Toki Nesan: “You’re no revolutionary, you’re just a rebel.” (Around 1970)
Peggy Nagae: “I asked my secretary, Susan Williams, if she knew any activist-type Japanese Americans, and she gave me your name. I wonder if you’d be interested in coming to a planning meeting.” (1979)
Herb Cawthorne: “Why are you working with these white groups? You can read, you can write, you can talk. You should work with your community. They really need help.” (1980)
By the time Peggy Nagae came calling in 1979, I was ready for something new, politically. Toki’s words had finally begun to register. I couldn’t accomplish anything by being a freelance freedom fighter. Portland’s Day of Remembrance made me realize the grief and anxieties of the people who had been incarcerated.
So being advised/chastised by Herb Cawthorne did not bother me as much as the question I asked myself, “How was I supposed to help this group with my ability to ‘read, write and speak?’”
The answer came soon, in the way of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) hearings. CWRIC was a Congressional Committee that would travel around the country and receive testimony from the community about their lives after the expulsion, in the concentration camps, and possible redress plans. Seattle was one of the cities chosen.
The Seattle Japanese American Citizens League asked the Portland Chapter JACL to invite people to submit written and oral testimony. Peggy and Chisao Hata (then Joyce Cawthorne) asked me if I could help write testimony, and get a few who would testify orally.
It was difficult. While some did manage to write their testimony, no one wanted to talk. Many did neither. In the end, some offered, “You can speak for us.”
It was very important to get their words, and I was at a loss of words myself, but this popped into my head, “Well, I will, if you’ll tell me what to say.” And to my surprise, some did.
The CWIRIC Hearings testimonies played an important part in the passage of Redress for Japanese Americans.
“Floating Lanterns” is about the organizing work of Charlene Mano and the Wing Luke Museum (formerly Wing Luke Asian Museum) in revitalizing From Hiroshima to Hope (HH). HH was a remembrance ceremony for the victims of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of violent conflicts everywhere.
The ceremony is an adaptation of the Toro Nagashi, a Japanese Buddhist ritual in which lanterns representing the souls of the dead are floated out to sea and prayers are offered so that the souls may rest in peace. Yet, in 1993, few Asians attended the ceremonies.
In 2002, the participants were much more diverse than 1993. Among the sponsors and endorsers of the ceremony were Japanese American, Native American, Arab American, Central American, and South Asian organizations as well as API student groups. Also included were organizations representing Buddhist, Baha’i, Jewish, Sikh, and Christian faiths.
Hate Free Zone’s organizing work was made easier by HH, and HFZ’s first “event” mimicked the CWRIC hearings, with members from the Muslim, Sikh communities testifying about their experiences in the aftermath of 9/11, along with Japanese Americans testifying about their WWII incarceration.
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Floating Lanterns: Transforming community participation in the arts
The following, written by Bob Shimabukuro, was originally published in a pamphlet for the Wing Luke Museum (formerly Wing Luke Asian Museum) in 2002:
In early August 1993, Charlene Mano attended a lantern floating ceremony promoting peace and memorializing the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The ceremony, held in Seattle’s Greenlake Park, is an adaptation of the Toro Nagashi, a Japanese Buddhist ritual in which lanterns representing the souls of the dead are floated out to sea and prayers are offered so that the souls may rest in peace. Re-enacted since 1984 and annually since the late 1980s, the ceremony (titled from Hiroshima to Hope) is one of many held internationally in remembrance of the victims of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of violent conflicts everywhere.
Mano, a Japanese American Buddhist, was drawn to From Hiroshima to Hope (HH) because the ceremony is based in Buddhist tradition and because Aki Kurose, a well-known Japanese American peace activist, was the advertised keynote speaker. While she found the ceremony moving, she questioned why there were so few Asians among the 900 or so audience members. But instead of shrugging off the experience as just another example of cultural indifference, Mano saw an opportunity to transform the lantern ceremony into a meaningful experience for a more diverse population.
Mano is the director of education and public programs at the Wing Luke Asian Museum (WLAM) in Seattle, Washington. One of her major tasks is to design and administer programs which ensure that public education about Asian Pacific Islander (API) communities in the United States is truthful and culturally competent.
She saw HH as another opportunity for the Museum, worthy of investigating because the ceremony could help to heal rifts in the pluralistic API community, as well as bridge API’s to the larger mainstream community. In 1994, Mano was invited to join the planning committee for HH, possibly because the HH committee had been trying to diversify its event. In 1995-’96, she took an active role in linking the HH planning committee to WLAM, API communities, and Buddhist and other religious organizations. From 1997 to the present, she took a leadership role in fulfilling HH’s goal to diversify participation—in planning, volunteer recruitment, and attendance—while serving as HH planning committee chair for three years and co-chair for one.
