After working several years to have legislation correct a 2008 law to reflect a name of a memorial chosen by Bainbridge residents, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, successfully introduced a bill that was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives Wednesday.
The bill – which would ensure the site would be properly recognized as the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial – still needs be approved by the Senate before it can become law.
“We’re so grateful for Congressman Kilmer’s leadership and hard work to get this bill passed, and we are looking forward to working with Senators (Patty) Murray and (Maria) Cantwell to ensure the bill’s passage in the U.S. Senate,” said Clarence Moriwaki, the memorial’s president.
Moments after the bill had unanimously passed the House, Moriwaki said one of Kilmer’s staff members called to tell him the good news.
“It’s very rare for any freshman congressman to prime sponsor a bill that even gets a hearing, let alone make it to the House floor and passed, unanimously – especially in this Congress known mostly for inaction and a climate of strident partisanship,” Moriwaki said. “(This) not only says a great deal about Derek’s ability to bring people together, but think of it: A unanimous vote to honor and remember the 120,000 Japanese-Americans who suffered the unconstitutional exclusion during World War II – a stark contrast to 72 years ago when there was virtually unanimous support for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which set in motion this sad chapter in American history. Time can indeed be a healing solvent.”
The memorial is located at the former Eagledale ferry dock and is the only national memorial to the internment of Japanese-Americans not located on one of the 10 incarceration sites.
“I am pleased that the House was able to come together and pass legislation to properly recognize the unfair and unjust treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II,” Kilmer said in a news release. “The moving and heartbreaking stories chronicled at the Bainbridge memorial, describing how families were rounded up and forcibly removed from their homes, remind us that we must always be vigilant in fighting prejudice and discrimination.”
Moriwaki said the name change to include “exclusion” was a long process.
“We’ve been working on this name change for several years, first with Congressmen Jay Inslee and Norm Dicks, who both were working hard on ways both legislatively and administratively, to make this happen,” Moriwaki said. “However, at that time the U.S. House of Representatives was not very productive, and then Rep. Insee ran for governor and Rep. Dicks resigned. Plus, Bainbridge Island was redistricted from the 1st to 6th District, so we put the idea on the back burner until the outcome of the 2012 election.”
However, things changed once Kilmer was elected.
“I knew Derek, and shortly after he assumed office we reached out to him and his staff, asking him as out new congressman to pick up where we left off,” Moriwaki said. “Derek was not only excited, he was commendably proud to commit his time and energy to make this happen. Derek’s congressional staff is professional and competent, not only personally meeting with me on my trips back to Washington D.C. to attend the National Parks Conservation Association’s Annual Meetings, but they reached out to me for information, advice and stayed in constant contact and communication in every step of the bill’s progress. Indeed, Derek’s staff personally called me moments after the bill had unanimously passed. ”
Although it would seem adding one word shouldn’t take an act of Congress, Moriwaki said exclusion is “no ordinary word.”
“Officially adding ‘exclusion’ to the name of this beautiful memorial is so vital to completely tell this sad chapter of American history, because not only were 120,000 Japanese-Americans forcibly removed and placed behind barbed wire in American concentration camps, but some people don’t know that everyone with a drop of blood of Japanese ancestry were also forbidden to remain in the exclusion zone,” Moriwaki said. “By adding the word ‘exclusion’ we are remembering and honoring everyone who suffered from this unconstitutional violation of civil liberties, and hopefully inspire everyone to never let fear, hysteria and prejudice deprive anyone of life, liberty and equal protection under the law.”
Below is a link to a YouTube video of Kilmer speaking Monday on the House floor in support of his legislation officially renaming the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial: