I come today to pay tribute to the Tuna Canyon traveling exhibit.
In fact, I’ve done that earlier this week, at the Emperor’s birthday reception, and hesitated to bore you with another speech.
But my wife, with her usual attention to detail, prompted me to repeat the message.
Because she pointed out a short letter to the editor of the LA Times, written by a certain gentleman from greater Los Angeles, published on Pearl Harbor day. It states the following:
“The fear of a Japanese invasion of the West Coast was palpable after December 7.”
It also points out that the Chinese leadership was “quite effective in marshaling pro-Chinese feelings here. Even children were aware of the Rape of Nanking, thanks to the ‘Horrors of War’ bubblegum cards.”
Fear is cause of defensive attack, and bubblegum cards were intended to fuel such fear. But does fear justify rounding up an entire group of people, just because of their common ancestry?
The letter states:
“Today, when we indulge in self-criticism over the unjustified internment of Japanese Americans, we do so without acknowledging the context in which it occurred.”
“Context”. Does context justify targeting precisely those who came all the way from far corners of the Earth, believing in the promise of this country, with a single wish to become fellow Americans?
This letter shows us there still are those who do not understand what causes discrimination, who are not aware what constitutes defamation. This is why we need to remind ourselves, in the form of institutions like JANM which hosts this exhibit and today’s event.
JANM does a careful job of not returning hate by hate; the narrative of hate constantly hits contemporaries, and affects contemporaries of the next generation. Instead, JANM does exactly what Hiroshima does, not of highlighting grievance of a past event, not of demanding acknowledgment from a present generation, but of acting together for one objective towards a future world.
This is the message that was echoed by President Obama’s letter of appreciation to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which by the way is a peace memorial, not a war memorial, late last month. This is the message that will be resonated by Prime Minister Abe’s visit, shoulder to shoulder with his American counterpart, to Pearl Harbor later this year.
Let us not install monuments around ourselves, designed to solidify hate. Let us not build walls around our hearts, only to trap us inside our own echo chambers. Let us instead, as the Constitution of UNESCO urges, construct defenses of peace in our minds, to free ourselves from self righteousness and prejudice, from suspicion and mistrust. And let us begin here, from today’s opening event of “Only the Oaks Remain”.
Spoken at the Tuna Canyon Detention Station opening ceremonies at JANM on December 10, 2016