JACSC Connects, Evolves, and Advocates in DC
The Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium (JACSC) convened in Washington D.C., recently for a robust three-day agenda to strengthen collaboration, work on sustainability of the consortium, and to meet with legislators on Capitol Hill.
JACSC is a nation-wide network of historical organizations, education institutions, advocacy groups, and grassroots organizers focused on preserving the sites and artifacts related to the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans and dedicated to educating the public about this history and its still-relevant lessons.
“All of our organizations are holders of this history. We have come together to think beyond this moment to consider our long-term impact, which we cannot achieve without becoming sustainable,” said Ann Burroughs, Chair of the JACSC Advisory Council and President/CEO of the Japanese American National Museum. “This is a historic meeting not just for our consortium but also because of the context in which we find ourselves as a nation,” she said, referencing how the unjust incarceration of Japanese Americans relates to the recent Trump Administration Muslim ban and ongoing immigrant detention issues.
Meeting at the law firm offices of Hogan Lovells, who sponsored many of the week’s events, the JACSC discussed long-term funding for long-term impact as a primary goal for plenary sessions. JACSC received startup funding from the federal Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grant program through awards in 2015 and 2017. Having identified a mission of capacity building for individual members, preservation, and advocacy, it seeks firmer footing by generating ongoing funding. A membership dues resolution, aimed at giving JACSC long-term financial stability, was discussed and drafted.
One recent success and ongoing activity of JACSC is collaborative advocacy for the JACS grant program itself. The program was eliminated in the President’s budget for fiscal year 2019. JACSC stakeholders were able to mobilize together quickly to support the funding program and highlight the long-term benefits from nearly 200 projects that have been funded by the grant program. For 2019, the efforts paid off and funding was restored. JACSC awaits the release of the fiscal year 2020 budget, with the expectation that JACS will be included.
In addition to budget planning and communications infrastructure development, goals for the plenary sessions included JACSC collaboration with the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) national convention and the consideration of a JACSC-sponsored public professional conference.
JACSC was also welcomed to a reception hosted by the Japanese Embassy, building on its already strong relationship with the government of Japan. The Embassy previously hosted a reception at a crucial early JACSC planning meeting held in 2016 in Washington D.C., and several Japanese officials have made visits to confinement sites across the country. Kazutoshi Aikawa, Deputy Chief of Mission, welcomed the group and referenced his trip to the Heart Mountain site and the Japanese Government’s ongoing efforts in helping to share the Japanese American story in Japan.
On Capitol Hill:
February 27-28 was spent educating legislators about the JACSC, advocating for JACS grant funding, and discussing border issues and the treatment of immigrant families in detention. Individual JACSC stakeholders met with their respective congressional delegations, and a JACSC leadership group met with key allies and members of crucial Congressional committees.
David Inoue, part of the leadership of the JACSC who led many of the Capitol Hill visits set the tone for the group in preparation for the visits. “There are no individual needs,” said Inoue, who is also Executive Director of JACL. “We have come together, and we celebrate these partnerships that make us stronger as a people and stronger as a community.”
The Capitol Hill visits culminated with the entire JACSC contingent meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the U.S. Capitol. Speaker Pelosi was a co-sponsor of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which was a significant achievement of the redress movement—a movement that many of the JACSC attendees had participated in. She applauded her visitors for their work across the country and was particularly interested in the significant contributions toward educating the public.
Connecting the past to the present:
On Thursday morning, a Capitol Hill briefing and press conference was held on the relevance of the Japanese American incarceration. The event was sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA) in collaboration with the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, the Japanese American Citizens League, and JACSC.
Greeting the JACSC at the briefing, U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) said, “The work you are doing to preserve the confinement sites and history in not just about preserving the past; it’s about the importance of the present moment,” he said. “What you do is vitally important, not just for Japanese Americans, but for the sake of our Republic.”
Former Secretary Norman Mineta (ret.) also spoke at the briefing and was heavily involved with the week’s JACSC events. Secretary Mineta was a part of the political leadership involved in the redress movement as a co-sponsor of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, when he was a U.S. Representative from California. He now serves as Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Japanese American National Museum. He relayed the story of his father gathering the family together in their San Jose home to calm them after the attack on Pearl Harbor. But soon after, they were removed from the home they so cherished. “I became a non-alien. I became 32198G,” Mineta said. “And so to this day, I cherish the word ‘citizen’ because at that time my own government wouldn’t recognize me as one.”
Dr. Arthur Evans, CEO of APA, spoke about the lasting effects of incarceration, early-childhood trauma, and family separation. “We study the impact of policies on American families, and we believe science must inform our policy-making,” he said. “Attachment research and ACE research [Adverse Childhood Experiences] show that early childhood trauma has lasting effects on children and the development of their brains, their endocrine systems, and their immune systems. Later in life, this leads to greater instances of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and deviant behavior.”
To close the program, former incarceree Sam Mihara shared his experience of being incarcerated as a boy with his family at the Heart Mountain concentration camp during World War II. Mihara recounted anecdotes of fear, poor conditions, and the lack of sufficient health care, which led to the rapid loss of his father’s sight (due to the absence of specialists for glaucoma) and the rapid death of his grandfather who was improperly treated for colon cancer.
Mihara also recounted his recent visits to detention facilities for undocumented immigrants near the U.S.’s southern border. He was appalled at the family separation and over-crowding. “What happened to me and my family at Heart Mountain is just one of thousands of stories,” said Mihara. “Similar injustices and trauma were experienced by tens of thousands of other Japanese Americans, who have stories to tell and lessons to teach—all designed to help make sure that this great country never again abandons is fundamental values and constitutional protections.
“We are gathered here in Washington as part of a new national network known as the Japanese American Confinement Site Consortium. Our mission is to work together to preserve all of our historic sites, to support critical preservation funding programs like NPS’ Confinement Sites grant program, and to collectively raise our voices and tell our stories so that a cruel injustice never happens to any group ever again.”
REPRESENTED AT THE FEBRUARY MEETING:
Represented at the February Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium (JACSC) events were the Amache Historical Society, Fred T. Korematsu Institute, Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, Friends of Minidoka, Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, Japanese American Citizens League, Japanese American National Museum, Japanese American Service Committee, Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project, Minidoka Pilgrimage Committee, National Japanese American Historical Society, National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, Poston Community Alliance, Oregon Nikkei Endowment, Tule Lake Committee, Smithsonian
JACSC is guided by an Advisory Council of five organizations, who have signed a Memo of Understanding pledging significant resources toward the consortium. They include:
Friends of Minidoka (Executive Director Mia Russell)
Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation (Board Chair Shirley Ann Higuchi, Vice-Chair Douglas Nelson, and Executive Director Dakota Russell)
Japanese American Citizens League (Executive Director David Inoue) Japanese American National Museum (President/CEO Ann Burroughs and Trustee Harvey Yamagata)
National Japanese American Memorial Foundation (Board Chair Larry Oda and Vice Chair John Tobe)