Karleen C. Chinen
About 150 people spent their Feb. 22 morning learning about why an injustice from 78 years ago is as relevant today as it was in 1942. The gathering place was the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i where a “Day of Remembrance” program organized by JCCH and the Honolulu Japanese American Citizens League recalled the lives affected by President Franklin Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066 just over two months after the Pearl Harbor bombing.
JCCH president (and former JACL Honolulu president) Jacce Mikulanec opened the program. He introduced former JACL Honolulu president Bill Kaneko, who reminded the audience that while remembrances are “keys to the past,” they are also a reminder of “our responsibilities to the future.”
Kaneko spoke of internment in Hawai‘i, where there were confinement sites on nearly all islands in the territory. Two of the most populated camps were at Sand Island and Honouliuli on O‘ahu. Both camps also held prisoners of war.
Kaneko also talked about the roughly 1,500 Japanese from 23 areas in Hawai‘i who were forced to evacuate their homes without warning and with no plan for where to live. The affected areas included Lualualei, the Pearl Harbor area, West Loch, Iwilei, Dillingham Boulevard, Oahu Railway area and Pauoa Valley, among others. Most of the homes were near military installations. Some of the residents were allowed to work near their homes during the day, but had to leave the area at night. Many lived with relatives until they were allowed to return to their home.
The evacuee story was unique to Hawai‘i, said Kaneko. After the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was signed into law, staff from the Office of Redress Administration came to the Islands to meet with eligible former internees. Kaneko remembered a call he received from former Hawai‘i resident Dr. Donald Kanemaru, by then a dentist in Los Angeles. He said his family lived next to the Lualualei naval station and that they were ordered to evacuate. Was the Kanemaru family eligible for redress since they had been evacuated without any charges?
Kaneko took the question to JACL Honolulu’s lawyer, Clayton Ikei, who assembled a team of lawyers who researched the question on a pro bono basis. They concluded that the evacuees should be eligible for redress because they had been deprived of their civil liberties without having committed any crime.
The Honolulu JACL organized workshops for the evacuees, who began filing claims with the Office of Redress Administration. Kaneko said it took about five years for the evacuees to receive their redress payment.
Kaneko also announced that the legal documents amassed during the years of pursuing redress are currently being digitized by JCCH’s Tokioka Resource Center staff and volunteers and will be accessible online in the near future.
During the program, JACL Honolulu member Susan Arnett shared information about the “Tsuru for Solidarity” program that was to have culminated in a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., in early June. The pilgrimage was cancelled this week due to the COVID-19 situation.
All across America, “Tsuru for Solidarity” supporters are folding paper tsuru (cranes) to call attention to the parallel between the Japanese American incarceration and today’s detention of Latino immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. Organizers hope to collect 125,000 cranes to represent the number of AJAs who were incarcerated in 1942 and the number of Latino detainees being held today in immigration facilities by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Hawai‘i is hoping to contribute 3,000 tsuru to the national effort and JCCH had volunteered to serve as the collection point in Hawai‘i. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Mikulanec asks that people hold on to their tsuru — and keep folding — until JCCH reopens to the public. JCCH will keep the public updated via its website and social media platforms.
The audience also heard the incarceration story of Joichi Tahara, as told by his granddaughter, April Tahara Carvalho. Tahara, who was a community leader, owned a general store in Pa‘auilo Mauka on the Big Island. He was arrested shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack and held at the Kiläuea Military Camp. He was then sent to the Sand Island Internment Camp and then transferred to the Honouliuli Internment Camp. Joichi Tahara died unexpectedly at the age of 55.
He and his wife Tomeo had nine children — the youngest, a boy, was only 3 when his father was arrested. Tomeo continued to operate their store, farmed coffee and lived independently until the 1970s when she moved to Honolulu to be near her children.
In 2012, the Tahara family found a letter Joichi had written to his wife in the event he was not able to come home. April Tahara Carvalho, who never knew her grandfather, read a translation of the letter. It showed that Joichi harbored no bitterness and that he faced his destiny with dignity.
The program concluded with former U.S. Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, a yonsei, sharing her family’s internment experience. Both of her grandfathers were interned — her Muroda grandfather at Honouliuli and her Hanabusa grandfather, a fisherman, at a U.S. Justice Department camp at Santa Fe, NM. Hanabusa credited the Rev. Yoshiaki Fujitani, former bishop of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, for interviewing both grandfathers, which brought their stories to light.