better Canadians.

I’m also sure to tell them that when my parents were about their age that the government closed the Japanese language schools in Vancouver.

Japanese Canadians know more than most immigrant groups that the freedoms that we enjoy today were fought for by a lot of courageous people.

As with many books that address JC history, the periods between internment and redress, then the post-redress era are essentially glanced over. These are periods in our history that deserve more attention, in particular, the stories of those children who had no choice about going to war torn Japan. I also found the absence of some important names from pictures like the New Canadian’s Frank Moritsugu who still writes for the Nikkei Voice in Toronto to be an oversight.

Cultivating Nikkei Pride

Do young Japanese Canadians really need to know about their ethnic heritage and, in particular, the internment experience? Of course they do; we, in fact, have a lot to be proud about: our unflagging loyalty to Canada as well as our accomplishments in medicine, science, education, law, and sports.

Surely, in the twentieth century story of the fight against racism and for civil rights, our struggles contain important lessons that all other immigrant groups can learn from.

With the 25th anniversary of the Redress Agreement approaching on September 22nd, it is an appropriate time to reflect on how we can instill more of our Japanese Canadian selves and the greater sense of human rights and justice into your classrooms.

As educators, I’d like to challenge you all to seriously consider what the value of sharing our community’s rich history and human rights struggles with our students and wider community might be?

On this, the 25th anniversary of Redress, I find myself saying, “Surely, Redress was about more than that cheque and official apology, wasn’t it?

And, dare I ask, “Has justice truly been done?” And, “What, if anything, is now left over for our youth?

If future generations of JCs are going to have a well grounded and healthy sense of themselves as Canadians of Japanese descent, then it is imperative that they know about where they have come from and how they got here. Sadly, even in 2013, my overwhelming sense is that our youth still don’t have much of a clue about who they are as Canadians of Japanese descent.

As a teacher, then, how much of your JC self will you dare to share with your students this new school year?

Japanese Canadian Internment in the Second World War
by Pamela Hickman and Masako Fukawa
ISBN-10: 1-55277-853-3
ISBN-13: 978-1-55277-853-1
Publisher: James Lorimer & Company Ltd., 2011
160 pages, $34.95 (CDN)

© 2013 Norm Ibuki

Art Miki Canada education incarceration internment Japanese Canadian redress September 22, 1988 teachers World War II