“Breaking Our Silence” – A Poem in Remembrance of Janice Mirikitani by Genny Lim.
By Genny Lim. Posted on 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
The way an old house creaks
When it’s abandoned
The way a snow lion vanishes
Without a trace when tracked
In the ten-thousand mile march
Through the hills and valleys of
Stolen land and farms with summer
Squash rotting on deserted vines
Against evacuation orders and
Loyalty oaths branding the
Dispossessed, Enemy Alien, Jap
No No Boy, Persona non Grata
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
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.
Janice Mirkitani at poetry reading in San Francisco. Photo by Bob Hsiang.