provoking thoughts about the presence of our past

Thursday, September 25, 2014

UBC Student Carolyn Nakagawa's Introduction of Dr. Henry Sugiyama at the Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies Launch, Sept. 23, 2014

Delivered by UBC Student Carolyn Nakagawa at the Official Ceremony Honouring Dr. Henry Sugiyama as the First Student of the Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies Programme at UBC, September 23, 2014

If you’re wondering what my qualifications are for speaking here today (because I had to think about it myself), last year I co-coordinated a student-directed seminar on the Nisei poet and artist Roy Kiyooka, and I’m currently conducting a research project on the life and legacy of Nisei musician Harry Aoki. In 2012, my father, who is here today, was the alumni representative for the honorary degree ceremony for the students of ’42. So there’s been a number of coincidences that have brought me in contact with internment as an experience and a legacy in the two years since my grandmother passed away, that are indirectly connected to her own experience and my grandfather’s of forced relocation during the war.

The history I’ve been learning these past few years is the history of a generation – the wartime Nisei generation, whose experiences form a crisis point for Japanese Canadian history. My grandparents were among them, as were Roy Kiyooka, Harry Aoki, and Dr. Sugiyama. What this generation endured at the hands of the government has become what defines the entire history of the Japanese Canadian community, including how we experience it today. Learning about what happened, I feel like I’m uncovering things that have always been around me, in my own family, that I never properly noticed or understood. My grandparents never spoke about the war, or seemed to want to, to me or to their children. They didn’t seem to think it was important. But the more I read and learn, the more my understanding of my family and myself changes. I’ve realized that the fact that I am here – that I go to UBC and was born in Vancouver and grew up here, natural as it may seem – cannot be taken for granted.

For example, I keep coming across this explanation about Japanese Canadians not having the franchise before 1949, which meant not only that they couldn’t vote, but that they couldn’t be doctors, lawyers, politicians or pharmacists – and that always makes me pause, because my dad is a licensed pharmacist, and the registrar of the College of Pharmacists, which means he actually signs the licenses for all pharmacists in BC, and not only was that not possible for his father because he didn’t economically have access to that kind of education, but even if he had, it wouldn’t have been legal. I think it’s incredible that my grandparents came back to Vancouver after being chased into the interior. I think it’s amazing that, even while they put it behind them and acted like it wasn’t worth talking about, there were others in the community who fought for years until the government gave them compensation. And I’m very proud to belong to a tradition of people as hardworking as my grandparents and as committed to social justice as those who disagreed with them. I’m glad to be a part of welcoming Dr. Sugiyama today because I get to engage with that tradition and not just passively inherit it.

I say I inherit it because I am a fourth-generation Japanese Canadian, and learning about this history I do get the sense that it belongs to me, something I’m able to recognize even if I never knew it before. But I don’t think it’s only my inheritance. It’s the inheritance of everyone who chooses to live or work or study here because “here” is such a fraught and complex term. When I say “here” I mean Vancouver or the Lower Mainland or Canada or UBC in varying contexts; the more I learn about all the places I am in the more I realize that it took a series of atrocities and a series of incredible achievements to bring each and every one of us here. For me I think about the fact that this is Musqueam land, first of all, and my grandparents were forced to leave here in 1942 but they came back and my father was born here and went to UBC. And I am at UBC now, and it was never questioned that I would go here or that I have every right to be here. But that’s not to be taken for granted. Even with that, people look at my face and still don’t believe me when I say I am from here. As much as things seem to change, and do, the past doesn’t disappear. Dr. Sugiyama’s history with UBC may not have stopped him, but it hasn’t disappeared. We here today all inherit that legacy, and what we do with it is the question we’ll be asking in Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies.

Keiko Mary Kitagawa speaking about what led to the honouring of Dr. Henry Sugiyama

Dr. Henry Sugiyama sharing his story

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A UBC Student at Last...

Dr. Henry Sugiyama Finally Admitted to the University of British Columbia (news stories from the Globe and Mail, the Province, and the Ubyssey)

