Community pays homage to Issei and delves into family history during 5th Nikkei Angel Island Pilgrimage

To the beat of the drums of PJ Hirabayashi and TaikoPeace ambassadors, the Nichi Bei Foundation’s fifth Nikkei Angel Island pilgrimage began at the Angel Island immigration station on October 1. Overlooking China Cove, where immigrants first set foot on American soil before heading to the mainland, the pilgrimage honored the Issei immigrants who first set foot there in America.

PJ Hirabayashi and Ambassador TaikoPeace. photo by Mark Shigenaga

The program, hosted by Jana Katsuyama of KTVU Fox 2 News in Oakland, Calif., featured Sanbujo Buddhist chanting by Reverend Dennis Fujimoto of the Alameda Buddhist Temple, a performance by Mark Izu and Brenda Wong Aoki of First Voice, and a Bon Odori led by Hirabayashi and other members of TaikoPeace.

The Angel Island Immigration Station was the entry point for immigrants from 1910 to 1940. About 85,000 Japanese immigrants arrived in San Francisco during this time, the second largest group after the Chinese. Some were questioned aboard the ship and many of them were detained on Angel Island.

The site was also used during World War II as a temporary detention center for prisoners of war and Japanese American community leaders arrested in Hawai’i who were transported to mainland Department of Justice camps. .

“It’s called the Ellis Island of the West for people chasing their dreams, but unlike Ellis Island, which was there to welcome immigrants, mostly from Europe, Angel Island was used to exclude immigrants, mostly from Asia,” Nichi Bei Foundation President Kenji G. Taguma said during the program. “So we started this pilgrimage in 2014 for the community to reconnect with this legacy on this island. It might have been lost forever, were it not for Alexander Weiss, who discovered the carvings, told his teacher George Araki about them, and helped organize these expeditions with photographer Mak Takahashi… who captured the saga at through his lens.

State Park interpreter Casey Dexter-Lee said the Immigration Station, a National Historic Landmark, tells a story of the United States that highlights a negative aspect of the nation’s history in order to convey important lessons for future generations.

“As we often hear that the story is told by the winners, it would be very difficult to claim that anyone detained here has won,” Dexter-Lee said on the show. “So we can listen to their voices, which might otherwise have disappeared.”

Volunteers from the California Genealogical Society help pilgrims discover their family history. photo by William Lee

As part of the pilgrimage, genealogists from the California Genealogical Society were on hand to help participants research historical records about family members who may have crossed the island.

Linda Harms Okazaki, a genealogist with the society, told Nichi Bei Weekly that it was fun to help participants research their family history. One of his highlights was helping a man who had received a consultation on a previous Nikkei Angel Island pilgrimage.

“He brought the records he had achieved after the pilgrimage he was on, and then he wanted to take it to the next level,” Harms Okazaki said. “I mean how cool is that?”

Participants were also excited to connect with their family history. Lauren Ito, accompanied by her parents from Washington State, said Harms Okazaki helped her find more information about her great-uncle Riuichi Ipponsugi. Another participant, Shari Arai DeBoer, said her grandfather Kaiichi Suzuki also came to the island.

“It was nice to come, to be with a group of people, because before when we came, we would come on our own and stumble. But it’s nice to have this extra community of people that I know. is enjoyable,” she told Nichi Bei Weekly.

Since the previous pilgrimage in 2018, the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation has also opened the Angel Island Immigration Museum located inside the old station hospital. Danielle Wetmore, program manager for the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, noted the building’s importance as a gatekeeper for immigration to the continental United States.

“Part of the immigration process was an incredibly invasive and racist health inspection,” she said during the program. “Sanitary arrangements were put in place after the fact, after inspectors determined what sorts of illnesses would keep people out. And we use this space to tell this story, but also others. It is a more formal exhibition space with a rotating exhibition gallery.

The Angel Island Immigration Museum opened in January in the old hospital building. “Taken From Their Families,” a new permanent exhibit in the Old Mess Hall, examines people of Japanese descent detained at the Hawai’i and West Coast Immigration Station during World War II. photo by Mark Shigenaga

Also new is the exhibit “From Their Families: Japanese American Incarceration on Angel Island During World War II,” which explores the detention of some 600 people of Japanese descent from Hawai’i and another 100 from west coast held at Angel Island en route to other places of detention.

The museum is currently presenting the temporary exhibition “The Enemy Alien Files: Hidden Stories of World War II”, produced by the National Japanese American Historical Society, the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project, the American Italian Studies Association – Western Regional Chapter and the ‘German American Internee Coalition. Grace Shimizu, director of the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project, gave two talks at the museum to discuss lesser-known aspects of wartime discrimination and incarceration through the lens of German Americans and Peruvians. of Japanese descent.

Shimizu highlighted how the exhibit sheds light on the history of the war and also reminds viewers how important it remains today, especially through the ongoing issue of Japanese Latin Americans seeking redress from the United States government. United.

“When we try to look at our history, we don’t just look at what happened 80 years ago, our history goes all the way back to today, and part of the significance of that is…that ‘By telling our story, it’s not just about knowing better what happened to our family, we want to make sure that what happened to us doesn’t happen to us or any other family again,’ Shimizu said.

A crowd of about 300 people attended the program that day. Taguma said he limited publicity of the pilgrimage to take overcrowding precautions against COVID-19, but the event also brought together participants bussed from San Jose and Sacramento, Calif., funded by a grant. of California Humanities. Taguma added that participants from as far away as London have joined this year’s pilgrimage.

Ann Okamura took the bus from Sacramento to attend the pilgrimage. “I’ve never been here on Angel Island. It was my chance,” she told Nichi Bei Weekly. “Couple of friends (attended) to keep me company too.”

Others, like Ruth Shimomura of Woodland, Calif., have been involved in finding a connection to their family histories. Shimomura says his father Noboru

Aoki, a Kibei Nisei, was detained on the island when he attempted to return to the United States

“He wrote ‘hell on earth,'” Shimomura said on a sculpture his father had left somewhere in the barracks at the immigration station. She lamented that she could not find this particular sculpture when she visited.

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