Places evolve. Life changes. Lives change. Attitudes broaden. Or not.
In the midst of self-quarantine in the new normal, we take social distancing walks from our home most days. Today’s walking journey brought us to the Bainbridge Island Japanese Exclusion Memorial. While we stopped here several times when the memorial opened, I have not been back in more than five years. We couldn’t have picked a better day with the sun out and the cherry trees in bloom.
From the National Park website, a brief history of the memorial:
Let it Not Happen Again
“After the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This order gave authority to the War Department to create zones from which Japanese Americans could be excluded. The first exclusion area designated was Bainbridge Island. On March 30, 1942, the Japanese Americans living on Bainbridge Island were gathered at the Eagledale Ferry Dock and sent to the incarceration camp in Manzanar, California before being transferred to Minidoka.
“Once World War II ended, about half of the Bainbridge Island Japanese Americans returned to the island to resume their lives, raise families, and pick up where they left off. But burning in their collective conscience was the Japanese phrase Nidoto Nai Yoni, which translates to “Let It Not Happen Again,” and they vowed to honor and recognize the members of their community who spent part of their lives in incarceration centers because of their heritage.”
Instead of the marks of new construction, the memorial now blends seamlessly in place with the beach side land sloping to Eagle Harbor. The shrine feels like I stepped into a hillside memorial in Japan.
The entry carving is difficult to read without my minds eye seeing the many third and fourth generation islanders I pass by every day.
As I slowly walk down the memorial hillside, I see the family names affected by the exclusion. I see the floral remembrances hanging near family members.
In the midst of the beauty of the day and the consummate craftsmanship and design, it is hard not to think about all of the atrocities occurring right now in our country with the suffering of the corona virus and immigrants seeking asylum at our southern border being excluded.
As I walk back to the entrance, I am stopped in my tracks by an apology plaque.
The words of our former Presidents bear echoing:
For here we admit a wrong. Here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law. – Ronald Reagan, signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988
I offer a sincere apology to you for the actions that unfairly denied Japanese Americans and their families fundamental liberties during World War II. – Bill Clinton Presidential Letter of Apology 1993.
As I stand with tears in my eyes, I try to imagine the current administration ever apologizing for the many exclusions and atrocities they commit every day.
Exclusion is happening again before our very eyes.
We have to stop.