Day of Remembrance
Greetings SFGC Community,
Last Friday was this year’s Day of Remembrance. Seventy-four years ago, on February 19th 1942, Franklin Delanor Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 requiring internment for all peoples of Japanese descent currently residing in the continental United States. 120,000 Japanese people were taken from their homes, jobs, and lives on the West Coast and held in federal internment camps across the country. 70,000 imprisoned were American citizens. Many of the rest had lived in the country for decades.
This baseless move (no Japanese American was ever convicted of sabotage or espionage, and Japanese Hawaiians, living in close proximity to where Pearl Harbor actually happened, were not interned) shapes much of our experience today in the Bay Area. Some neighborhoods the Japanese were forced to leave were taken over by other communities, many of whom who had recently arrived seeking jobs in the war effort. Others were razed to make way for new urban planning, like the Geary Expressway.
I celebrated the Day of Remembrance by attending a premiere of a documentary film called A Bitter Legacy at the New People Theater in Japantown that my housemate Zenske Omi (Zen) had been working on for months. Zen met filmmaker Claudia Katayanagi last year at SF Cutters, a video editing meetup. Zen had been making films since he was just twelve years old in Japan. He came to the Bay Area from Tokyo at sixteen to do a high school exchange program. He graduated and, inspired by the possibility of working in the American film industry, went on to study Cinema at San Francisco State. Katayanagi (impressed by his portfolio) asked Zen (inspired to help shed light on atrocities committed against his people in his backyard) to join her team as Editor.
Their film takes a new look at the circumstances of internment for many Japanese Americans, specifically the several thousand that were deemed “troublemakers” in their camps (where they lived with families) and were subsequently isolated in high-security internment camps deep in the desert. Several historians and experts on Japanese internment, and one 93 year-old survivor of these “troublemaker” camps, spoke to the audience after the viewing. Watch A Bitter Legacy Trailer.
This got me thinking about the SF Girls Chorus School, and our role in our collective history here in San Francisco, in America, and in the world at large. A Bitter Legacy, a unique look at an under-studied injustice, was created by artists who use their creativity and technical skills to tell their people’s untold stories. Zen has used his artistry to contribute to truth and knowledge surrounding his Japanese heritage and his adopted heritage, that of a Bay Area Japanese-American.
Girls here are learning how to sing, to write, read, and conduct music, to express themselves masterfully through that transcendental medium. Girls here are learning how to be fearless, how to stand on stage in front of hundreds or even thousands of people. They are learning not only to use their own voices but to work collectively with many others, some stronger than theirs and some quieter, to contribute a part of a larger whole. They are being exposed to extraordinary female leaders, like the women of TENET, Nancy Pelosi, Meredith Monk, Frederica von Stade, Deborah Voigt, Lisa Bielawa, Valérie Sainte-Agathe, and Melanie Smith. They are learning from these role models how to express themselves: what to express, how to express. Many of them will use this knowledge to create art that tells stories made relevant to them by their experiences. In our choristers’ case, their experiences inevitably incorporate girlhood, a girlhood that will one day be womanhood.
I like to think about the futures of our choristers, these women they will become. I see them studying at the Conservatory, singing in choirs and ensembles, singing in operas, bands and jazz clubs, and using their vocal expertise to make cutting-edge, completely unique music like James Blake and Juliana Barwick. Those who don’t become professional musicians will always be able to harness beautiful sounds that come from within them—they need no materials, don’t have to purchase anything (unless they want to get a couple vocoders, like Poliça). They hold that power in their bodies, and have learned commitment, dedication, responsibility and so much more along the way.
[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yX4iIPlwS5c[/embed] Wherever they go, I know that our choristers will contribute to the status of females and the other groups they relate to in our world, the same way that Zen and countless other artists and leaders have contributed to the empowerment of their communities through art. It thrills me to think I will one day hear voices we are training now one day speak up for women and girls around the world. I am always grateful to be a part of that.
Chorus School Administrative Director San Francisco Girls Chorus School