Testimonials: Vivian Rygnestad
What is your name and connection to the Japanese Canadian internment and dispossession?
My name is Vivian Wakabayashi Rygnestad, I'm a third generation (sansei) Japanese Canadian (JC). My father Tadao Wakabayashi born in Vancouver and my mother Akiko Kobayashi Wakabayashi was born in Langley, whereas both of my grandparents were born in Japan. My father’s father arrived in Canada 1897 and my mother’s father arrived in Canada 1907. I was born during the internment.
What inspired you to become an spokesperson in educating the Canadian public about this history?
Both my parents and many aunts/uncles have been very active for many years/decades within the JC communities in Toronto, Kamloops, and Vancouver. My uncle Bill Kobayashi was head of Toronto’s JCCA and a very active member of the national Redress committee. My parents were friends (and neighbours) of Roy Miki, and I know they spent a lot of time talking pre/during/post redress.
I love that my mother (who was 69-years-old at the time) went to Ottawa to march in the Redress rally with my uncle and others. My parents were excellent role models in the need for JCs to “prove we’re good Canadians” (a value that was commonly instilled in many of my age). To become a “good Canadian,” we were to “get a good education and to be of service to our communities.”
One of my post-retirement goals was to become active within the JC community (my belief is that if I join a club/committee etc. I want to be able to devote time/energy to it, and not “just be a member”. I initially joined the GVJCCA Human Rights committee and quickly became involved in bringing about the Honorary degrees for the 1942 UBC students (one of whom was my mother’s brother - I have a good story about this). And I quickly became involved in working with the city of Vancouver on their apology. I left the committee and became a supporter of the new ACAM program at UBC. I read a notice in the Bulletin about the formation of a Community Council for Landscapes of Injustice. I didn’t pay attention but I had three people contact me and tell me to go apply. I didn’t, until a few hours before the deadline when I got another call asking if I’d applied and telling me this was a “must”. I applied, was accepted, and at our first Institute as a CC, was elected by other CCers as their Chair. I quickly realized how much I loved the work of LoI, and this satisfied my love of learning and the academic world in general. I didn’t intend to become a “spokesperson,” it just happened, mainly through LoI. If I am a spokesperson, it’s because JC history is Canadian history and I believe strongly that this chapter of Canada’s history need to be taught - social justice/the workings of governments/ the resilience and courage of JCs.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge in educating the Canadian public?
There are many who advocate for the inclusion of JC history as a “must” for all students. The problem is that it already is in the BC and other province’s curriculum. Teachers/schools/curriculae cannot possibly teach only JC history and exclude other ethnic/racial groups. I always ask the question “If you are going to demand the inclusion of JC history at various grade levels…and given that the curriculae is full…what will you take our to do so?” “What about all the other groups who will demand the same?" In BC, JC history is included under “social justice,” and teachers can choose to use histories of a number of groups e.g., First Nations, Chinese Canadians, South Asians etc. Teachers choose what they know, what resources are available and so on. To do a good job of teaching JC history requires all teachers at appropriate grade levels to have an understanding of social justice. If teachers are to teach JC history, they need to do a stellar job of teaching it, otherwise it becomes just another unit of teaching to check off the long list.
I think that faculties of education must make mandatory the inclusion of social justice courses for all would-be teachers. Resources need to be easily accessible and cost affordable. Online is the best. The biggest challenge/the issue is in the question “why should Canadians learn about JC history?” The answer is the often used “so it doesn’t happen again”. But then it needs to be more than learning JC history/internment - our history must be tied in as an issue that students of today can relate to i.e., social justice - the lead-up to such incidents as internment, the decisions of actions of many during, and the generational legacies.
What does it mean to you that the University of Victoria is offering a course dedicated to this history?
This is fantastic, particularly because it’s tied in with the tour of the interment sites, and the multi opportunities to interact with JCs. The learning and enthusiasm goes both ways - I spoke with a woman whose friend was on the bus tour this year, and she was so happy to meet the students and teachers and was very pleased to learn about their work their interest and studies in JC history.
What would you like to see moving forward from this course moving forward?
To continue the sponsorship of teacher-leaders and combine them with students - continue the partnership with the NAJC and other JC organizations - the news of this years’ tour of those in the course and others has ignited interest across Canada - personally, I appreciate being asked along with Art, to be part of the course. Being JC “elders” I think we were able to add perspectives in understanding and learning beyond “facts”. - my sincere hope is that UVic will continue to offer this course into the near future