Giving voice to our history

Photo by Tosh Kitagawa

A panel of Japanese-Canadians will share their firsthand experiences of losing their homes, internment and separation from their family.

Landscapes of Injustice (LoI) will present “Memories of Internment and Dispossession” on Jan. 14 in the Central Branch of the Vancouver Public Library (VPL).

Stanger-Ross, professor of history at University of Victoria and project director of LoI, explains how the project started.

“I began research of the real estate market in east end Vancouver, and had started to do some research on the forced sale of Japanese-Canadian owned property there. And, as often happens in research, that led me down avenues that I haven’t anticipated,” he says.

Conversations to engage in

The project’s first panel was held earlier this year at LoI’s Spring Institute, in Victoria, an annual conference that brings its geographically dispersed researchers together under one roof. Michael Abe, a third-generation Japanese-Canadian and project manager of LoI notes that outside of the Japanese-
Canadian community, there is little awareness of this episode of dispossession in our history.

“For some students, [the panel] was probably the most moving part of their experience at the Spring Institute. They haven’t heard the Japanese-Canadian story before and they hear firsthand from people who’ve lived through it,” he says.

Kaitlin Findlay, who is completing an MA in history at the University of Victoria, will participate in the poster session after the panel speaks. She enjoys her involvement in LoI both from an academic and personal standpoint.

“I can see my research as being part of this larger conversation about people’s families,” she says.

This prompted her to create a forum that fosters conversations among research assistants.

“The forum is created to grapple with the question of what engaged scholarship and activism means,” says Findlay. “For me, it is a way to learn strategies to think about the ramifications of my work.”

Stanger-Ross believes this thoughtful approach is one way that the project furthers national dialogue.

“Culture is a noisy place with lots of other voices,” he says. “But we do want to be a genuinely contributing part of the conversation that occurs as Canadians think about the challenges of our times, this intermingling of questions around security, perceived insecurity, international migration, racial and religious differences.”

Panel at the 2016 Sprint Institute with Tosh Kitagawa, Mary Kitagawa, Art Miki and moderator Gregor Craigie of CBC Radio’s On The Island.

From research to outreach

Abe, who was recruited by Stanger-Ross as project manager, is active in several community organizations and uses his network to strengthen the project’s ties with the community. His interest in the project is also personal.

“Because of my heritage, I’m very interested in seeing some of the research that goes on, putting the links together and watching it evolve,” he says.

Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, most of the project’s budget goes towards employing around 25 student researchers yearly. Students generally spend two years with the project. By the end of its seven-year mandate, the project’s collective membership is expected to be sizeable.

“The project has a built-in turnover. People’s time in the project is considered an opportunity for advancing their skills,” Findlay explains.

Stanger-Ross agrees.

“I do think that we’re equipping those students to be better informed activists, to be democratic citizens, to be people who have a range of skills that would benefit the workforce. It’s the best teaching that I’ve done in the course of my career,” he says.

LoI has also produced teaching material for elementary and secondary schools, museum exhibits, newsletters and forums. In the next two years, the project will be transitioning from the research phase to the outreach phase and will increase its efforts to engage the larger Canadian community.

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