Stirrings at the “Exclusion” Memorial Wall Dedication

by Rev. Jaco B. ten Hove

I was very glad and honored to be among hundreds of celebrants attending the dedication of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Wall on Saturday morning, Aug. 6, which also happened to be Hiroshima Day, the annual recognition of our U.S. drop of an atomic bomb on that city in 1945. Prior to that awesomely destructive moment, and not long after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, all those of Japanese descent who lived on the west coast were forcibly taken away to relocation camps, by government order.

Bainbridge Island, as is notably chronicled, was not only the site of the very first 276 removed from their homes, and the only community whose local newspaper vocally objected to the internment of its residents, but it was also the most welcoming place to those returning, 150 in number, after three years of confinement in California and Idaho camps.

The near-total destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945, combined with this year’s earthquake/tsunami disaster in Japan, lent further meaning to this focus on our neighbors. All in all, there was powerful momentum and symbolism wrapped up in that Saturday, not to mention the testimonials of so many actual lives, represented by the dozens of relocation camp survivors present at the dedication event. (See coverage in the Bainbridge Review and Kitsap Sun, and even in the New York Times.)

One speaker related how the local Interfaith Council had first suggested the idea of a memorial, back in 1999, and this made me sit up a little straighter, as the current president of that same Interfaith Council. (I am attempting to get the transcript of this talk for the IFC website.)

Besides the eloquent and moving speakers, one post-ceremony moment really caught my eye and heart. The large crowd standing between the survivors and the entrance to the path toward the Wall had to part so the elders of Japanese descent could be the first to enter that wall space. There were tears and applause as the line slowly made its way toward the ceremonial ribbon, which was cut by now 100-year-old Fumiko Hayashida and daughter Kayo Natalie Hayashida Ong, figures in an iconic 1942 photograph of the grim mother holding her sleeping baby, both “tagged” en route off the Island. (See the pic and accompanying Seattle Times story.)

As I mentioned at our Cedars service the next morning, what has really stayed with me has been the comment of one speaker, who suggested that our community has really come together around this injustice, both then and still. (And there are two more phases of the Memorial to be built there at Prichard Park.) So perhaps the standing title, while accurate, might be more poignantly rendered as the Japanese American INclusion Memorial. That would suit the stirring envelope around this piece of our local and international culture.