Posted Aug. 4, 2021

Editor’s Note: Janice Mirikitani, San Francisco Poet Laureate (2000-2002) and co-founder of the Glide Foundation, joined the ancestors on July 29, 2021.

Introduction to “Breaking Our Silence” by Genny Lim

Janice Mirikitani’s voice embodied the courage and self-determination it took for Japanese Americans, formerly incarcerated in the US Relocation camps, to step forward, during the Hearings for the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians on, ironically, 9-11, 1981, to recount their painful stories of forced evacuations and internment under Executive Order 9066. In her poem, Breaking Silence, Janice says, “We were made to believe our faces betrayed us” and “We were told that silence was better.”  The erasure of racial histories, cultures and identities, lies at the heart of the colonial project to uproot, disembody, convert and assimilate non-white individuals and racial groups into submission.

Janice’s life-work at Glide Memorial Church and her body of poetry spring from her passionate belief in building, strengthening and uniting all communities in resistance to erasure and oppression. Having had the honor of being her friend and fellow poet for over forty years, I, like many of her comrade-poets-in arms, artists and friends, are heartbroken that our sister, mentor and leader, has passed. While Janice is no longer with us in the flesh, her presence and spirit will continue to be a guiding light to all whose lives she touched, and her words will continue to inspire and echo in the hearts and ears of many generations to come.

Janice Mirikitani at International Hotel Protest, 1977. Photo by Nancy Wong/Wikicommons.

Breaking Our Silence

For Janice Mirikitani

Breaking Silence

The way an old house creaks

When it’s abandoned

Breaking Silence

The way a snow lion vanishes

Without a trace when tracked

Breaking Silence

In the ten-thousand mile march

Through the hills and valleys of

Stolen land and farms with summer

Squash rotting on deserted vines

Breaking Silence

Against evacuation orders and

Loyalty oaths branding the

Dispossessed, Enemy Alien, Jap

No No Boy, Persona non Grata

Breaking Silence

To lift the stigmata of incarceration

From bound feet and hands

Breaking silence to reclaim our bodies

Our faces, our tongues, our voices

Our children, our names, our cancelled

Dreams and blood inheritance

Breaking silence for the women who

Hold up half the sky for the men at war

Fighting for the survival of the richest

Breaking silence for the forsaken

The homeless, the broken, the abused

Breaking silence, to tell the truth

Against colonial narratives and lies

Breaking silence with the fierce courage

And clear vision of the snow lion who

Protects her cubs and rekindles

The fire of the sacred feminine

From the ashes of a

Broken world of refugees

To give shelter and love

Author’s Bio:

Genny Lim is San Francisco Jazz Poet Laureate emeritus. Lim’s award-winning play, Paper Angels, was the first Asian American play aired on PBS’s American Playhouse in 1985 and has been performed throughout the U.S., Canada and China. She is author of five poetry collections, Winter Place, Child of War, Paper Gods and Rebels, KRA!, La Morte Del Tempo, and co-author, along with the late Him Mark Lai and Judy Yung, of Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, which won the American Book Award in 1980.  Her recent anthology of Senior Asian American memoirs, Window: Glimpses of Our Storied Past, includes the stories of former World War II Camp survivors Lim has worked with past Jazz legends, such as Max Roach and long-time collaborators, Jon Jang, John Santos, Francis Wong and Anthony Brown. She is a member of The Last Hoisan Poets with Nellie Wong and Flo Oy Wong, who recently collaborated with Del Sol String Quartet in the United States of Asian America Festival.

Cover Photo:

Janice Mirkitani at poetry reading in San Francisco. Photo by Bob Hsiang.

To learn more about Janice Mirikitani, read Poet-Activist Janice Mirikitani dies at 80

1 Comment

  1. Susan Hayase on August 4, 2021 at 8:03 pm

    Breathtaking.

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