In August 2002, 1,500 participants gathered at Greenlake Park to light their lanterns and offer their prayers of remembrance. It was the largest Hiroshima memorial ceremony outside of Japan. The participants were much more diverse than in 1993. Among the sponsors and endorsers of the ceremony were Japanese American, Native American, Arab American, Central American, and South Asian organizations as well as API student groups. Also included were organizations representing Buddhist, Baha’i, Jewish, Sikh, and Christian faiths. In the words of fellow HH committee member, Martin Fleck of the Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, “The infusion of Wing Luke Museum staff and volunteer power has enabled the event to grow in size by reaching out to more potential participants, especially in the region’s Asia-Pacific community … The Wing Luke (Asian Museum) presence helped to diversify the event itself, so that with each passing year, the program shows greater and greater ethnic diversity.”
How did this transformation occur? Some of the barriers to participation in 1993 were readily apparent to Mano. Typical of many peace and disarmament projects, the HH planning committee and the sponsoring organizations were predominantly white. The North Seattle HH committee was geographically removed from minority communities who lived mostly in south Seattle. The ceremony and rhetoric appealed to a narrower group of citizens who had a definite nuclear disarmament, anti-war stance. If a more diverse participant base was to be created, Mano reasoned, a shift in attitude, action, and sponsorship base was necessary.
Over the years, the HH committee did change the program. Although the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had always been the center of the event, less emphasis was focused on the more politically-charged nuclear arms issues. There was less criticism of (U.S.) government production and selling of nuclear armaments. Mano believed that due to many reasons, the broad API population is generally less comfortable with overt challenges to government policies and public criticism. Therefore, increasing API participation required changes to increase the comfort level. “In order to do this,” Mano said, “I needed to bring more APIs to the decision-making and planning process in the early stages.”
Planning committee meetings were moved to WLAM, south of downtown Seattle, facilitating more input from API communities. Many Museum staff members volunteered to work on both the planning and the event. Organizations and communities participating in other WLAM sponsored/organized projects, such as the Sikh Coalition, the Arab American Community Network, and a Cambodian youth group, were invited to input ways in which they too could participate in HH. “We had no preconceived assumptions about their role,” remarked Mano. “It takes time to gain their trust and build their participation, so we try to maintain an overall spirit of equal collaboration with groups bringing whatever resources they can best offer.” All of these initiatives increased both attendance and volunteers.”
Mano’s (and the HH planning committee’s) success in catalyzing the HH transformation was rooted in and supported by the organizational culture at the Museum. There is no one person at WLAM designated as the “cultural or community relations” or “community liaison” officer. Because almost all of the staff are members of an API community, committed to recording and preserving API history and culture, all are involved in outreach (or “inreach” as some refer to it) in some form or another. They are interested in their own and other families’ stories and artifacts and they attend community cultural events. WLAM does not depend on one person’s knowledge of a community but relies on the collective knowledge and contacts of the whole staff. They reach within their own communities.
In 1990, after Ron Chew became the executive director of WLAM, one of his first hires was Mano. By 1995, when she began taking a leadership role in HH, she was very experienced in opening doors, involving community in education programs, expanding and broadening public programs tied into WLAM exhibitions. Under Chew, WLAM initiated a nurturing, inclusive, grassroots community organizing approach to community outreach and exhibition development beginning in 1990-’91 with the development of its groundbreaking exhibition on Seattle’s Japanese American community, E.O. 9066: Fifty Years Before and Fifty Years After. All WLAM-produced exhibitions following that succeeded with the same model: Community participants developed, conducted research for, designed, contributed artifacts to, and constructed exhibitions of their own history. This is an extreme contrast to the model of exhibitions planned and implemented by curators with no authentic connection to communities.
Mano drew on the strengths of the Museum’s community organizing strategies to increase the diversity of the HH participants, broaden the participation, and deepen the commitment of planning of committee members and event volunteers. She also relied on the trust and commitment of other WLAM staff persons and volunteers who, like Mano, were first attracted to the program because they saw its potential as a healing ceremony and in later years, contributed their time and expertise to HH because they saw the ceremony as a content-rich, artistically satisfying, and emotionally moving, family oriented event, meaningful to them.
Mano and the Museum transformed the meaning of the floating lantern ceremony. Participants experienced a deepening of commitment because the ceremony now makes sense to them. It has meaning in the camaraderie, the diversity, the participation of family and friends, the coming together with other groups, the healing, the ecumenical gathering of all who are working for peace. In turn, WLAM benefited from increased public awareness of the Museum and its public programs, and from opportunities for increased participation in Museum-sponsored activities, and for development of community relationships. These authentic community relationships form the basis of WLAM’s efforts to diversify, deepen, and broaden community participation and thus are also critical to WLAM’s current and future success.