The Commemorative Landscape as a Space of Anti-Racist Activism
Confronting the Legacies of Anti-Japanese Canadian Racism on Vancouver Island
In 1942, Japanese Canadians living in coastal British Columbia, Canada, were forcibly incarcerated in internment camps far from the Pacific coast and had their fishing boats and other property confiscated and auctioned off. At the end of World War II, they expected to return to the coast, but permission was not granted until 1949. Some were sent to Japan, and many others migrated east of the Rocky Mountains. In 1988, the Canadian federal government acknowledged the wrongs committed as part of Redress, but in more localized spaces, little was acknowledged. The silence was deafening. In this article, I consider recent anti-racist work to address the legacies of anti-Japanese Canadian racism in Central Vancouver Island. This includes: (1) advocating to change the names of a school and street in Port Alberni honorifically named after A.W. Neill, (2) removing an anti-Asian racist covenant from properties that A.W. Neill owned in Port Alberni, (3) activism to receive a public apology for a 1947 city council resolution to not allow returning Japanese Canadians in Tofino, and (4) memorializing a pre-WWII Japanese Canadian community in Cumberland. These efforts can be theorized as anti-racist work associated with Japanese Canadian spaces. This article contributes to critical human geography by emphasizing that while national level efforts to reconcile past wrongs are crucial, localized work also requires considerable attention. It is therefore necessary to be attentive to the importance of scale with regard to the geographies of anti-racist activism and the remaking of commemorative landscapes.
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