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Posted by Lilly from ? ( on Monday, September 09, 2002 at 4:15PM :

In Reply to: Re: VJ Day posted by Tony zango from ? ( on Monday, September 09, 2002 at 3:46PM :

Learning to Hate
Yellow Peril in the Ocean State
by Leyla Mei and Norm Yen

If holidays shape our consciousness by privileging certain events over others, then we Rhode Islanders bear a particular ideological burden. Every year on the second Monday of August, residents celebrate a holiday popularly known as "V-J Day", or "Victory Over Japan Day". On this day, Asian Americans in Rhode Island suffer harassment and assault, both verbal and physical, and Asian American stores are vandalized. Many Rhode Islanders explain the significance of V-J Day by saying, "This is the day we beat the Japs."

Continued observance of the holiday undermines any attempt to portray Rhode Island as a state that fosters its founding principles of tolerance and acceptance. On V-J Day, anti-Japanese sentiment, bolstered by a troubled economy and heightened Japanese competition, translates into intolerance towards all Asian Americans in a grotesque display of racism at the hands of the government.

Background of the Holiday
Rhode Island has celebrated Victory Day since 1948, when a number of states legislated August 14th as an annual commemoration of the end of World War II. Although the official designation of the holiday remains "Victory Day", many Rhode Islanders regard this terminology as no more than a semantic suggestion, and routinely refer to the second Monday in August as V-J Day. Each year local stores promote V-J Day sales, or advertise their V-J Day hours. For these businesses, V-J Day does not connote state-sanctioned racism, but instead functions as a holiday devoid of ideological content, somewhat like President's or Columbus Day. Efforts to inform residents about V-J Day's legal name, proposed as an alternative to abolishing the holiday, have proven ineffective: in a 1989 speech to the House of Representatives, a member of the Rhode Island State Legislature listed "V-J Day" among the state's official holidays.

Racial Assault and Harassment
With the exception of Rhode Island, every state that declared Victory Day an official holiday in the wake of World War II has also gone on to repeal its observance. Since Arkansas abolished Victory Day twenty years ago, Rhode Island has distinguished itself as the only state in which violence toward Asians and Asian Americans can be predicted with alarming accuracy. Consider the following:

On V-J Day in 1988, a man asked a college student whether she was Vietnamese. When she answered that she was Japanese American, the man assaulted her, throwing her to the sidewalk and shouting racist epithets at her. The following year, on the same day, a group of people ransacked an Asian market, breaking windows and destroying a sign written in Korean characters. And in 1990, again on August 14th, a glass bottle was hurled from a passing car at two Asian women walking together along Hope Street.

While these examples serve as partial documentation of the racial hatred engendered specifically on V-J Day, most incidents go unreported. Not only do police records fail to indicate the extent of V-J Day's violent consequences, but the holiday also creates a sense of fear among Asian American Rhode Islanders, many of whom do not leave their homes on that day. One Japanese American reported that it felt "awkward...almost painful" to step out of the house on V-J Day. This cautious self-imprisonment is perhaps the most insidious of V-J Day's effects. Throughout communities of color, it is the psychological consequences of officially sanctioned racism that are the most harmful and hardest to overcome.

Indeed, the ideological significance of V-J Day does not begin and end on August 14th, but endures throughout the other 364 days of the year as well. The psychological damage inflicted on many Asian Americans by the holiday could not simply last for twenty-four hours, but in fact contributes to an overwhelming distrust. For the aggressors, V-J Day presents a unique opportunity to both strengthen racist beliefs and put them into practice with few repercussions-a sort of Civil Rights Act Grace Period. Though the holiday supposedly commemorates only the success of American soldiers during World War II, both non-Asian and Asian Americans recognize the fallacy of this official explanation. While bigoted residents view the holiday as not just an excuse, but an invitation, to engage in racist acts, Asian Americans consider it an annual culmination of ongoing racial tensions.

