New bill would ‘properly recognize’ Bainbridge memorial

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The memorial to Japanese Americans forced from their homes on Bainbridge Island may get a new name.

On May 28, Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-06) introduced a bill to officially recognize a new name for the Bainbridge Island memorial to Japanese Americans forced from their homes during World War II. The legislation ensures the site is properly recognized as the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial.

Bainbridge groups — including the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community and the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association — and residents pushed for the renaming of the national historic site, previously referenced in federal law as the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Memorial, to better reflect the history it commemorates, according to Kilmer’s communications director, Jason Phelps. Rep. Kilmer worked closely with stakeholders and the National Park Service to clarify how to appropriately change the name and to ensure that the new name would be fully recognized in federal law, said Phelps.

“Starting in 1942, under the cloak of wartime, thousands of Japanese Americans across the country were forced from their homes,” said Kilmer. “Sites like the Bainbridge memorial remind us of this trying time in our nation’s history and its impact on some of our proudest citizens. Working with folks in Bainbridge, I’m pleased that we can help honor this community and underscore for visitors that this is the first place in the country where Japanese Americans were forcibly excluded from their community.”

The memorial is located at the former Eagledale ferry dock. It is the only national memorial to the internment of Japanese Americans not located at an incarceration site.

“The word exclusion is so vital to completely tell this sad chapter of American history,” said Clarence Moriwaki, president of Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association. “Not only were 120,000 Japanese Americans forcibly removed and placed behind barbed wire in American concentration camps, but anyone with a drop of blood of Japanese ancestry was forbidden to remain in the exclusion zone. We should remember and honor everyone who suffered from this unconstitutional violation of civil liberties, and vow to never let fear, hysteria, and prejudice deprive anyone of life, liberty, and equal protection under the law.”

“While this change may seem minor, it goes to the heart of the experience of the Japanese American community during World War II,” said Val Tollefson, of the Bainbridge Island City Council. “We are grateful for Rep. Kilmer’s efforts and support.

Incorporating the word ‘exclusion’ into the official name has long been a goal of those who have worked hard and long to make this memorial a reality. Finally accomplishing this step will especially honor the work of Dr. Frank Kitamoto, who devoted his life to telling the story of the exclusion, in the hope that through education, we will avoid a repeat of this sorry chapter in our history.” (end)

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