Kogawa House Demolition: Todd Wong's Nov 3rd presentation to Vancouver City Council

The following is the basic text of my
presentation to Vancouver City Council's Standing Committee on Planning
and Environment, November 3rd, 2005.

Hello Council members and guests

Thank you for receiving our request for a delay of demolition  for 1450 West 64th Ave, known as “Kogawa House.”

Thank you also to council for attending the Joy Kogawa Cherry Tree planting and ceremony that took place here on Tuesday.

Save Kogawa House committee is a local and national advocacy committee
in existence for two years since Kogawa House first came on the market.

We also thank the owner and representative, for working together with
us to seek a peaceful resolution and a win, win, win situation for all
parties involved.  The current owner of the house, the Save Kogawa
House committee, and the citizens of Vancouver, and throughout Canada.
It is our vision to purchase the house from its current owner and
transform it into a writers-in-residence centre, to give writers a
taste of Vancouver’s multicultural diversity.  This will give
special attention to writers of conscience, who can address human
rights issues like those that removed Joy and her family away from
their home to internment camps for the Japanese Canadians.

I am 5th Generation Vancouverite, my family has lived in Vancouver for
7 generations.  We suffered the racism of early Vancouver, and
paid the Chinese head tax, clustered in Chinatown for
protection.   After the Japanese Canadians were interned in
camps, we were all afraid that what happened to the Japanese-Canadians,
could happen to the Chinese too!  The experience shaped our
Asian-Canadian pioneer communities, and we tried to be good Canadians,
to integrate, and not cause trouble.

As I grew up in Vancouver, I have always related to the Japanese
Canadian experience as a shared Asian Canadian experience, due to
racism that lumped all Asians together.  But as my family
intermarried into the many other ethnicities of Vancouver, I have come
to understand that as Canadians, we are no longer two solitudes of
English and French, but inclusive of Scottish, Irish, First Nations,
Chinese, South Asian and Japanese culture.  Nor are we solitudes
at all, but one family that is intermarried to each diverse immigrant

Kogawa House is not a Japanese Canadian issue.  It is a Canadian
issue.  Kogawa House is not just a Japane-Canadian Internment
Redress issue, it is a literary legacy for all Canadians.  By
truly embracing the stories of Joy Kogawa’s works and the story of
Kogawa House, we can truly say “never again” to a sorry episode in
Canada’s history.

I was on the inaugural committee for the Vancouver Public Library’s One
Book One Vancouver program, that introduced Vancouverites to Wayson
Choy’s “The Jade Peony”  The program made the book come alive
through many programs and events from May to September.

Since January of this year, I have been enthused by the idea that
Obasan could be the 2005 choice.  I wrote an article citing 20
reasons why Obasan was the best choice including:
1) Roy Miki stating that Obasan is the most important book written to understanding the Japanese Canadian experience;
2) that Quill and Quire named Obasan one of the most influential Canadian works of fiction;
3) that Joy was born in Vancouver and recieved the Order of Canada in 1986.

Obasan is a book that every Vancouverite should read.  

In September, Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop hosted the Ricepaper
Magazine 10th Anniversary Dinner, attended by councillors Roberts,
Woodsworth, and Sullivan.  And we celebrated Joy with a Community
Builders’ Award.

Joy is an author that every community should be so lucky to have.

I attended the Vancouver Opera world premiere of Naomi’s Road.  It
brought tears to my eyes, and I wrote a review.  It is the story
of two young children who were separate by their parents.  Their
aunt takes them on a vacation, and while on the train, they come to the
understanding that it isn't a vacation at all – they are going to an
internment camp.  During the next 3 years, they will be branded
enemy aliens, and they will never see their home again.

Naomi’s Road is an opera that every Vancouverite should see.

We would like to demonstrate our vision for Kogawa House, as a vision
for Vancouver, and for Canada.  We will share with you how we will
do this, and how writers and Canadians across Canada feel about this,
and we hope to touch your hearts and inspire joy in your lives for this
city we love.

I hope that we can say that Vancouver loves this book so much that we bought the house and we saved it.

Thank you.

Oh – one more thing….
Just as I arrived at City Hall today, house genealogist James Johnstone
gave me a house history of Kogawa House.  He just decided to do
this two days ago.  He found that it is one of the oldest houses
in Marpole, and lists all the owners to present.  This is just one
of the examples of how much this book and this house have moved people.

Thank you.

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