Saturday, Aug. 6th, it was my privilege to attend the dedication ceremony for Bainbridge Island’s Japanese-American Exclusion Memorial Wall. This tribute, a satellite of Minidoka Internment National Monument in Jerome Idaho, has been built on the site where 276 Americans of Japanese descent were forced to leave their homes and island lives on Bainbridge during WWII. Boarding a ferry, March 30th 1942, escorted by soldiers with bayonets attached to their rifles, ultimately, these Nikkei were bound for internment camps within their own country. Executive Order #9066, signed by their own president, put law-abiding Americans into prison camps behind barbed-wire fences for duration of the war to end all wars.
It was fellow IYN blogger, Mizu Sugimura, who began my real education on this unsteady chapter in American history, with her passion for truth to be heard and wounds healed, so that America can move forward. Mizu’s personal essays, right here in our TNT cyber-neighbourhood, touched me to the core and made me want to learn how to, “Nidoto nai yoni.” Key Pen neighbour and friend, Jan Buday, shared more stories, increasing my understanding. Both strong women are open with their families’ history; both vibrant artists are invested in healing their country.
Jan told me last year about the Memorial Wall being built. Her husband, John Buday, a designer specializing in Timber-Framing, became Project Manager. He designed the gates and pavilion on the grounds of the memorial, as well as timber frame design of the interpretive center, meeting room and wooden upper-half of the wall. I believe it was a labour of love, love for his family, for his craft and for healing in his country.
The air was festive Saturday, with many old friends reuniting for the completed wall’s dedication. In front of a small stage by the entrance, were rows of reserved seats for attending survivors of the 276. Brightly coloured Origami cranes hung down each metal post, either side of the stage, more of them available on strings of three, for people to hang them next to names on the wall. Jan herself folded over a thousand cranes…close, it was estimated, to the number of people who were in attendance.
Standing at the side of the stage, I was delighted to be joined by Lucy Ota. I recognized her beautiful crane pin, made only for the exclusion survivors. She whispered, in the middle of the last speech, that she didn’t think she could have made it through such a crowd, to her reserved seat. Meaningful memories of heartfelt speeches, standing with Lucy, joining several hundred people in singing America The Beautiful; how did I get so lucky, to be present at the healing, honouring end of a near-seventy-year local wound in this country’s history? I felt quite overwhelmed by emotion.
Those of us covering Saturday’s dedication were allowed to make our way down to the wall first, splaying ourselves just beyond entry to photograph the survivors as they came through. Everyone applauded the procession as they made their way down the gravel path to the memorial. Red, white and blue ribbons tied across the archway waited to be cut by one hundred year-old, Fumiko Hayashida who, dressed in stylish forties garb, was subject of an iconic photograph from the exclusion, carrying her baby girl. Daughter Kayo held the ribbons up for her mother.
Silver-haired Elders laughed, sharing their stories and lives, “As kids we always had fun with our friends,” said Sally, who was nine years old when taken, “Lucy and I would fight like cats and dogs,” she said, giggling and poking at Lucy’s arm. Another woman approached, excited to show us all her gift of wood and granite, pieces from the wall’s construction made into a tactile memory to take home.
I must compliment those who had the vision of this wall’s design…for it worked as perfectly as you dreamed it! When the ribbons fell back, Bainbridge Island American survivors of exclusion and families began pouring through the archway, spilling gently like water down their wall towards the harbour. I sat on a big stone at top of the hill, watching a healing flow, feeling the complicated journey of America. Smiles spread across faces and laughter began bubbling its way back up the curved waves of this graceful wood and granite memorial. Hands touched names, plaques and pictures along the wall’s course, like a living river reaches to touch its guiding banks in passing, a story in every bend, a healing in every story heard.
For more on the Bainbridge Island Japanese-American Exclusion Memorial Wall, click on these link below.