San Diego’s February 2006 Day of Rembrance Events
by Mich Himaka and Joyce Teague

On February 16, the University of California at San Diego Nikkei Student Union (NSU) observed its annual Day of Remembrance to commemorate the day President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. The order was signed February 19, 1942, authorizing the exclusion of Japanese Americans from the Pacific Coast. Former internees Yukio Kawamoto, Rev. Jim Yanagihara, Jeanne Elyea and Mich Himaka represented the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego as panelists, recounting what they remembered of their Poston III days. The entire program was well prepared and presented by the NSU members. Though it was just before lunch hour and the Price Center location was in the center of the fast food section, several students did stop to listen, observe, and view photo exhibits that DOR Chairperson Kelsey Wakasa and her crew had put on display. Other speakers included Frank Emi of Los Angeles who, as a leader of the Fair Play Committee in camp, led the protest against the draft of internees; John Tateishi, National Executive Director of the JACL; and Tad Nakamura, a coordinator of UCLA’s Center for Ethno Communications.

John Tateishi also addressed a gathering that same evening at San Diego State University’s DOR event which featured the screening of the 2005 film, Stand Up for Justice: The Ralph Lazo Story. Lazo, a Los Angeles-born Mexican American, chose to join his Japanese American friends at Manzanar Camp rather than to be left behind in his Boyle Heights neighborhood. The director and members of the cast and crew were present at the screening which was co-sponsored by the SDSU Cross-Cultural Center and the San Diego Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL).

The San Diego City Council, at the urging of Councilmember Jim Madaffer, adopted a proclamation on February 21, declaring it the 2006 San Diego Day of Remembrance. JAHSSD President Mich Himaka accepted the proclamation on behalf of JAHSSD and the Japanese American community. He also invited council members to the February 23 launch of the book, Dear Miss Breed, about the correspondence between the beloved former San Diego Children’s Librarian, Clara Breed, and the Japanese American young people she had befriended during the pre-war years. [Mich’s acceptance can be viewed online by going to the San Diego City website, which archives all its council meetings. Go to Click on CITY COUNCIL-Tuesday Feb 21 and click on VIEW VIDEO. On the pull-down menu below the screen, select ITEM 32: S.D. Day of Remembrance.]

The national book launch of this important new book was co-sponsored by the San Diego Public Library and the JAHSSD. The event drew an overflow crowd of 200 which filled the third floor auditorium of the Central Library and spilled into the hallways. JAHSSD President Mich Himaka welcomed the audience and Anna Tatar, Library Director, introduced author Joanne Oppenheim of New York. Mrs. Oppenheim, who has authored some 50 books, told the standing room-only crowd how she came to write about long-time San Diego Head Librarian, Clara Breed, and her friendship with children incarcerated in Poston Camp during World War II. In trying to locate a long-lost Nikkei schoolmate she had met after the war, Mrs. Oppenheim happened upon letters written to Miss Breed which the Japanese American National Museum had posted on its website. (Some 250 letters written by Poston Camp youngsters, mostly from San Diego families, are archived at JANM).
At the time, the author knew little about internment and was shocked to learn the friend she was searching for had spent the war years in camp, though this had never been mentioned during their acquaintance. In reading through the poignant letters which chronicled camp life, the author realized this was a story that needed to be told: about the kids behind barbed wire and the Children’s Librarian who was a loyal friend to her young correspondents during their three-year incarceration, speaking out on their behalf when few others were doing so. Above all, the author felt this story would show how one brave person could make a difference in the lives of so many others.
During her lecture, Mrs. Oppenheim also read excerpts from the letters as images of the youthful correspondents were shown on the screen behind her. It was a very moving presentation. Seated among the audience was the high school friend (now living in San Jose), whom Mrs. Oppenheim eventually located, as well as a number of Miss Breed’s pen pals who still reside in San Diego. (Miss Breed, who remained friends with many of her old correspondents and was honored by the Nikkei community in 1991, passed away in 1994.)
In a surprise announcement at the close of the event, Ms. Tatar announced each family in attendance would receive a copy of Dear Miss Breed autographed by the author, courtesy of a library patron. JAHSSD provided refreshments for the reception and curated an exhibit which will be on view in at the Central Library in the Wangenheim Room through the end of March. Mrs. Oppenheim also gave a reading the following day at the Chula Vista Library accompanied by Ben Segawa, whose late wife, Katherine Tasaki Segawa, had been a librarian there. An appreciative crowd of about 100 people heard Mrs. Oppenheim read many of “Kathy’s” descriptive letters about camp life. Kathy was not yet a teenager when she wrote the letters.
[To read more about San Diego’s great librarian, Clara Breed, and find out how to obtain a copy of Joanne Oppenheim’s award-winning book, go to]

Categories: Footprints Article