Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Beginnings of a Speech

I am preparing a speech I will be making this Saturday for the Seattle JACL Installation dinner. The theme of the event is “Our Nisei, Okage sama de,” or, we are what we are because of you. As I sit here thinking of what I want to say, the words of President Obama’s Inauguration Speech come to mind as he talked about the people who made American great.

"It has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom."

When I heard these words, I thought of the Nisei in our community who fit this description -- individuals who get things done and in the end prefer to deflect deserved recognition. In particular I think of the Seattle Nisei who became leaders of the Redress Movement which culminated in President Reagan signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 calling for an apology and restitution for Japanese Americans who were interned and incarcerated during World War II. These Seattle Nisei were victims of the government’s actions, but they didn’t just sit back and complain, they did something that made a difference for the country, a step towards what President Obama calls the process of perfecting our nation…[to be continued on Saturday night at the JACL banquet…]

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Washington DC meetings

Over the weekend I traveled to Washington DC and met and talked with the Consuls-Generals from 13 different cities. (In the photo I am having lunch seated between Mitsunori Namba, Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle and Akio Egawa, Consulate-General of Japan in Portland.) I also met with 35 Japanese Americans representing communities from across the country. During the meetings we discussed how Japanese Americans can play a role in US-Japan relations. Helping to lead the discussions were Ichiro Fujisaki, the Japanese Ambassador to the US and Daniel K Inouye, US Senator from Hawaii and the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

With so many people it was hard to have deep discussions during the meetings. Most of the time was spent sharing information about regional activities, business networks, improving communication, and the changing political scene in the U.S. and Japan. It was during the receptions and evening drinks when we really got a chance to connect on a more personal level. For example I discovered that Ambassador Fujisaki was a Japanese exchange student in Seattle during his junior high school days and has fond memories of Seattle, including watching the building of the Space Needle.

I also try to tell people about the work we do at Densho. It really helped that NHK featured our work at Densho in an hour documentary that has been shown a couple of times in Japan. Several of the Consuls-Generals mentioned watching this program.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Teachers on Board

On Saturday we held the first of two meetings with a dozen (plus a few) teachers who will help Densho test our civil liberties curriculum units in their classrooms this year. A grant from Washington Civil Liberties Public Education Program is underwriting a project to evaluate the effectiveness of new lessons we've created to align with Classroom Based Assessments (CBAs) for social studies. Thank you to our "test kitchen" teachers!

The diverse team of teachers is top flight -- with representation from multiple districts and various grade levels and subjects. The critical thinking these teachers will encourage is a far cry from the "Americanization" indoctrination Japanese Americans underwent in the incarceration camps. We can't wait to hear how the students respond to the lessons on immigration issues, critical assessment of the media, and those all-important constitutional principles.

See this issue of Colors NW for a recap of the teacher workshop.

Bridge of Technology

Densho is receiving more web hits and comments from Japan these days. The connections continue to grow between Densho's work with Japanese American history and contemporary relations with the land of our families' ancestors. For instance, our director Tom Ikeda has just returned from meeting with Japanese diplomats in Washington, D.C. (I will ask Tom to blog about the trip.)

One image keeps recurring as Japanese readers contact us: The program description for an NHK TV show featuring Densho last year says, "The government is counting on the Japanese American community to play the role of bridge builder." Now a Tokyo-born San Francisco-residing web visitor who saw the NHK show links to the Densho website from an article (parts 1 and 2) on his blog. He tells us, "I do believe that Japanese Americans and Japanese living in US hold keys to bridge between US and Japan tighter."

Most of our Japanese immigrant ancestors didn't return to visit their homeland. No one would use the word "bridge" for the long boat ride they took across the Pacific in the early 20th century. At the beginning of the 21st century, Densho is pleased to offer a bridge of digital technology that connects the life stories of Americans with Japanese faces to Japanese with American friends.