[NOTE: Bridgette spoke on behalf of the NVC at a short memorial and vigil held following the Day of Remembrance Taiko Festival on the Seattle University campus on February 19. This is a copy of her speech.]
I am humbled and proud to be here speaking on behalf of the Nisei Veterans Committee, a group not only associated with the injustices that we are here remembering today, but a group founded by men who, despite this country turning their backs on them, their families, their communities, volunteered to fight for our county. To shed blood on battlefields and in some cases, make the greatest sacrifice any American can make, to give their life to protect the freedoms of all Americans, even if their freedoms were taken away at home.
Being here at Seattle University is special to me. In addition to my proud Japanese American lineage, this university shaped so much of who I am as a human being. And it reminds me of the Fall of 2001. I watched the fall of the World Trade Centers from my dorm room. And I was scared. We were all scared. And in that moment of fear I thought: Why wouldn’t you create a registry? Why wouldn’t you put Muslims in an internment camp?
And when I walked into my scheduled theology class that fall as a confused young adult, the professor tore the syllabus up and informed us that we were going to learn about the Muslim faith. We were going to learn about the Koran. We were going to meet local Muslim leaders and visit mosques. We engaged. That experience forever changed my life.
Fear. Fear does amazing things to your ethos. Your integrity. Who you are. And for that brief moment, I succumbed to my fear. It was just a thought – thoughts aren’t bad, right?! No, thoughts are seeds. And when you plant these seeds, thoughts become ideas. Then those ideas are formed into words. Words start to become action. Actions can lead to un-Constitutional, un-American, fear-based law.
And that is why we’re here today. This is a Day of Remembrance of an Executive Order that was based in fear. It was unconstitutional. It was Un-American. But this is just A DAY. EVERYDAY it is our responsibility to continue to talk about it, to teach about it, and to keep the memory and legacy alive. Because even in those darkest moments, the best of us can and will be susceptible to that fear.
But see, we cannot just to talk to one another, we need to ensure the WORLD never forgets this story. It is our duty to reach out to our Muslim, black, Mexican, LGTBQ brothers and sisters. Particularly those who serve our country and, like the Nisei Veterans, may feel like they’re fighting for a country that isn’t standing up for them, their families, and their communities. It is our duty to engage and evangelize this lesson we learned from Executive Order 9066.
I am proud to be here speaking on behalf of all Nikkei veterans today. I do not deserve that honor. I thank you and your families for your service and sacrifice. You are the continued legacy of the Nisei Vets. And I want to take this moment to pause and thank the Nisei Veterans who made those sacrifices at a time in which this country questioned your loyalties and treated you as second class citizens. You rose. And ironically your actions showed America what it is to be a TRUE PATRIOT. With silence and dignity, you set the standard for what it is to be an American.
America will always be humbled by the service of these men. Reminded of blind faith that comes with the protection of our freedoms and rights. And so, on this Day of Remembrance, may God bless the souls of those gone too young on the battlefields in Europe and around the world and those who lived to old age instilling into future generations the legacy of the 100thBattalion, MIS and the 442nd.
And we must remember America’s greatness was shown when President Reagan apologized to Japanese Americans for the injustices of Executive Order 9066. What makes America great is our leadership in ensuring freedom and democracy for not only our citizens, but citizens of the world.