Day of Remembrance Activities: Remember & Resist

    Day of Remembrance Activities: Remember & Resist

    By Rev. Karen Yokota Love
    For The North American Post

    The wind and the rain did not prevent hundreds of people from showing solidarity and passion at the February 18 two-pronged Day of Remembrance event. A consistent theme throughout the day was that it is important to connect past atrocities to present ones and explore what we can do to make a difference and stop repeating history.

    Mary Abo shares her story about the ripple effect of paying compassion and kindness forward by bringing her homemade chocolate cake to a Northwest Detention Center inmate (Photo by Kai Yamamoto).
    Puyallup Assembly Center survivors (Photo by Kai Yamamoto). 

    This year marked the 82nd anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, authorizing the forced removal and incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. The very first Day of Remembrance took place in Seattle in 1978, organized by Japanese Americans who would eventually lead a campaign for reparations from the federal government.

    This year, the Japanese American community of Western Washington commemorates our historical legacy by calling for closure of the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC), an immigrant prison in Tacoma. Opened in 2004, the NWDC is privately owned and operated by the GEO Group on behalf of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The NWDC’s current capacity is 1,575 people, making it the fourth largest immigration prison in the U.S.

    ◀︎ La Resistencia Maru Mora-Villalpando speaks about the injustices that the detainees are experiencing behind bars (Photo by Ryan Kozu).

    The events were organized by Tsuru for Solidarity, La Resistencia, Densho, Seattle and Puyallup Valley Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) chapters and the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee. Many members from the religious community including clergy from Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church and representatives from the Buddhist Churches of America were also present.

    The remembrances began with a ceremony in Puyallup at the Washington State Fairgrounds, which was once called “Camp Harmony”—a euphemism coined by a journalist in 1942. The Puyallup Assembly Center detained over 7,000 Japanese Americans and Alaska Natives from the Puget Sound area and Alaska. The ceremony took place in the same spot, 82 years ago, where the assembly center was erected in 1942.

    In Puyallup, we heard powerful testimonies by many including from Mary Abo, who shared her experience witnessing her father being taken away by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from her home in Juneau, Alaska. Shortly thereafter, she and her family were detained at the Puyallup Fairgrounds and the Minidoka incarceration camp.

    She recalled how her family was given a homemade chocolate cake while at the assembly center. The level of compassion and kindness moved her to tears, and she has carried that throughout her life. She brought a homemade chocolate cake to a detainee at the NWDC to pay the kindness forward.

    Crowd at the detention center: Hundreds of people at the Northwest Detention Center rally and protest the detainees (Photo by Ryan Kozu).

    Later, in the afternoon, everyone caravanned to the NWDC in Tacoma to protest and to be in solidarity with those who are currently confined. In Tacoma, the echoing sounds of taiko drums opened our time together. It also reminded those held inside that they are not forgotten nor alone.

    There were many speakers including Maru Mora-Villalpando from La Resistencia. Maru was nearly deported due to her undocumented status. La Resistencia maintains contact with people inside and broadcasted a video feed from an incarcerated person to the crowd protesting. Incarcerated people have been frequently going on hunger strikes this year over the center’s inferior quality food and cleanliness. “The trauma of family separation, child imprisonment, poor sanitation, bad food, inadequate health care and uncertain futures continues today at the Northwest Detention Center, just a 20-minute drive from Puyallup,” said Margaret Sekijima, a Tsuru for Solidarity organizer.

    Stan Shikuma, Tsuru for Solidarity leader, initiated a moment of silence at the end of the ceremony with the sound from a gong to commemorate all those who were detained in 1942 and now in 2024. “We want to remember the Puyallup Tribe and the families who were separated while the children were shipped off to boarding schools,” Shikuma said.

    “The purpose was to make them less Native American and more American. That continued in the Japanese American incarceration camps in 1942. It continues today with those who are not ‘American-enough’ and they get deported.”

    A standout theme of the day was connecting the past atrocities inflicted on the First Nation people to the Japanese American incarceration and the immigrant prisoners at the NWDC.

    “It is not enough to remember the past injustices but we must work together to stop the current injustices. Stop repeating history,” said Mike Ishii, Tsuru for Solidarity leader.

    More DoR articles are here & here