In this era of official government apologies and ongoing systemic racism, we look to successful struggles for social justice such as the Japanese Canadian Redress movement and ask their leaders for advice in current struggles. On September 25th, the City of Vancouver apologised for its role in the internment and displacement of Japanese Canadians during the war. The week before, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which has sponsored several events across the country to address the legacy of the residential school system, held a series of events in BC. Disturbingly, the BC events took place at Pacific National Exhibition grounds—the same place where many Japanese-Canadians were interned during the war before being removed from the West Coast to various rural communities in BC and Alberta.
The Downtown East met with Lily to ask about her life-long commitment to social justice and current struggles against displacement in the Downtown Eastside, a neighborhood many Japanese Canadians called home before they forcibly removed.
In 1942 my mother with six children, along with about a 1000 other Japanese Canadians, were interned to Greenwood, BC, a small mining ghost-town. My father was sent to a labour camp in the neighbouring town of Grand Forks.
With this legacy, I was born into a family where political activism was talked about everyday. My father was a troubleshooter during the internment years. He took care of the needs of the people who left Steveston with very little and went to a deserted town. He was a mediator between internees and the BC Securities Commission and fought for adequate health care, food supplies, and decent housing. The City of Greenwood was not prepared for us, so when we first arrived, we were not allowed to go to the public school. A Catholic high school was built and then we were able to get an education.
I was the first in my family to go from Grade 1 to 12 at the government public school! During the elementary years I endured and survived many types of abuse and countless bullying because of the racist attitudes of some white people. Because of the racism I grew up with, I learned from a very young age that I had to be twice as smart or better than “the next white kid”! I grew up fighting for everything I got and whenever anyone in my class was bullied or discriminated against, whether it was a class, race or physical issue, I always defended them. It was witnessing my father’s activism that made me who I am today. And like my father, I fight for justice for all, especially those marginalized and disenfranchised!
When I came to Vancouver, I got involved with the Powell Street Festival, the Redress movement, and am now an active member of the Japanese Canadian Human Rights Committee. My activism goes beyond the personal, I don’t only seek justice for the issues that are pertinent to me; I want justice for everyone who is disenfranchised. I especially support aboriginal issues, Japanese Canadian issues, and women’s rights! Having experienced and still experiencing multiple oppressions—racism, sexism, homophobia—I feel it is my life’s work to support the people living in the Downtown Eastside. They are suffering and getting inadequate support from all levels of government. I want them to have roofs over their heads and good healthcare that they deserve.
As a Japanese Canadian person living on Coast Salish territory, I acknowledge that we are guests and that it is absolutely critical that we support aboriginal issues, as they have supported us ever since we landed here. I hear stories of Japanese Canadians being harboured by aboriginal people of the West Coast during the interment. They have also shown us a great amount of support during the process of redress and beyond.
I cannot sit and be complacent because I do not want anyone to experience what I went through during internment. I want everyone to be treated with respect for who they are. Justice for all!