At 87, Henry Sugiyama is finally going to arrive on the campus of the University of British Columbia the way he had hoped to as a teenager. As a student.
In 1942, when Dr. Sugiyama was 15, he and his family were among the 21,000 Japanese-Canadians who were removed from B.C.’s coastal areas under the cover of Canada’s War Measures Act. After relocating to Kamloops, the star student continued high school, and his teachers encouraged him to write entrance exams to UBC. He won a scholarship, but UBC rejected his application. The war was over, but Japanese-Canadians had been presented with a choice: move away from the coast or go to Japan. The teen could not live on or near the UBC campus. The only university that would take him was the University of Manitoba, where he earned a medical degree.
“I was lucky in a way. UBC did not have a medical program at the time. If I had gone there, I would not have become a doctor,” Dr. Sugiyama said.
On Tuesday, Dr. Sugiyama will attend the first class in a new program in Asian Canadian and Asian Migration studies. Its opening completes the promises the university made to recognize its role in the province’s internment policy, first awarding honorary degrees to 76 students who did not finish their diplomas as a result of the removals, and vowing to preserve and teach the history of that time.
The program is not a form of atonement, although with courses such as Chinese Migration, it memorializes the experiences of those who Canada has at times shunned. Instead, it will try to teach students that choices are always available: to speak against exclusion or to abet it.
“It’s not about just remembering the past. It’s not about, ‘You should feel guilty, you should feel bad.’ That is actually a bankrupt form of historical thinking in my mind,” said Henry Yu, a history professor at UBC who was a member of the committee that organized the granting of the honorary degrees. “We are trying to have our students look around and say, ‘Who am I? Am I Ellis Morrow or am I Gordon Shrum?’”
Prof. Morrow was one of the few people on campus in the 1940s who spoke against the removals, helping his students finish degrees by correspondence. Mr. Shrum was a senior university administrator who played a part in the decision to go further than the government’s removal order and strip students in Canadian Officer Training Corps of their designation.
“We can’t tell right now which way you should act, but what you can do is think about the past and not just dismiss and say everyone was racist and now we’re not any more,” Dr. Yu said. “What work do we need to do, in maybe the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the way we deal with First Nations? What is a temporary foreign worker, how are we treating Filipino nannies? What is it to be a just society?”
Dr. Sugiyama said the experience of removal affected his whole life. His father eventually rebuilt parts of his business, working in the fishing industry as an exporter. After finishing medical school, Dr. Sugiyama moved to Toronto and worked in the city’s Cabbagetown area at a time when its name was still identified with illness, overcrowding and poverty.
“At the time, it was a slum area, I wanted to give back,” he said.
Some things about the choices adults made he will never understand. Why his teachers in Kamloops, for example, raised his hopes. “I don’t know why they encouraged me to write the exams. They did not do anything to help me after.”
His daughter was awarded the Order of Canada for her achievements as a lawyer and for civic engagement, so the country has changed, Dr. Sugiyama said, even as he believes some groups are still disadvantaged, particularly aboriginal students.
The director of the new UBC program, Chris Lee, says students enrolling have only to look on campus to understand the program’s continuing relevance. Students who are struggling with English, for example, are still stigmatized. “Like many Canadian universities, our students have family histories that have migration in them. This program is a way of recognizing that our students lead global lives.”
Former ‘enemy of the state,’ Dr. Henry Sugiyama is first student of UBC's new Asian Canadian studies program

Dr. Henry Sugiyama poses with his daughter Constance, and wife Joanne.

Dr. Henry Sugiyama, 69 years after being denied entry at UBC because although Canadian he was of Japanese descent, has become the first student admitted in the university’s new program in Asian Canadian studies.
He went on to become a doctor, run a successful practice in Toronto and raise a family. The 87-year-old is now retired.
In high school in Kamloops, where the family had moved after being forced off the West Coast in 1942, Sugiyama earned an entrance scholarship to UBC.
It was 1945 and the war had just ended, but Japanese Canadians were to be considered “enemy aliens” until 1949.
UBC rejected him, as did the universities of Saskatchewan and Alberta. The University of Manitoba accepted him into medicine, despite the huge number of war veterans returning who had been granted free education benefits.
“The Second World War ended that summer and I was no longer an ‘enemy of the state,’” Sugiyama said. “There was no real reason why UBC couldn’t take me.
“To this day, I cannot fail to admire the courage of the admission committee of the U of M for accepting an ‘enemy alien’ when so many other Canadian universities found it so easy to simply refuse.”
His father and mother arrived in Vancouver in 1912 and built up a handful of businesses.
In 1942, the family — along with more than 21,000 Japanese Canadians forced out of their homes on the West Coast by the federal War Measures Act — was uprooted to Kamloops.
“My father, who was a successful businessman, had all his properties confiscated,” Sugiyama said, “including his home, cameras, radios, automobiles, his fleet of six large fishing boats and three companies dealing with the fishing industry.”
Sugiyama was a 14-year-old Grade 9 student at Templeton Junior High at the time and had fulfilled all the requirements to earn the school’s highest award, the Silver T, but the school claimed he had been expelled and never gave it to him.
After writing two letters to the school, however, in 2013 he received a small banner to take the place of the Silver T and a copy of a commencement speech by the principal, Aaron Davis, acknowledging the “shameful act” committed by Templeton in 1942.
Sugiyama received the letter on Dec. 7 last year, 72 years to the day after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
His father, he said, “never gave up his love for this country and never gave up hope that his family would succeed and make a better country.”
As if to reaffirm that sentiment, Sugiyama’s daughter Constance, a lawyer, was in 2013 appointed a member of the Order of Canada for her contributions to the Japanese Canadian community.
From enemy alien to Canada’s highest civilian honour in one lifetime: Sugiyama said he knows his late father would be proud.