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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Artifacts contain our cultural history, that’s why they’re so precious

Hand-carved wood panels made in Amache in Colorado during WWII. These were among the items  that would have been auctioned.

Hand-carved wood panels made in Amache in Colorado during WWII. These were among the items that would have been auctioned. Here’s a link to the announcement on JANM’s website.


 
UPDATE MAY 3, 2015:T he Japanese American National Museum announced last night at a gala fundraising honoring George Takei (who’s a JANM board member as well as a community activist) that with Takei’s help, the museum will take in the collection of Japanese American concentration camp artifacts that were originally slated to go to public auction. This is great news, and a brilliant public relations move by JANM and its CEO, Greg Kimura. When can we expect to see the “Eaton Collection Exhibit?” Here’s the Facebook Page, “Japanese American History: NOT for Sale,” with announcements and reactions from the community.
 


I’ve watched the news in horror as ISIS forces have systematically destroyed ancient mosques, temples, artwork and artifacts in their zealous pursuit of religious absolutism. It’s patently offensive to me that there could be such callous disregard for an entire civilization’s recorded and preserved history.

Compared to such crimes against humanity, some people might think that the auction of a personal collection of artifacts from the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II must be a minor controversy.

But the auction, which was to be held April 17, was canceled two days before, following an ad-hoc social media campaign and mainstream media coverage that was sparked by outraged Japanese Americans, was not a minor controversy.

It blew up into a big deal. A Facebook page named “Japanese American History: NOT for Sale” gained almost 7,000 followers after it was created on April 9. A Change.org online petition created just a few days before the auction got almost 8,000 people signed on.
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The students protesting for their high school history curriculum are fighting for JAs, too

Hundreds of Lakewood High School students, including this one, left their classrooms in September to protest a proposed history curriculum they believed would lead to censorship. Students organized the walkouts using social media sites like Facebook. Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat Colorado

Hundreds of Lakewood High School students, including this one, left their classrooms in September to protest a proposed history curriculum they believed would lead to censorship. Students organized the walkouts using social media sites like Facebook. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat Colorado)

I grew up as part of a generation that found our collective voice in protest, for African American civil rights, against the war in Vietnam, and to advocate for women’s and LGBT rights and Asian American studies.

College students have been at the forefront of many of these social movements. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee was a cornerstone of the civil rights movement. College students led the free speech movement at the University of California at Berkeley, and the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society was formed at the University of Michigan. Students led protests across the globe, including the Prague Spring in 1968 all the way to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Even the Taiwan protests earlier this year and the current and Hong , Kong democracy protests.

But in Colorado where I live, my admiration goes out to a group of high school students, who have been protesting in Jefferson County, the school district where I graduated in the 1970s.
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“Hawaii Five-0” airs powerful episode about Pearl Harbor & imprisonment of Japanese Americans during WWII

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We’re fans of the CBS series “Hawaii Five-0” for lots of reasons, including the fact that it’s a showcase for Asian and Pacific Islander actors such as Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, and the entertaining “bromance” relationship between Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) and Danny “Danno” Williams (Scott Caan).

I always loved the original series that ran from 1968-1980, and think it’s great that this reboot uses pretty much the same arrangement for the theme song, and even uses quick-cut images that evoke the look and feel of the intro sequence from the earlier Five-0.

And finally, who can’t love a show that celebrates the coolest and best-looking of all the United States, with loving b-roll shots of both its glistening city life and its incredibly beautiful natural scenery?

This week, we get a whole new reason to appreciate “Hawaii Five-0” and tune in regularly. The producers are focusing on an aspect of American history that still remains under the radar of most mainstream American pop culture: The American imprisonment of people of Japanese ancestry in the wake of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
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