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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Remembering Our History

Melissa Tsang
VOIS Manager
I love Vancouver. Although I was born and raised in Winnipeg, I find it hard to imagine a comparable city and province to call home. When I learned this week that British Columbia had, for the first time, formally apologized for the internment of thousands of Japanese-Canadians during World War II, my initial response was surprise. 

Vancouver Opera In Schools (VOIS) is remounting Naomi's Road, an opera for children that follows a young Japanese-Canadian girl’s experiences as her family is interned during World War II.

The opera is based on the children's novel by Japanese-Canadian Joy Kogawa, who was raised in her Vancouver home in Marpole until her family was interned to Slocan. I was not with VO when the opera was first commissioned, but my current involvement with the remount, scheduled for next year, has encouraged me to read, research and learn more about the history. I learned that after the war, Kogawa and her family were not allowed to return to their Vancouver home and the government had sold their house and property.

I also learned that the Federal government had apologized to Japanese-Canadians in 1988 but I was completely unaware that the internment had never been redressed in British Columbia.

Photo by Tim Matheson
I am embarrassed by my lack of historical knowledge of the community that I so proudly call home. I have come to understand that the internment is not only of tragic significance to Japanese-Canadians and their descendents: it affects us all, and it will continue to shape the beliefs and values of society and individuals. A society that does not fully understand each other and value all of its citizens with equality, in my mind, is a tragic one.

Vancouver Opera donor, subscriber and Amatori dell'Opera committee member Lois Bewley, recalls how these events changed her life.

Born and lived in Regina until my early teens, when my family moved to the Coast where I committed my first act of civil disobedience by getting up a petition for Prime Minister MacKenzie King protesting the removal of our Japanese-Canadian school friends. As a result I met from adults hostility and racial bigotry. A lesson not forgotten. 

Sam Chung, Sung Taek Chung, Jessica Cheung.
Photo by Tim Matheson
I've learned that the timing of this redress commemorates this societal tragedy 70 years after, and I've learned that there is so much more to learn. VOIS' Naomi's Road will tour our home town and province, Vancouver and British Columbia, next season, sharing beautiful music while at the same time, educating British Columbians by exploring an issue that is not easy to, or often, talked about.

More Resources
A recent article in the Toronto Star by Joy Kogawa about Bill C-31, a bill on Canada's refugee system.

The official apology in the news.

About Joy Kogawa and Naomi's Road

VO's Naomi's Road

Joy Kogawa House

Historic Joy Kogawa House is situated in the former home of the Canadian author Joy Kogawa (born 1935), where she lived until age six. It stands as a cultural and historical reminder of the expropriation of property that all Canadians of Japanese descent experienced after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Between 2003 and 2006, a grassroots committee fundraised in a well-publicized national campaign and, with the help of The Land Conservancy of BC, a non-profit land trust, managed to purchase the house in 2006.

Joy Kogawa Reading List

Naomi's Road

Japanese History and Heritage

Nikkei Place

Japanese Canadian History

-Melissa Tsang
Vancouver Opera In Schools (VOIS) Manager

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