May 29, 2017 Rose City Sermon

Nikkei Memorial Day Service

We gather here today in appreciation for our ancestors, many of whom persevered
through the hardship of immigrating to a land and culture, which at first must have been
mysterious and daunting. While all immigrants are confronted with the need to relearn a
new language and to accustom themselves to a new culture, the immigrants who are
interred here were further burdened by the precipitous reality of a war that was not of
their choosing.

Despite the harrowing experience of internment, these immigrants managed to provide
for their families and contributed to rebuilding a civil society after the war. We must here
recognize the harsh physical and mental trial that they had undergone and appreciate their
precious lessons from which we today can draw and build, to carry on the torch to make
our society a better one.

But, what exactly are the lessons of our ancestors? I am told that Executive Order 9066
allowed but two weeks for many of the Japanese in Portland to sell off all that they owned
or to abandon them outright, and report to an assembly point such as the Expo Center
with nothing more than what they could fit into a suitcase. How much could one fit into a
suitcase? In reality, the most that they could manage to salvage was the shirt on their
backs. Nonetheless, this is just as well, because it was not the material things, as precious
as they may have been, that was important. Our parents and grandparents were careful
not to forget their real treasures, things that cannot be packed in a suitcase. These were
things tucked away deep within their hearts, such as their ideals, values, and attitudes
passed on to them from their parents. I am referring to what the Japanese would call
kokoro or “heart”, the feelings of deference, respect, and empathy for others.

The early immigrants staunchly upheld virtues such as trustworthiness, kindness,
fairness, generosity, compassion, modesty, and altruism, even when faced with the reality
of losing their lawful rights as citizens. All of this, they did without grievance or dissension.
Despite everything against them, no one, not even the guards pointing guns at them at
Minidoka could take away their confidence and pride that what they stood for was not
wrong. Stripped of everything, the only aim of each of our ancestors interred here was but
to dedicate their lives to present a pure and beautiful example to the next generation,
something that their children could keep with them forever.

We are living in a tumultuous point in time in which much of what we have come to
believe as honorable are ignored or marginalized. We live in a high-tech world that
appears faster and better than that of our parents, yet much of cyberspace is fraught with
dubious information, which has helped to cause havoc in elections across the globe. There
are leaders who frantically try to maintain power by exterminating their own citizens with
sarin gas without an ounce of remorse. There are persons seeking positions in office who
should know better, but easily lose control of themselves, erupting in brutality as has
happened in the assault of a reporter by a candidate on the eve of his election. There are
those who see victory in the taking of innocent lives as an apparatus for publicity, as was
the motive of the most recent bombing in Manchester. There are people who seek to
silence and eradicate those who support equality and justice just as has happened locally
at the Hollywood MAX station on Friday. Instability, deceit, and anger pervades our
society. Disrespect and negligence of life is possibly the most arrogant act that can be
committed by humans. Despite all our advancements in science and technology, nothing
has improved man’s partiality for discord and violence.

We, as descendants of those who quietly opposed ignorance and irrationality fueled by
hate and racism seventy-five years ago, are uniquely qualified to pass on our ancestor’s
lessons that are now more relevant than ever. The sacrifice of our parents, grandparents,
relatives, and friends who had undergone so much suffering during the war should not be
forgotten. We owe it to them to lead our generation to create a society of peace and
harmony, and to assure that the generations who follow us will know what were in the
minds and kokoro of our ancestors. This is why we are here today--to show our
appreciation for our ancestors’ strong conviction of decency, justice, and leadership, and
to reaffirm that we will continue to preserve the legacy of their endeavors.

(Eisei Ikenaga)