by Brian Kohaya
This year, I had the amazing opportunity to intern at Visual Communications, the first Asian Pacific Islander interest film organization in the country. I spent most of my time in the VC Archives where I had the privilege to view thousands of photos from the Asian American Movement, many of which had never been digitized. One photo set (taken by one of the VC Founders Alan Ohashi) that really stuck out to me was the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Memorial Vigil and March that occurred in August of 1972. This piece reflects my thoughts on the photos.
The brightest of lights shine in the darkness of times. On August 6th and August 9th of 1946, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, instantly killing hundreds of thousands of people. Decades later, America fought another war with an Asian country. The murder of thousands of Asian bodies filled the television screens newly bought by Americans. Their slanted lifeless eyes became a sign of victory for a country battling the evils of communism.
These pictures depict the Hiroshima and Nagasaki memorial in August 1972, which also served as a protest against the Vietnam War. Japanese Americans and other allies came together to honor those who tragically died during World War II, and also protested against the current indiscriminate killings of Vietnamese and Cambodian people. Participants marched from Nishi Church to the Federal Building where they held a candlelight vigil to honor the dead.
“It was an emotional display,” said Eddie Wong, one of the founders of Visual Communications. Participants ranged from those old enough to be imprisoned by the United States during World War II to college-aged kids and younger. This protest was a gripping display of the intergenerational unity against injustices committed by the United States. An entire community came together to show they would not longer be treated as second class citizens. The Japanese American community had always been resilient towards instances of oppression and often refer to the phrase “Shou ga nai” or “It can’t be helped” to view things out of their control. Here they took a stand about what they could control — the direction America would take as it progressed through the Vietnam War and how Asian Americans would be treated by the country.
In 2017, we are in the streets again. As we continue to march through the streets for Black lives, for women, for science, for freedom, we remember those who came before us, who risked their bodies, so we can have the freedoms we have today. For those who are able-bodied and willing, we should be joining these protests to fight for those who are able to join only in spirit. As the great Yuri Kochiyama once said, “The movement is contagious, and the people in it are the ones who pass on the spirit.”
Brian Kohaya is a 3rd year student at UCLA who is studying Psychology and Asian American Studies. He is a third generation Chinese American and fourth generation Japanese American who is trying to pursue a career in Asian American psychology. In his free time, he likes to do portrait photography and drink coffee and boba.
Several of the VC Founders have joined together to create a major exhibition of films and video, photographs, and artifacts that reflect the birth of VC and the development of diverse Asian Pacific American communities called “At First Light: Portraits of Asian Pacific America 1970 to 1990." Support the project here.