AAPI Heritage Month and Memorial Day – Notes from Suzanne Basalla

This is a series in which USJC President & CEO Suzanne Basalla shares her thoughts directly with the USJC community.

I hope that you have seen the programs and social media activity coming from the team over the past weeks in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. I’ve appreciated the stories that have been shared, the conversations around AAPI heritage that I’ve had with many of you, and the learnings I have gained from programs like this week’s “AAPI Hate and You: Activating our Communities for Triumph” webinar organized by our Northern California members.

As the month comes to close, Memorial Day brings a time to contemplate the sacrifices of the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the ideals of our nation. Among the many important stories, we have the opportunity and the duty to reflect on the unique experience of the “Go for Broke” Nisei soldiers.  

I first heard about the Nisei soldiers when I studied Japanese at the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, California and we were told about their role in the Military Intelligence Services in World War II’s Pacific Theater. However it was not until I attended USJC’s programs that I understood more about the sacrifices made by those who bravely fought for America even as their families and communities were incarcerated, and as Japanese Americans across the country faced suspicion, discrimination, and hate. I still remember being spellbound the first time I heard Mitch Maki, President & CEO of the Go for Broke National Education Center, speak, telling their story in the context of the larger Japanese American redress movement. I was deeply honored to hear from Senator Daniel K. Inouye about his experiences with the U.S. Army 442nd Regimental Combat Team. 

USJC, its members, and other organizations where our members are active such as Densho, JANM, Nisei Veterans Memorial Centers, JAVA, and Go for Broke play an important role by elevating these important histories. In that spirit, our upcoming “USJC Reads: Setsuko’s Secret” webinar will add to this education. Join author Shirley Higuchi and journalist David Ono as they share more about the Go for Broke soldiers in the context of Heart Mountain and the legacy of the Japanese American incarceration experience.

I am also therefore thrilled that the U.S. Postal Service will launch the new Go for Broke: Japanese American Soldiers of WWII stamp on June 3, providing an opportunity to educate more people about the 33,000 Japanese American soldiers:

This commemorative stamp, issued by the U.S. Postal Service, recognizes the contributions of Japanese American soldiers who served in the U.S. Army during WWII

Last month I visited Punchbowl National Cemetery in Honolulu for the first time. As we paid our respects to Senator Daniel K. Inouye’s grave, my husband and I were humbled to see the surrounding graves of other Japanese Americans who died tragically young while fighting for America overseas. This Memorial Day, when I reflect on the sacrifices of the brave men and women from all walks of life who have died for our country’s ideals, I will include a special remembrance of the Go for Broke heroes.