Actor portrays a determined war veteran at events in Surrey

REMEMBRANCE DAY: Berry farmer Zennosuke Inouye had his land taken away

Actor Kevin Takahide Lee performs as Zennosuke Inouye as part of The Re-enactors troupe at special events in Surrey.

SURREY — By the time Zennosuke Inouye returned from fighting for Canada during the Great War, he’d settled in Surrey to grow berries on a farm.

Years later, during the Second World War, he’d found himself in an internment camp, his land taken away from him by the Canadian government.

Inouye was among many Japanese-Canadians who suffered through such hardships after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. It didn’t matter that he was president of the Surrey Berry Growers’ Association for a time and, according to those who knew him, a good neighbour and community member.

Today, Inouye’s story is told by Kevin Takahide Lee, a New Westminster-based actor and musician who works as a member of The Re-Enactors.

At community events, mostly in the summer months, the troupe’s professional actors recreate the lives of early Surrey settlers, including reeve T.J. Sullivan, teacher Mary Jane Shannon, carpenter Eric Anderson and others.

Lee didn’t know much about Inouye before he took on the role.

“His story is so unique,” Lee said, “because he was the only Canadian veteran of Japanese descent to have kept his land in the end, and that’s quite phenomenal. The internment and, even more so, the reparation is something that resonates with  Japanese-Canadians.”

Inouye’s 80-acre farm was located on Sandell Road, today known as 128th Street, in the heart of the Strawberry Hill area. During the Second World War, the “enemy” property was repossessed by the government. Eventually, his land, along with many other pieces of property owned by Japanese-Canadians, was sold under the Veterans’ Land Act of 1942 and banked for distribution to veterans of the war once it was over.

But, in a flurry of letters and verbal appeals, Inouye, a war veteran, successfully fought to get his property back.

“If you have a chance,” Lee encouraged, “the museum has those letters and, if you work from the first one to the last one, and you know his story, it’s a very emotional journey, just to go through it. The man tried so hard, and it wasn’t just writing letters, because he was going out of his way to connect with different individuals. Some of those individuals were supportive and tried to help him, but others were racist, and that was something that really resonated with me.”

Lee, who is Japanese-Canadian, has performed with the Re-enactors over the course of three summers.

“I went on a tour of a Japanese internment camp here and there was a lady on that tour who actually knew Zennosuke and I got so much information from her,” Lee explained. “That was so valuable to bring that character to life because, of course, he was a real person.”

In his first summer with the troupe, Lee met and performed for members of Inouye’s family at Surrey’s Fusion Festival and also at an event at Surrey Museum.

“That was a bit intimidating, because you want to be sure to do the job well and, especially when it’s an ethnic role,

(Zennosuke Inouye is pictured above)

you’re not tokenizing it,” he related.

Each member of the Re-enactors troupe has three stories to tell about their character during a performance, from three different periods of their life.

In Lee’s case, the monologue about Inouye’s internment is the heaviest and, for him and others, the most emotional.

“The first two are the happier ones and with the third one, I get the strongest audience reaction, and it really varies,” Lee said. “Some (people) celebrate, others apologize. I feel some people feel that they have played a role in the internment. There was one lady who came up to me and more or less apologized, because her father was one of the individuals who was selling the Japanese-Canadian land. It’s really interesting, the reaction.”

tom.zillich@thenownewspaper.com

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey Police’s role in Barnston Island still needs ‘to be looked at’

Surrey RCMP polices unincorporated island a short ferry ride across Parson’s Channel

Surrey looking into reducing residential speed limits

Surrey city council on Feb. 24 approved five ‘key pillars’ of a Surrey Transportation Plan

‘We have to triage’: Surrey teachers stage ‘walk-in’ to support public education

Teachers raising awareness after more than one year at the bargaining table

Suspected drugs, counterfeit cash seized during distracted driving stop: Surrey RCMP

Police said incident happened near 152nd Street and Fraser Highway

Fate of five-district policing model in Surrey rests with new police board

Whalley/City Centre, Guildford/Fleetwood, Newton, Cloverdale, and South Surrey districts formed under McCallum’s watch in 1998

Two law enforcement trucks ‘deliberately’ set on fire in northern B.C., RCMP say

Police say they have video evidence of a person in the area of the truck fires

B.C. mother, daughter return home after coronavirus quarantine in Asia

Jensine Morabito and her daughter were on Holland America’s Westerdam but did not catch the virus

Leap Year means we get an extra day in February, so how are you spending it?

People online have a number of suggestions and plans on how they will be spending Saturday

Greta sticker that drew outrage in Alberta not child pornography: RCMP

X-Site Energy Services has denied having anything to do with the stickers

Bald eagle hit by train in northern B.C. has a chance of survival

The raptor has been taken to OWL in the Lower Mainland for recovery

Cheslatta Carrier Nation and Rio Tinto sign a historic agreement

Co-operation crucial to stem dropping Nechako Reservoir level

Hundreds of B.C. firefighters ‘climb the wall’ for BC Lung Association

The charity fundraiser saw participants climbing up 48 storeys

Stories of sexual assault at B.C. tree planting camps ‘shocking but not surprising:’ advocate

Contractors’ association is working with trainers to create respectful culture

Most Read