DECLARATION FOR THE NIKKEI COMMUNITY
(from the Ties That Bind Conference)
Drafted and Adopted by the Los Angeles Ties That Bind Conference Declaration Committee on: June 24, 1998
Ratified with revisions by: Northern California Conference follow up group, June 28, 1998 at the JCCCNC.
On the threshold of the new millennium, at this monumental time in history, the “Ties That Bind” conference for the Nikkei community was organized and held on April 3, 4, and 5, 1998 in Los Angeles, California, attended by over 400 participants. (The term “Nikkei” is used in this context to mean anyone in the U.S. of Japanese ancestry, and is inclusive of Japanese nationals, Japanese Americans and mixed Japanese racial groups who wish to identify with the Nikkei community).
Out of the timely dialogue from the conference, which involved major representation from Northern and Southern California, as well as other parts of the U.S., comes the following declarations and directives:
* First and foremost, there will be a Japanese American community in the 21st century and we have an opportunity to decide the direction and shape that our community will take. Our community is made up of a network of organizations, churches and temples, businesses, agencies and institutions, activities and events, and individuals. We must nurture, support and preserve this network of “ties that bind” if our community is to thrive in the next century.
* Second, the Japanese American community is growing in diversity. The paradigm of Issei, Nisei, Kibei, Sansei, Yonsei have served the community well, but is no longer adequate. We must embrace this diversity which includes anyone with any Japanese ancestry or who wishes to identify with the Nikkei community. We are of mixed heritage; we are recently arrived immigrants and have come here since the end of World War II; we are men and women; and we are of different sexual orientations. All of us have an equal place of dignity in our Japanese American community and in the broader community at large. We must maintain the positive nature of this diversity, and break down the barriers and boundaries that keep us from embracing our differences and from redefining our community.
* Third, there is in fact a Japanese American culture. The Japanese American culture includes cultural forms brought from Japan, historically and today, and equally important, is a distinct and unlimited culture born of the experiences of Japanese in America. Other ethnic cultures in the United States have influenced our unique cultural form. This makes Japanese American culture harder to define, however the definition is not static but a dynamic one which is a work in progress. It is clear that the long standing community-based institutions such as regional Japanese American community centers play a crucial role in preserving language, art, and culture.
* Fourth, there are Japanese American values. These values have been demonstrated or taught to us by our preceding generations and it is up to us to continue to discuss and selectively integrate them as a positive force as we claim our place in American society. Values like “enryo” and “haji” may be seen as negative or passive, but in another light, they can be asserted as being sensitive to the needs of others (enryo), and taking responsibility for one’s actions (haji). As a foundation, they give us personal character and stability, and a stronger sense of personal identity. Our heritage and values asks us to work hard, to value education, to appreciate art and culture, to respect authority and structure, and to be good parents and devoted family members.
* Fifth, the Japanese American historical experience is full of important lessons. Understanding and embracing such lessons creates the basis of our collective identity and our legacy. For example, during World War II, the Japanese American concentration camp experience embodies the racism and injustices endured by our community, the heroics of our JA veterans, the conscientious stand of those who opposed injustice, and later, the courage of our community to demand redress. As Japanese Americans we have toiled on the fruited plains, fished the bounty of our seas, greened the concrete cities, put food on the tables of America, healed the sick and infirm, and fought for the political issues of the day. We are no longer the quiet American, we have a voice that is distinctly and uniquely Japanese American.
- To be inclusive in our understanding of who is a member of the Japanese American community. Individuals whose ethnic heritages include, but are not limited to, Japanese ancestry are to be embraced as being Japanese American. Any individuals who wish to identify with the Japanese American community should be seen as being a member of the Nikkei community. Individuals who immigrated to the United States after World War II and individuals with any Japanese ancestry, from all parts of the country, all socio-economic strata, both genders, and all sexual orientations are to be embraced as being Japanese American.
- To break down barriers between the diverse segments of the Japanese American community through continued dialogue. Such discussions will create a level of awareness regarding the important issues of our community.
- We must create a new way of understanding our community which goes beyond generational designations. This new understanding, complete with new terminology will expand our scope and capture the full essence of the diversity and commonalities within our community.
- To acknowledge and embrace the diversity of religious and spiritual connections and backgrounds in the Japanese American community.
- To support Nikkei cultural and community institutions which help to foster and strengthen ethnic American identity through education, participation, and by creating opportunities for people to convene and exchange various ideas, interests, and needs.
- To mentor, actively work with, and engage Japanese American youth in order to facilitate their meaningful participation in the Nikkei community and the larger society as well. Additionally, to be aware of the ever-changing dynamics of society and the issues concerning Japanese American youth.
- To promote and support the importance of retaining the Japanese language as a means of defining ourselves and our culture. – To address openly issues in the Japanese American community which have historically created divisions and conflict such as: sexism, homophobia, racism, classism, regionalism, nationalism, and to raise our consciousness to be sensitive to the value and worth of every individual. This is imperative in order for the Japanese American community to thrive collectively, rather than disintegrate over divisions and differences.
- To develop and support programs for our families to engender positive Japanese American values and traditions which can help future generations to have a stronger and more balanced self-image. These Japanese American value dynamics need to be assessed in a contemporary context and integrated into the lives of our future generations, so that they can embrace their vital role in a multicultural society.
- To educate all people of the Japanese American experience. Of particular importance are the events during World War II when the Japanese American community was denied the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America. In doing so, the legacy and lessons of this egregious act and the Japanese American redress movement will not be lost.