My New Year column written for the JACL’s Pacific Citizen newspaper

I’m the chair of the editorial board of Pacific Citizen, the national newspaper of the JACL. Below is my column in the New Year’s issue of the PC. I wanted to post it here and also add even more current concerns given President Trump’s rocky first three weeks, his eyebrow-raising relationships with world leaders (including Japan’s Shinzo Abe, which merits a separate blog post), the currently on-hold Muslim travel ban, and the wild ride of national security issues climaxing — with possibly more climaxes to come — in the resignation of Trump’s National Security Adviser. On top of all the political insanity in a dangerous and shifting world, racism and prejudice still loom large, not just against African Americans, Latinos, Muslims and Jews but also against Asians in America.

The photos at the top are mirror images of anti-Asian ignorance. The first is from a news story today about racist graffiti on the Minneapolis home of a Hmong American family; the other is a very similar message on a Japanese American family’s home 75 years ago. This year we mark the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066. We need to think about that document’s impact on America, and hope we don’t make the same mistake today.

Here’s my column:
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George Takei’s “Allegiance” is coming to a theater near you Dec. 13, 7:30!

NOTE: A full version of this post with more from Takei as well as cast members and producer, as well as videos from the musical, was originally published on Dec. 7, 2015.

After a November performance at the Longacre Theatre in New York’s fabled Broadway district, George Takei and other cast members answered questions about their powerful musical, “Allegiance.”

“I remember we started the school day, each day, with the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. I could see the barbed wire fence and the sentry tower right outside my school house window as I recited the words, ‘with liberty, and justice for all.’”

Takei recalled his experience as a child, sent with his entire family to a concentration camp along with more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent during World War II – including, like Takei, half who were born in the US and therefore American citizens.

At age 78, Takei made his Broadway debut in the musical, which tells the story of Japanese American incarceration inspired by Takei’s childhood. The parallels between the 1940s incarceration and the national mood today are striking. Talk of banning Muslims, and citing the Japanese American incarceration of 75 years ago as a “precedent” for creating a Muslim registry, rings some serious alarms for anyone who’s studied the wartime injustice.

Takei has spoken out eloquently on his vast social media networks in response to the current hate-filled climate.

Educating the public about what happened to Japanese Americans, who were removed from the West Coast and sent to nine concentration camps as far east as Arkansas, is one of Takei’s lifelong goals. His family spent the war years in Rowher, Arkansas.

“I’m always shocked when I tell the story (of Japanese American incarceration) to people that I consider well-informed,” he said, “and they’re shocked and aghast that sometime like this could happen in the United States. It’s still little-known. So, it’s been my mission to raise the awareness of this chapter of American history.”

“Allegiance” accomplished Takei’s goal with Broadway grandeur that matches any hit musical, with songs that soar and tug at heartstrings, tight choreography and a storyline that is familiar to many Japanese Americans, but not to the public at large.

The musical ran for several months on Broadway. And now, it’s being screened across the country in movie theaters on Tuesday, Dec. 13.
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Building bridges with the Muslim community

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Late last year, Erin and I were lucky enough to travel to New York City to see the Broadway musical “Allegiance” starring George Takei. It’s a story about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and it vividly and powerfully brings to life the emotional toll of the experience on JAs for generations since then. I wrote about the play and interviewed Takei and others for AARP’s AAPI Community.

Two nights after attending the show and while we were still in New York, the Paris attacks happened. The next day, we had scheduled a visit to the 9/11 Memorial and museum in lower Manhattan. Like the way “Allegiance” evoked the racial hatred against my community 75 years ago, it was a powerful reminder of the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. There’s a lot in the museum exhibit about the terrorists who committed the acts, and the aftermath that included hate crimes, not just against Arab Americans but also Sikh Americans. I saw a photo of the slogan that someone put up on a banner in the Ground Zero site: “United We Stand.”

The rest of the day, I was haunted by the 1970 hit song, “United We Stand” by a group called the Brotherhood of Man: “United we stand, divided we fall; And if our backs should ever be against the wall; We’ll be together, together, you and I…”

The song was widely played in the days after 9/11, though most people probably missed the spirit of uniting with Arab Americans and Muslim Americans.

I was proud that JACL, the Japanese American Citizens League, held a press conference within days after 9/11 to decry violence against Arab Americans. We were the first voices nationally to warn against racial profiling in the wake of the attack, because we knew too well the potential disaster that can be sparked by fear and ignorance.

Unfortunately, there were hate crimes committed in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, including against Sikh Americans, who aren’t even Muslim. And some commentators supported rounding up Arab Americans into concentration camps just like the Japanese Americans during WWII.

Sadly, the hatred and fear that was aimed back then at Arab Americans, Muslims, Sikhs, South Asians and anyone who might represent “the Other” are back.
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Immigration, refugees and the gift of citizenship

Denver's Mayor Michael B. Hancock welcomes the 100 applicants and their family members to the citizenship ceremony.

Denver’s Mayor Michael B. Hancock welcomes the 100 applicants and their family members to the citizenship ceremony.

I was born in Japan, but because my father was born in Hawaii when it was a U.S. territory, I am an American citizen. I didn’t have to take a test, and recite an oath of allegiance. After my family moved to the States in 1966, I remember helping my mother, who’s from a small town in northern Japan, study for her citizenship test. I was eight years old.

I don’t remember the ceremony when she repeated the oath and was given her naturalization certificate, but it was probably something like the wonderful ceremony I saw today, on the top floor of the Emily Griffith Technical College, a school that teaches English as a second language and gives many immigrants the skills for them to find jobs in America (full disclosure: I’m a member of the Emily Griffith Foundation‘s Board of Directors).

One hundred people became American citizens today in Denver. They came here from all over the world, from Bhutan to the Ukraine, Canada to Cote d’Ivoire. Some held small American flags in their hands as they waited, and waved them when they were asked to stand to represent their soon-to-be-former countries.
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Time machine re-post: Why can’t I be on TV?

NOTE: This is a slightly revised (added “Courtship of Eddie’s Father”) re-post of a very early column I wrote back in 1998, bemoaning the lack of Asian faces on TV shows.

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Like a zillion other people across the country, I tuned in to the final episode of “Seinfeld,” and I gotta say, I was only mildly impressed. Oh, I liked the show whenever I caught it, but I was a casual viewer, so the nasty humor that the characters reveled in didn’t connect with me the way they may have for diehard fans.

What the show did, especially with its segments making fun of foreigners, was get me thinking about Asian faces on TV. As a Japanese-American kid enchanted by American popular culture of the 1960s, it never occurred to me growing up that there were very few people like me on the shows I watched for hours on end.
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