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Honoring A Late Civil Rights Leader At LA's Day Of Remembrance. How You Can Participate

A Japanese American man stands outside the brick Japanese American National Museum, while he wears glasses and a black jacket and holds a manila pad.
Jim Matsuoka, who died in October at age 86, is the subject of a special dedication during this year's L.A. Day of Remembrance, commemorating the order that forcibly removed Japanese Americans from their homes.
(Josie Huang
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Jim Matsuoka was 7 years old when he and his family were torn from their home in Little Tokyo and forced to spend World War II in a guarded camp in the Central Valley.

81 Years Since The Mass Incarceration Of Japanese Americans, LA Remembers

For the rest of his life, he would speak out against the government’s mass incarceration of people of Japanese descent — and any time he saw injustice.

In the 1980s, Matsuoka helped lead a successful campaign for reparations — and demanded the same for African Americans.

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He also condemned discrimination against Muslim Americans after they experienced a surge in violence and government profiling after the 9/11 attacks.

"A lot of people think we’ve changed a lot but as far as I’m concerned there was racism then, and there’s racism now,” Matsuoka said in an interview with LAist during a 2016 rally against a proposed Muslim registry.

A Japanese American man wears sunglasses and a cap and is grinning. The backgound behind him is black.
Jim Matsuoko
(Courtesy Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress)

Matsuoka died last October at age 86. He will be the subject of a special dedication at the L.A. Day of Remembrance.

About the event

The annual event marks the Feb. 19, 1942 date on which President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the forced removal of more than 125,000 people of Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals, upending lives and livelihoods.

It’ll be the first time the Day of Remembrance will be held in-person since concerns over COVID-19 moved the event online in 2021.

Matthew Weisbly, whose grandfather was incarcerated at the Gila River camp in Arizona, is helping to organize the event. He works with the Japanese American Citizens League.

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"It’s just about honoring and remembering our parents, grandparents, great grandparents, who suffered those three to four years of incarceration and an injustice under the government that was supposed to be protecting them and giving them support and in providing for them while they searched for that quote, unquote, American Dream."

What to expect

The perennial theme of the Day of Remembrance is solidarity. That will be the subject of a conversation between Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director at AAPI Equity Alliance and co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and traci ishigo, director of Programs and Healing Justice at Vigilant Love, an L.A.-based group fighting Islamophobia.

This will be the first L.A. Day of Remembrance without Matsuoka present, noted Joy Yamaguchi, one of the event's organizers.

His legacy continues to inspire younger Japanese Americans like Yamaguchi, who is yonsei, or fourth-generation. They said Matsuoka earned the moniker of “North Star” among fellow activists.

“We're just really still feeling his presence, still feeling guided by him in this work,” Yamaguchi said.

How to participate

  • When: Starts at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18.
  • Where: The Japanese American National Museum, in L.A.'s Little Tokyo 100 North Central Avenue
  • Attend virtually: The event will still be viewable on JANM’s YouTube page.
Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.

Updated February 18, 2023 at 5:55 AM PST
This story was updated with a quote from Matt Weisbly.
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