On March 28th, we attended the inaugural 17th annual National Cherry Blossom Freedom Walk. As a recent D.C. transplant, I look forward to activities that will allow me to discover the pockets within the folds of the city. The program is an embedded tradition, within what many city residents and tourists have come to enjoy as an event-filled few weeks of concerts and kite-flying. However, the annual Cherry Blossom Freedom Walk reminds us of the relevance of this national tradition, that goes beyond the welcoming of Spring after a long Winter.
On this brisk morning, we gathered within the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II. The program opened with an invigorating performance by Nen Daiko, a taiko (a drum style of Japanese origin) ensemble that has been performing in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area since 1994. It was truly empowering to witness this collective of women and men striking their instruments with unforgiving movement and resound (in a way that put my coffee to shame). A Nen Daiko musician, Maya Nakamura, informed us that the performance group is a collective built from various networks, many with ties to the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation (NJAMF), who helped sponsor this event. The Nen Daiko drum ensemble has committed annually to the Cherry Blossom Freedom Walk.
Prominent figures took to the stage to share words of encouragement for future generations and gave us much to consider as we carried out the day’s events. The notable WWII veteran, Mr. Terry Shima, reflected on the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII and proposed a mission to the next generation, “cherish your heritage, overcome obstacles and contribute to the greatness of America.” Those who spoke came with a message of pride, in that Japanese Americans have long sacrificed for the freedoms of others in this country and have continued to do the work to protect the civil liberties for all of us. After the speakers concluded, a ribbon is cut to mark a passage into greater solidarity as we take to the streets. As NJAMF chair, Mr. Cal Shintani, told us:
The leaders of both Japan and the United States participate in the events of the Cherry Blossom Festival each year when the cherry blossoms are blooming, the Festival reminds all of us, including our respective nation’s leaders, of the continued and blossoming (pun absolutely intended) bond between our two nations. As Minister Tsukada remarked at the opening ceremony of the Freedom Walk, the Cherry Blossom Festival is a reminder to all of us that nations that were once at war – now 70 years ago – can develop a deep and ever-strengthening friendship. The Cherry Blossom Festival helps us not take that friendship for granted.
Surrounded by their words and the etching of the internment camps in the walls of the memorial, I realized just how important it was that I was there to be part of this moment. Our location in D.C. affords us so many opportunities partake in national events. Many present at the annual Cherry Blossom Freedom Walk, of Japanese descent, are moved by personal historical ties, but what would this event look like if those outside of this community showed in greater numbers? This event reminds us that Japanese American history is American history, and as such we should be here to uphold this tradition.
For those of us doing the work to preserve history, this can also be our best kept secret. The work we do is precious, and often we fear the denial or degradation of it made by others, BUT the true service of our work is to speak on it whenever possible. Just like the importance of the next generation to pick up the torch, so it is for us to share with those outside our immediate communities so that these traditions don’t die. To deny the importance of what I am calling ‘cultural networks’ is to participate in the Oppression Olympics, keeping us all on the hamster wheel. We value our preservation, and others should too. This event reminded me, that we honor each other’s efforts when we align ourselves with the cause of another.
We look forward to the National Museum of American History paying homage to the sacrifice of Japanese Americans during WWII in the upcoming 2017 exhibition, who continues to observe the legacy of Japanese Americans with the annual Day of Remembrance — to recall the forced imprisonment of Japanese American citizens per Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. JACL’s Daniel K Inouye Fellow, Craig Shimizu, sees the annual National Cherry Blossom Freedom Walk as a rightful follow-up from The Day of Remembrance, which allows us to commemorate a tragic moment in history to ensure it does not happen again, and thereafter, look to the future. The Cherry Blossom Freedom Walk makes a return to the memorial, after trailing alongside the National Mall with a banner leading the way; a symbolic gesture of hope, purpose and remembrance. After the event, we swung by the Freer Sackler for a guided tour of “Nature in the Arts of Japan.”
So, what alliances are you creating to preserve your work and to promote the work of others? Please comment below and join the conversation on Twitter! #BGMBnetwork (Visit our Flickr to see photos from the day of events)