Powell Street Festival Society issues a statement regarding its decision in support of censorship

As a partner in the creation of the Japanese Canadian Artist (JCA) Directory (www.japanesecanadianartists.com), the Powell Street Festival Society (PSFS) board members have supported an act of censorship and wish to share the circumstances and reasons for this difficult decision.

Since its launch in September, the JCA Directory (www.japanesecanadianartists.com) has been hailed as a triumph of creativity, collaboration and hard work. The Editorial Committee used Aiko Suzuki’s 1994 print directory as a foundational source to ensure pioneering Japanese Canadian artists of the 20th century are accessible in the digital era. Contemporary artists are invited to submit their profiles and to use the site as a dynamic hub to connect with each other and the public at large. The JCA Directory is an affirmation of the artists amongst us and a touchstone for Japanese Canadian collective identity. The Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre of Toronto (JCCC), National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) and Powell Street Festival Society led this nationwide project.

The Japanese Canadian Working Group (WG), whose mandate is to educate the community about Nakayama’s crimes of sexual abuse, and to support the survivors and their families, requested to have Nakayama’s entry removed from the JCA Directory in September. The WG feels that any acknowledgement of Nakayama elevates his stature and buries his crimes, causing further trauma to his victims.

The JCA Directory’s representatives entered discussions with the Working Group to seek alternatives to removal of the entry. They feel that erasure, the obliteration of the recorded entry, obscures history and perpetuates silencing.

The two groups arrived at an impasse and the respective JCA Directory partner organizations were asked to make the decision.

The PSFS board had extensive discussions about the impact of censorship and the inter-generational legacies of violations, ranging from abuse to the historic displacement of Japanese Canadians. Members from the Powell Street Festival family and Japanese Canadian community at large weighed in with diverse perspectives and expressions of concern, anger and hurt. It became evident that our community is at a nascent and vulnerable stage in grappling with Nakayama’s crimes and the fact that he lived out his life with impunity.

On October 21, 2017, with decisions from each of the partner associations, the JCA Directory removed the entry of Gordon Nakayama and his book Issei: Stories of Japanese Canadian Pioneers.

PSFS practices progressive politics and takes seriously its support of this act of erasure. Based on careful consideration of the society’s mandate, the JCA Directory recommendations, the position of the Working Group, and input from members of the Japanese Canadian community, the Board acknowledges the complex and atrocious impact of Nakayama’s abuses and the need for community awareness and healing. The PSFS board made the following statement, “Future generations might look at the actions taken today and see how erasure casts a dark shadow on the Japanese Canadian psyche. While we understand the position that Nakayama’s book may have historic value we feel that the harm to the emotional well-being of the community and the impact to the Society outweighs that consideration.”

PSFS and the Working Group will host a Community Forum in 2018 to facilitate further exploration of the impact of Nakayama’s crimes and to promote an understanding and movement toward community healing.