By Gil Asakawa | Mile High Japanese American Citizens League
February 19 is commemorated each year within the Japanese American community nationwide as a Day of Remembrance. The date in 1942 was when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which paved the way for the incarceration of 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II.
The Mile High chapter of JACL, the Japanese American Citizens League, the oldest Asian civil rights organization in the U.S., marks the day with an annual program that invites the public to learn about internment.
This year’s program was held on Feb. 16 at History Colorado Center, the museum where the event was held in 2013.
The program began with live music by Taiko with Toni, featuring taiko musician and instructor Toni Yagami. The lively performance in the museum’s main foyer drew a crowd who enjoyed the dynamic sound of traditional Japanese drums.
When the music ended, people were ushered into the museum’s adjacent auditorium, where photos of life in Amache, Colorado’s internment camp, were shown on a large screen. The photos were donated to Denver University’s archeology department, which has an ongoing project digging artifacts from Amache.
Over 200 people, many who not Japanese American, and many who didn’t know about what happened to Japanese Americans 70 years ago, attended the Day of Remembrance. Among them was Thornton resident George “Joe” Sakato, a veteran of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, who was recnelty honored by having his image featured in a postage stamp.
Mile High JACL board member Mark Shimoda, who organized the Day of Remembrance event, welcomed the audience and introduced keynote speaker Patty Limerick, a professor of history and Faculty Director and Chair of the Board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado. She gave a historical overview of the wartime internment of Japanese Americans, and also sprinkled her speech with personal anecdotes of meeting and becoming friends with Gordon Hirabayashi, one of the three men who fought internment all the way to the Supreme Court.
Then Limerick was joined by Min Mochizuki and Rose Tanaka, two internment survivors, who shared stories of their imprisonment, including the controversial loyalty questionnaire all internees over 17 years old were required to answer. Two questions in particular rankled Japanese Americans, because they assumed these American citizens were loyal to Emperor Hirohito of Japan, and asked if these prisoners would be willing to fight in the U.S. military.
Tanaka and Mochizuki’s personal perspective added a touching contemporary relevance to the historical facts, and left audience members pondering the possibility of the injustice of ethnic imprisonment happening again.
That’s precisely why it’s important for Mile High JACL to host this program every February – so that the lessons of the past won’t be forgotten. For more information, visit www.milehighjacl.org.