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A Community Virtual Pilgrimage 

The Nikkei Block Party was a virtual program developed by Courtney Ozaki from the Japanese Arts Network and Erin Aoyama for the Japanese American Memorial Pilgrimage Tadaima! Community Virtual Pilgrimage.  Our aim was to lift up the voices and stories of our community, while also creating space to listen and to hear the voices, the stories, and the struggles of other communities. We aimed to make space, as a community, to hear the voices of those who continue the fight against the perpetuation of state violence in the service of white supremacy, especially Black and indigenous folks, and other POC in the U.S.  Art - poems, prose, music, movement - has the power to help us do this.

The histories of block parties are steeped in celebrations of community, culture, and place, and deeply entwined with the birth of hip hop and social justice movements in places like the Bronx, Newark, and Oakland. In a small way, then, we seek to honor the roots of block parties here, by insisting on the entanglement of artistic cultural expression, history, and activism.

The Nikkei Block Party was a celebration of Nikkei (referring to people of Japanese ancestry residing outside of Japan) culture, history, and identities, through art. Featuring poets, playwrights, musicians, writers, dancers, actors, and performers, each Nikkei Block Party sought to create community through artistic expression.

The Nikkei Block Party was a way of remembering the lives, homes, and communities destroyed by the anti-Japanese racism that reached a peak during World War II. Despite this destruction - not only of property and livelihoods, but of roots, of dreams, and of families - Japanese Americans found ways to rebuild, over and over again. Though rebuilding was a process ridden with loss and grief at every step, the block neighborhoods at camp provided opportunities for new community relationships and bonds to form that sustained many throughout their time incarcerated and into the uncertainty of postwar resettlement.

By invoking the idea of a “block party,” we honored the legacies of our ancestors and the pilgrimages of years past, where the very idea of Japanese American community has continued to grow and evolve.

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