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Day of Remembrance in the Washington Legislature

Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos.

Day of Remembrance in the Washington Legislature

By David Yamaguchi, The North American Post

On President’s Day, Feb. 15, the busy Washington State House of Representatives set aside 8:30-9:30 a.m. to recognize the Day of Remembrance, Feb. 19, the date in 1942 when President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, committing West Coast Japanese Americans to internment camps during World War II.

The hour featured a Presentation of the Colors by the Nisei Veterans Committee (NVC), represented in the ceremony by Sansei veterans; the Pledge of Allegiance, by Boy Scout Troop 252, from the Seattle Buddhist Temple; a reading of House Resolution 4609, “Honoring Japanese Americans,” a 700-word summary of JA history from the 1940s to the present, a document that notably includes the names of 98 co-authoring Representatives; and speeches by Reps. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D, 37th district, S Seattle and Renton), Chris Corry (R, 14th, Yakima), Monica Stonier (D, 49th, Vancouver), and Carolyn Eslick (R; 39th, Sultan).

The remarks by Rep. Santos were the most memorable. They come across as a conversation between Sharon and John Lovick (D, 44th, Snohomish County), Speaker Pro Tem of the House. As transcribed from the tvw.org livecast at the NAP, they read,

“Thank you Mr. Speaker.

I’m very glad that we can acknowledge this day, the Day of Remembrance, especially in the midst of our busiest part of the legislative season.

Today is ‘cutoff-day,’ when we know bills are dying, and yet, we the legislature pause, in the moment of this deliberation, to remember.

Representative John Lovick, Speaker Pro Tem of the House.

Even in the midst of a remote session, when everything is so difficult and challenging, Mr. Speaker, you know that usually we have our galleries filled, with men and women, many of whom are silver haired, who trek to Olympia, in wheelchairs, using their canes, to be recognized by this body, for their efforts to prove their loyalty to this country, and their identities as Americans.

Indeed, Mr. Speaker, nothing is more fundamental to our work than our ongoing efforts… with legislators across the country, and our counterparts in… Congress, to continue the work that was set by our founding members to create ‘a more perfect union.’

Mr. Speaker, a more perfect union acknowledges that our president, our members of Congress, our governors, our legislators, are human, with human frailties and human failings. And that we rise above that, to continue to strive towards a more perfect union.

Today, Mr. Speaker, we do pause.

We pause to remember that our Nisei veterans, serving both in the 442nd/100th Battalion [and] 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, put their lives on the line, both in Europe, and in Asia, to protect our rights and to protect our freedoms.

They lost lives. They sustained long injuries, becoming what was known as the Purple Heart Battalion. Some of you may remember some of the veterans that we’ve greeted in years past, like Mr. Shig Tanagi, who, I’m sorry to say, is no longer with us since our last gathering.

Some of you may also remember that we bring in our civilian warriors, people who are relatives and friends of Gordon Hirabayashi, who challenged the military oversight of civilians during World War II, bringing his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court twice, once being convicted in the 1940s, but then having that conviction overturned in a monumental decision, with the United States of America recognizing their wrong, their failures.

You know, this is also, Mr. Speaker, as you well know, Black History Month. As a descendant of those warriors, both the literal ones and the civilian ones, I’m very proud of the work that the descendants—their children, their sisters, their brothers, their grandchildren—sustained.

Yuri Kochiyama, who worked with, arm in arm, with Malcolm X, and was in the famous photo of the woman cradling Martin Luther King’s head, when he was assassinated in New York.

Working toward multiracial unity, Richard Aoki, famously, joined the Black Panthers in Oakland, one year after that organization was formed.

Why? To make sure that the civil rights that were fought for by those in the 442nd and 100th Battalions meant something moving forward.

Closer to home, Min Yasui, a Portlandite, who also served in the military at Fort Vancouver, and then went on be a distinguished attorney in Colorado, and there, helped to form the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver.

Today, we sustain that effort with Asians for Black Lives, moving forward with multiracial coalitions.

And I will tell you, Mr. Speaker, I did not realize how deeply I was affected by the impact of WWII, the incarceration, the fight to free the Jews from Dachau, to liberate the Lost Battalion, to provide freedom for the citizens of Bruyeres [France], to bring peace to the South Pacific, until a few years ago, when I went to Japan as a part of an Asian-American leaders delegation, to meet with leaders in the Japanese government…

At one of our parting gatherings, I remember being quizzed by the representative of the government about, ‘Don’t I really feel Japanese? Don’t I recognize that I am Japanese? And that I might have some lingering sense of loyalty to Japan?’

And I thought about that for two seconds. And I very sternly told this representative, ‘Sir, you are mistaken.’

‘I am an American. My uncle died for this country.’

‘Do not mistake my face.  Do not mistake my love for my culture as love for your country, because my country is the United States of America. And my country always seeks a more perfect union.’

And so, Mr. Speaker, you know that the Japanese Americans finally received acknowledgement of the wrong.

And so today, I want to extend that, as legislators, for us to all link arms, and acknowledge the wrongs that we have committed in the past, and commit the resources of this legislature and the resources of our country, and the resources of our communities, and of our hearts and spirits, to ensure that those who are seeking justice, others who are seeking to right wrongs, others who are seeking reparations for those wrongs, find that we can overcome our failures, and our failings, and indeed, form a more perfect union.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.”

The complete 45-minute video, “House Floor Debate, Feb. 15,” is available on tvw.org. As it is difficult to find, the web address follows, which can be used most easily by cutting and pasting it from the web version of this article (napost.com). The TVW technical support staff are also helpful and respond quickly to email.

https://www.tvw.org/watch/?clientID=9375922947&eventID=2021021341

Editor’s notes. The 522nd Field Artillery split off from the 442nd; one of the  artillery scouts shot off the gate lock at Dachau.

Shig Tanagi served in the Military Intelligence Service; after WWII, he aided Japanese repatriating from Korea. Like many local Nisei, he grew up speaking Japanese at home while studying its writing at the Seattle Japanese Language School. His parents ran Tanagi Grocery, at 7th and King, on the old International District map (Kazuo Ito, 1973).