Hayashidas were joined by Sakumas, Nakatas, Nagatanis, Kitamotos, and so many of the names we recognize from the carvings in the Exclusion Memorial Wall. Bainbridge Island was honored with the presence of a large turnout of survivors and their families on March 30th, the Commemoration of the 80th Anniversary of the Exclusion.
The weather was fine, as hundreds of community members gathered to witness the 80 Years of Healing ceremony. Suquamish Tribe Chairman, Leonard Forsman, kicked off the event paying homage to the land that had once been the home of indigenous tribes. Following Forsman, new BIJAC President, Carol Reitz, set the tone for the day, speaking of her personal experience as the daughter of parents who had been incarcerated during WWII. She implored us to reflect on what had happened to Japanese Americans and how their experiences shaped their subsequent actions and attitudes. Understanding their trauma, Reitz asserted, was the key to empathy and the path to healing.
Other highlights of the program included the presentation by Councilman Clarence Moriwaki of the City of Bainbridge Island’s formal proclamation declaring March 30th, 2022 as “Nidoto Nai Yoni--Let It Not Happen Again Day.”
Governor Jay Inslee, who as a U.S. Representative in 2007 sponsored the bill to make the former Eagledale dock and memorial (then under construction) part of the national park system, was quoted at the time, “This victory has been a long time coming. My constituents — survivors, their families and friends — have been waiting for decades.” At the ceremony, some fifteen years later, Governor Inslee stood before an audience of the same constituents and stressed the importance of acknowledging the injustices associated with the Exclusion and how the lessons learned should inform government’s actions today to ensure such a tragedy does not happen again.
The audience was treated to a firsthand narrative of the Exclusion experience by Frances Kitamoto Ikegami, who was just 5 years old when her family was forcibly removed to Manzanar. Ikegami, who admitted that as a young child she was unaware of many of the issues adults had to face at the time, took the audience through the personal history of her family and how the forced removal, incarceration, and subsequent return to Bainbridge Island affected them. In recounting the story she emphasized many of the positives, thanking individuals and the community for all they did to make it possible for her family to return and eventually thrive. Amidst the focus on tragedy and injustice, Frances shone a bright light on the goodness of friends and neighbors and the power of community.
After presentations from a quartet of student leaders from Woodward Middle School, Dr. Dee Eisenhauer, former BIJAEMA board member and liaison to the Bainbridge Island-North Kitsap Interfaith Council, and Val Tollefson, current BIJAEMA president, the audience heard a ceremonial reading of the names on the Exclusion Memorial Wall.
Though the Exclusion has been commemorated for many years on Bainbridge Island, the 80th anniversary was especially poignant given current events. Media coverage was extensive, drawing reporters from all the major local television stations and newspapers, but also documentarians who endeavor to capture the stories and lessons from the Bainbridge Island experience. Thanks to the efforts of survivors and survivor families past and present, the story has reached far and wide and will have impact for years to come. Nidoto Nai Yoni.