The Mystery of History

The Mystery of History

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Photo of Denshö’s 20th anniversary gala

Dale Minami
Published with Permission

The following is the text of Dale Minami’s keynote speech at Denshö’s 20th anniversary gala in Seattle on Sept. 24. The Herald thanks Dale for allowing us to share his insightful thoughts with our readers.

Photo of Dale Minami (left) with Denshö executive director Tom Ikeda, Photo by Kazuko Wohlers, courtesy of Densho

Keynote speaker Dale Minami (left) with Denshö executive director Tom Ikeda at the organization’s 20th anniversary gala in Seattle. (Photos by Kazuko Wohlers, courtesy Denshö)

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. . . . I’m really delighted to be here tonight to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Denshö and the 900th interview they’ve done. . . . So congratulations on being here tonight . . .

I titled my speech, “The Mystery of History,” because it’s always been a mystery to me why people don’t learn the lessons of history. As it was said, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. And while that’s true, history, the concept, is way more complex than that, because there are various answers as to why history doesn’t inform us, to make us move forward or maybe make us move forward as fast as we can. And I’ve come up with a
. . . number of answers. One is that people just never even know the right history. When we sued Washington State University for failure to establish an Asian American Studies program with local attorneys Gary Iwamoto and Rod Kawakami, the vice chancellor told us, “We don’t have an Asian American Studies program because it’s not important. Japanese American history is not important.” Notwithstanding the greatest civil rights tragedy in this country’s history; notwithstanding the Japanese and Chinese American farmers who made the fertile Yakima Valley profitable — the Bing cherry was even invented there.

The second reason is that people refuse to believe history as it’s told. People still claim that Japanese Americans were dangerous when there was no evidence of espionage or sabotage, at all. They say the camps were “for our own protection” when, in fact, the guns were pointed inward. And history’s lessons are sometimes ignored because it conflicts with present-day interests. So when you think about the war in Vietnam and the lessons that we were all told about how you can’t win that type of war, and, of course, then we go into Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, those decisions are political and they conflict with the lessons that we know about history.

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