To me, the Japanese Canadian story is most meaningful as a story of social justice. Growing up, I often felt alienated from my Japanese ancestry, “less Japanese” than peers whose parents were born in Japan. What eventually made me feel able to claim my identity as a Japanese Canadian wasn’t anything about Japan, but rather learning about the Redress movement in the 1980s. How it asserted Japanese Canadians’ right to belong in Canada as citizens equal to any other citizen, how it asserted my belonging in the country I was born and grew up in. But especially in the years that have passed since 1988, these ideas raise many complex questions. If Redress was won based on the idea of Canadian citizenship, what about the rights of non-citizens? What about Indigenous people who might have no wish to claim citizenship in colonial Canada? Knowing what more and more of us now know about the cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples, should any of us even try to be “good Canadians”?
I am incredibly proud to have any kind of inheritance from older generations of Japanese Canadians. I ask these questions not to diminish the struggles of our community, but to honour their complexity and their importance to how I live in this world. I’m currently working on a musical about these themes – you can see a short preview made for the 2021 Powell Street Festival here.