Nisei veterans center opens new resource pavilion
Event held on Feb. 19 to mark 80 years since internment of Japanese Americans
Standing in front of the completed Stanley Izumigawa Resource Center Pavilion at the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center, board Chairperson Kyoko Kimura said she was “overwhelmed” by the moment.
To continue sharing stories and to commemorate the contributions and sacrifices of Nisei soldiers, the NVMC expanded the Kahului campus to accommodate more visitors, educational workshops, community gatherings and research opportunities.
“Now I can picture people from all kinds of generations… and all kinds of people from different backgrounds from all over the world gathering here,” Kimura said Saturday morning. “And the legacy of the nisei veterans and their stories will inspire them to find the hero in themselves.”
The grand opening of the Stanley Izumigawa Resource Center Pavilion was intentionally held on Feb. 19, which marked the 80th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, a document signed in 1942 by President Franklin Roosevelt, authorizing the evacuation of people of Japanese descent “deemed a threat to national security” and stripping them of their civil rights.
This impacted over 100,000 Japanese Americans who were forced into internment and detention camps across the nation, including 1,300 people in Hawaii where there were an estimated 17 camps, including four in Maui County, said Jill Tokuda, external director and former state senator.
And Tokuda’s great-grandfather was one of those men.
“I wish I could have asked him so many questions,” she said. “What was it like to live in the internment camps? How did he feel as he lay there, viewed as an enemy of the state, his own son was away with the Military Intelligence Service fighting for a country that didn’t believe in his own father?”
Many of the answers to the questions she never got to ask were “right here at the center,” Tokuda said.
“That’s what makes this place to me so very special and worth fighting for and building on because it holds all of our stories, it’s a glimpse into our shared past that we have together, and more importantly, it embodies the hope of the shared future, the better future, for our island community on Maui,” she said.
Leonard Oka, president and founder of Maui Sons and Daughters of Nisei Veterans and co-founder of NVMC, said that the grand opening of the pavilion is “a special day” to honor the veterans.
For the past 40 years, Oka has been on a mission to preserve the stories and legacy of those who fought in the war, including his father, Clarence “Hekka” Oka, who was a veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Oka encouraged the audience to partake in a salute led by combat vet and board member, Bo Mahoe, and the singing of “Go for Broke,” which is the 442nd Infantry Regiment fight song.
The ceremony on Saturday also included a few performances by nonprofit Zenshin Daiko, a blessing and the untying of the Stanley Izumigawa Resource Center Pavilion’s entryway.
Construction started last summer to enclose the existing pavilion, level out the concrete slab, build two new office spaces, install new lighting, add fresh paint and more, said Brittany Arisumi Rodrigues of general contractors Arisumi Brothers Inc.
The NVMC also manages one of Hawaii’s few intergenerational centers, which includes Kansha Preschool and Maui Adult Day Care Center.
“This literally embodies the vision of Nisei Veterans Memorial Center and all of our nisei veterans,” Tokuda said. “The past, the original roof to the pavilion; the present, in the building; and if you look right here at our feet the writings and the hand-drawings of Kansha preschoolers, the future. This center embodies all of these things and those values that we hold dear.”
State Rep. Troy Hashimoto, former videographer for the center, said Saturday that “we are all very happy to see the center finally open.”
“I think this building is really a part of that next step for the Nisei Veterans Center, and how we spread and how we remember all the things that nisei veterans did for our community, and how we spread that to the next generation and I think that’s incredibly important,” Hashimoto said. “So now we have this education center and we have this resource center to allow more people to understand what that spirit means, to find that hero within us.”
Though decades have passed, it feels like yesterday to the families who lost loved ones in World War II.
“Our nisei veterans fought with bravery, they fought with dedication, and the ‘go for broke’ attitude continues to live today in many of you,” Mayor Michael Victorino said during his speech at the grand opening event on Saturday. “This resource center that the Izumigawa family has put together, along with many of us, will be a testament to remember what has happened and the future of all of our children, grandchildren, and even for some of us, great-grandchildren.”
NVMC Executive Director Deidre Tegarden said that the Stanley Izumigawa Resource Center was made possible by a State of Hawaii grant of $300,000, a Maui County grant of $100,000, and support from the Freeman Foundation, Central Pacific Bank, Maui Sons and Daughters of Nisei Veterans, Atherton Family Foundation, Munekiyo Hiraga, Arisumi Brothers, Abbey Carpet of Maui and other private donations from the community.
“I think that it’s a fitting tribute for the nisei veterans because it’s not just a static monument to their valor and their bravery that they demonstrated during the war, but it’s actually a vibrant resource that will serve the community, just like how they served our country when they went to war,” said donor Colbert Matsumoto, CEO of Island Insurance Company.
Later in the afternoon after the grand opening, NVMC hosted an open house in the education center, featuring its newest exhibit, “Internment: Maui’s Stories.”
* Dakota Grossman can be reached at email@example.com.