Previous Efforts
Over the past ten years a number of Rhode Island State Representatives have unsuccessfully proposed bills to rename the holiday. In 1985, Representative Elizabeth Morancy introduced legislation to celebrate World Peace Day; during floor debate on her bill, colleagues branded her a "traitor" and "Communist". Local veterans groups have bitterly attacked more recent efforts to change Victory Day to Remem-brance Day or Bay Day (in recognition of Rhode Island's scenic Narragansett Bay), arguing that legally renaming the holiday would dishonor the men and women who fought or lost relatives during the war. Last February, a World War II Navy veteran told the Providence Journal-Bulletin, "I don't have hatred against anybody or any nation. Just leave our day alone. We won. If they won, they would take the trophy."

Opponents have condemned redesignation of Vic-tory Day as part of a national revisionist historiographic at-tempt to downplay Japanese aggression during World War II; similar arguments surfaced during the recent controversy on the Enola Gay exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution. Rather than refuting claims that V-J Day unfairly implicates Jap-anese Americans, these critics instead assert that "the Japanese deserve to be stigmatized." In a letter printed in the Providence Journal-Bulletin on January 12, 1994, a Portsmouth resident wrote, "We will admit that the young generation of Japanese had no part in these atrocities, but the Japanese make no mention of these actions in their schools. It is good for them to be reminded of the millions of deaths and mistreatment of captives by their fathers. We who were there will not forget or forgive, ever." By insisting on the centrality of Japanese deeds, the writer combines Japanese and Japanese Americans into one category, all members of which should be held accountable for Japan's wartime actions. To this writer, it seems, V-J Day provides a chance to even the score.

The Chamber of Commerce, which has reported that the holiday acts as a deterrent to Japanese investment in Rhode Island, led an early effort to change the name of the holiday. After a Japanese diplomat stated several years ago that V-J Day makes Japanese feel uncomfortable and unwelcome, opponents accused supporters of being paid off by foreign capital, and argued that redesignation would indicate a submission to Japanese money.

Current Efforts
When the Asian American Students Association and Japanese Cultural Association at Brown voted early last October to make renaming V-J Day their top priority, the campaign garnered student support for the first time. These organizations are working with a professor of biology at Rhode Island College who has been active in past efforts; he has contacted community and religious groups for endorsement and support. Among the organizations sponsoring the effort are: The Rhode Island State Council of Churches, The Council of Rabbis, The Rhode Island Conference of Christ-ians and Jews, The Rhode Island Chamber of Com-merce, and the National Education Association.

The legislation slated for introduction in the Rhode Island House of Represent-atives asks that Victory Day be redesignated as "Peace and Remembrance Day". This name reflects the continued recognition of veterans' efforts in World War II, while at the same time infusing a new morality into the holiday by ceasing to celebrate the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bill will first go before the House Judiciary Committee, where members will vote on whether or not to send it to the House floor.

In contrast to previous efforts, in which primary responsibility rested on a few individuals or members of local Japanese associations, the current campaign has assumed a broader, more community-based scope; it will combine the networking done over the past few years with a grassroots educational program. The Coalition for Peace and Remembrance has forged an alliance between student and community groups, with members of the community taking leadership roles instead of remaining on the periphery as external, skeptical observers. The Coalition's strategy combines both "bottom-up" and "top-down" approaches in its aims to influence elected officials through constituent pressure. As we launch a massive letter-writing and publicity campaign throughout Rhode Island, we hope to convince members of the state legislature that their constituents object to the current climate of racial hostility, the effects of which surface every year around August 14th.

In 1992, when Representative David W. Dumas argued against renaming V-J Day, he articulated the sentiments of many opponents of redesignation: "If our friends in Japan are upset, all I can say is, Deal with it. We won that war." If the current legislature recognizes the significance of Victory Day for both veterans and Asian Americans, it can abolish one official forum for racially motivated violence. Successfully changing the name of V-J Day during this Congressional session will alter the scope of race relations in Rhode Island and send a clear message that the response to the national conservative tide has begun. Racist Rhode Islanders will have to deal with it.

-- Lilly
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