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Art Miki Talks About New Memoir Gaman—Part 2

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Ibuki: How should our historical experience as Japanese Canadians be remembered by the broader Asian Canadian community?

Miki: I would like to have the broader Canadian community remember how a small minority community was able persevere through the setbacks they encountered from the government officials and some Canadians to eventually overcome those obstacles in achieving a just and meaningful redress settlement from the Canadian government. The Japanese Canadian redress settlement of September 22, 1988 was to become a historical precedent and a model for apologies and redress settlements pertaining to the Chinese Head Tax, the Ukrainian internment during the First World War, the Indigenous Residential Schools abuses, and for many other injustices suffered by Canadians in the past.

Ibuki: As a former school principal and educator, what are your thoughts about how the internment experience is reflected in the school curricula across Canada? Is there any evidence in any of them besides BC?

The Honourable Anita Neville celebrates Gaman with Art on December 10, 2023.

Miki: I believe that provincial school curriculums have been negligent in the past and students have been deprived of learning the past injustices that have occurred in Canada and the role that governments have played in instituting racism during our early history. Certainly, what happened to Japanese Canadians before, during and after World War II is a prime example of racist and hate attitudes that existed in society and of systemic racism employed by governments.

I have been asked to speak to students at high schools and elementary levels on the Japanese experience as well as past and present anti-racism towards Asians during Asian Heritage Month. There are pockets of teachers who are exposing their students to the internment. Three teachers from Winnipeg had attended the program offered by Landscapes of Injustice and have conducted optional workshops on the internment for teachers but the interest is often limited to teachers with some connection to the subject.

The current curriculum allows for teachers to teach about Japanese Canadians under topics related to human rights or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I know that some provinces are considering making Indigenous courses mandatory but I doubt that if provinces would do the same for Asian injustices.

Recently, there has been a children’s book about Japanese Canadians that teachers should be encouraged to share with students and thereby exposing students to the diversity in history and cultures. The book was Baachan! Geechan! Arigato by Alan Fujiwara, a Momiji Publication (1989). I read the book with images on PowerPoint and then followed it up with a PowerPoint presentation on my personal story. I’m thinking of writing a children’s book using my personal experience.

Ibuki: As a former school principal, do you have any particular message for us Asian Canadian educators?

Miki: I would encourage Asian educators to learn about their past and family history and be the ones to expose students to past injustices faced by Asians as well as the contributions made by Asian Canadians and their communities to Canadian society.

Just recently, I was giving a presentation regarding my book to staff at an elementary school in Winnipeg. One of the teachers I met whose father was Japanese and his mother Scottish confided that [neither] he nor his father had any connection with the Japanese Canadian community and his father had been in Manitoba before the internment. I then asked whether he taught the experiences of Japanese Canadians and to my surprise he said he was teaching his students about the internment and was very interested in my comments. I was heartened to hear that a number of teachers showed an interest in the topic.

The principal that invited me is of Asian descent and a person I had invited to be part of the Asian Society of Manitoba of an organization I had founded in 2002. He wanted to educate his staff about injustices that Asians faced in early Canada. We need to have more Asian teachers become administrators so they can advocate for the inclusion of Asian Canadian history in the curriculum by teachers, especially those with Asian backgrounds.

The strategy used by the Landscapes of Injustice to expose teachers of the Japanese Canadian experiences can be replicated at the provincial levels to expose teachers to the broader issues of injustices and racism faced by Asians as part of human rights education.

Ibuki: What should younger Asians take from the meaning of “gaman”? Are there particular Japanese values that might also have some currency today?

Miki: I think we have a lot to learn from the Issei and Nisei pioneers regarding overcoming hardships and frustrations and moving ahead to best survive an intolerable situation with dignity and gaman (perseverance). For Japanese Canadians faced with severe actions by the government to deprive them of their basic rights, a delegation was sent to Ottawa to seek the right to vote. Despite their failure, it continued to be a priority as Japanese Canadians enlisted in the Canadian forces to receive the ability to vote. I think the Japanese Canadian redress campaign is a great example of not giving in to the pressures by politicians and even from members of our own community.

If you believe in certain principles such as the importance of individual compensation in the case of the redress campaign, don’t give in to external pressures and the naysayers who will try to sabotage your efforts. Sometimes compromising on an important goal may come back to haunt you in the future.

I felt that way with the pressure by David Crombie to accept the government’s final offer when the possibility that redress in the United States might be a possibility. When the precedent for individual compensation became a reality in 1988 with President Reagan’s signature, we realized we made the right decision not to bow to pressure.

Ibuki: How does the experience of being the leader of the redress movement affect your life to this day?

Miki: My involvement with the Japanese redress campaign and the final agreement opened my eyes towards politicians and the political system and had a significant impact on my life. I realized that many politicians I met were just ordinary people and not super smart. This motivated me to consider running for office.

I took early retirement from education and decided to be a Liberal candidate in the 1993 Federal Election. At this point, I and the people who were committed to supporting me lacked political and campaigning experience, but it was fun and challenging in building the machinery and volunteers to run an effective comprehensive campaign.

Although I lost by a small margin (219 votes) to a seasoned incumbent Bill Blaikie, I was happy that I tried but sad I did not become the first Japanese Canadian to be elected to Canadian Parliament. However, that failure led me to a surprise appointment as a Canadian citizenship judge for Manitoba and Saskatchewan in 1998. I held this position for 10 years and it was the most rewarding time in my life by conducting over a thousand ceremonies across Canada and swearing in 40,000 Canadian citizens.

Ibuki: Are there lessons that you want to pass on?

Miki: I guess there are several lessons to pass on. First is not to give up on your goals but pursue them with fervour as you examine all the options. Second, rely on others for support. I know with the redress campaign when we brought in the support from other Canadians, we created a stronger voice that the government couldn’t ignore. Look for people who can help in the pursuit of your goal. The bringing of knowledge together creates the strength that you might need.

Ibuki: Going forward, what are your hopes for the future Japanese Canadian and, more broadly, Asian Canadian communities?

Ambassador Kanji Yamanouchi, Art Miki, Jesse Miki, and Consul General Takahito Watabe at a book celebration held at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Miki: In the last 10 years the number of Asian immigrants arriving in Canada far exceeds any other country. The percentage of the Asian population will continue to rise. When I was a Citizenship Judge I found that in the ceremonies I conducted the majority of new citizens were Asians, predominantly from India, China, and the Philippines.

Although the Japanese Canadian population is extremely small in relation to other Asian groups, members of the Japanese Canadian community have a significant presence in all aspects of Canadian life. I hope that Japanese Canadians will contribute to enhance Canadian society by their contribution.

I would like to see more supportive relationships develop amongst the Asian communities. This need became more apparent during the COVID crisis when anti-Asian racism became prevalent. I believe Japanese Canadians who have been in Canada longer than most Asian communities and have personally experienced grave violations of human rights should be able to provide the leadership in building coalitions within the Asian groups.

Ibuki: Did the fight for redress ever really end? In the ongoing fight against colonialism, what battles still lay ahead? Why might it be important that the Japanese Canadian community be part of this evolution?

Miki: There will continue to be ongoing efforts to achieve justice, especially for the Indigenous peoples who have suffered immensely in the past and continue to face inequality when it comes to living conditions: housing, clean water, and other social and economic areas. I know that the NAJC in the past have collaborated and supported the Indigenous organizations in their issues.

I have noticed an emergence of young Japanese Canadians voices raising human rights concerns, especially with the current unrest in the Middle East and with the Ukraine-Russian war. I think one of the legacies of the redress settlement is for Japanese Canadians to speak out and support other minority communities who face discrimination just as they spoke out in support of the NAJC during our time of need. 

Ibuki: Finally, what do you hope that Millennial and Gen Z readers take away from Gaman?

Miki: I hope there are lessons to be learned, especially the strength of collective action. The redress campaign came to a standstill until we re-strategized to make redress, a Canadian human rights issue, a concept that Canadians can relate to and invited others in the Canadian community to participate. It brought to attention that a small minority community such as Japanese Canadians, who make up less than a half percent of the population, can become a force by engaging others in the struggle to achieve justice.

 

© 2024 Norm Ibuki

Art Miki education Japanese Canadians National Association of Japanese Canadians redress movement teachers teaching
About this series

The inspiration for this new Canadian Nikkei interview series is the observance that the gulf between the pre-WW2 Japanese Canadian community and the Shin Ijusha one (post-WW2) has grown tremendously. 

Being “Nikkei” no longer means that one is only of Japanese descent anymore. It is far more likely that Nikkei today are of mixed cultural heritage with names like O’Mara or Hope, can’t speak Japanese and have varying degrees of knowledge about Japan.

It is therefore the aim of this series to pose ideas, challenge some and to engage with other like-minded Discover Nikkei followers in a meaningful discussion that will help us to better understand ourselves.

Canadian Nikkei will introduce you to many Nikkei who I have had the good fortune to come into contact with over the past 20 years here and in Japan. 

Having a common identity is what united the Issei, the first Japanese to arrive in Canada, more than 100 years ago. Even in 2014, it is the remnants of that noble community that is what still binds our community today.

Ultimately, it is the goal of this series to begin a larger online conversation that will help to inform the larger global community about who we are in 2014 and where we might be heading to in the future.

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About the Author

Writer Norm Masaji Ibuki lives in Oakville, Ontario. He has written extensively about the Canadian Nikkei community since the early 1990s. He wrote a monthly series of articles (1995-2004) for the Nikkei Voice newspaper (Toronto) which chronicled his experiences while in Sendai, Japan. Norm now teaches elementary school and continues to write for various publications. 

Updated August 2014

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