Addressing Anti-Blackness in the Japanese American Community

Building Your Toolkit image.jpg

Following the tragedy of George Floyd’s murder, members of the NY/SC saw a need to equip young people, activists, and organizers with the tools to address anti-Black rhetoric and attitudes that we see in our own community. We initiated a collaboration with Next Generation Nikkei in Chicago, Tsuru for Solidarity, Northern California Nikkei Community Interns, and a variety of other individuals to pull together a webinar on anti-Blackness in the Japanese American community; called “Building Your Toolkit: Addressing Anti-Blackness in the Japanese American Community.” This workshop featured a variety of segments, including one on history, solidarity-building, community partnerships, and strategies for approaching conversations with compassion. Each segment was broken up by smaller discussion groups, facilitated by the 13 organizers. Attendees were able to take away concrete skills and techniques to facilitate these conversations in their own communities.

Slides from this workshop are available for viewing at the bottom of the page.

Be sure also to take advantage of the funding opportunity we have! the NY/SC is offering an application to fund more conversations and workshops like this one, available to anyone that is interested.

That link can be found here: http://bit.ly/startingconversations

Let’s continue to have these conversations and do the hard work!

Growing up Japanese American: Mixed Race in the Midwest

As I spend more time working with Japanese Americans from across the country, it always interests me to look at the regional cultural differences among us. For those who grew up in large Japanese American communities or alongside many other Asian American kids, their experience of being Japanese American is very different from others who were the only Asian in their class, the only Japanese American family in the neighborhood, or distant from communities that reflected their own identities. Having grown up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I count myself among the latter group. Given my regional provenance in the Midwest and my mixed race background, for me growing up AAPI meant a lot of navigating dualities, delineations, and identities that didn’t quite fit. It wasn’t until I found the JACL that I realized that being Japanese American can be a multitudinal, not monolithic, experience. 

When I was six years old, my family moved from Pasadena, California, to the northern suburbs of Milwaukee. Before then, I had never really had to think about how I looked or my name, both by virtue of age and environment– I was surrounded by extended family and a large Japanese American community. That all changed in Wisconsin. Once we moved, I suddenly found myself constantly aware of my differences, which were made apparent to me by classmates, neighbors, teachers, and friends in ways both subtle and overt. I was constantly confused with other Asian kids, occasionally regardless of gender. Frequent butchering of my name almost always led to questions- “Where are you from? Your English is good! Do you speak Japanese? Why not? You’re only half? What’s the other half? Is it weird for you, being half? Yeah, I can definitely tell you’re half. I can see it in the eyes!”

While occasionally there was more malicious teasing and slurs, the majority of the comments were innocuous. Nonetheless, I was regularly reminded that I was different and I craved a community in which I saw my identity reflected in others. There were a small number of Asian kids from whom I eventually constructed a circle of friends (and actively seeking them out wasn’t hard, as I’d accidentally been called by their names for years), and with them I found great relief: we could bond over being a small number in a large crowd, we talked about certain similarities we shared, and we it was nice just to be with one another. However, in this circle I was different too. Nearly all my Asian friends were first- and second-generation Korean American kids who grew up speaking Korean at home, practiced Korean cultural customs and holidays, flew back and forth to Korea, and had a moderately-sized Korean community a short drive away. Because I had and did none of these things and was not particularly connected to any “Japanese-ness,” per say, I was frequently told by friends and their parents that I was “too Americanized.” I got some of the same questions about why I didn’t speak Japanese, eat Japanese food, and had never been to Japan from this group of friends. Because my mother is white, that too counted as another strike against me on the “Authentically Asian” report card. “I’m glad I’m not like you,” one Korean American friend said to me on various occasions, “my parents would be so ashamed if I turned out as Americanized as you are, not even knowing your own culture.” 

So I wasn’t white, but I clearly wasn’t Asian enough either. I was embarrassed, sensitive, and very confused about my own racial identity. I didn’t have the real “Asian American Experience” like my friends did, so was I just Asian by virtue of a mere technicality? I was also interested in studying politics, social justice, and civil rights, but I was the only Asian person I knew who felt that way, aside from my dad. When attending meetings of my high school’s “Diversity Group,” I was occasionally asked “Why do you care about this? You’re Asian,” and told “you’re not really a person of color since you’re half white.” Did I even get to think of myself as Asian American, let alone Japanese American, if I was mixed? I wasn’t an immigrant, I wasn’t bilingual, I didn’t retain the cultural traditions of Japan, I wasn’t even fully Japanese… so what was I?  

I didn’t know anyone else like me with the same familial history that I wasn’t related to, so my assumption was that I was just an anomaly. Even when I began to do research and ask questions of my family about who we are, it was a bit hazy. Although I was vaguely familiar with the history of Japanese American incarceration and knew that my family had been involved, it was not until later in high school that I actually started doing research. I began because personal interest and a class project, but the more I read the more I realized that I could actually relate to the content of the books. I began to read every book I could get my hands on on the subject, everything from When the Emperor was Divine and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet to Personal Justice Denied and Citizen 13660. Through historical literature, fiction and nonfiction, I began to construct an idea of the Japanese American identity. Things made more sense to me now: why we didn’t speak Japanese, our distance from Japanese culture, and so on. 

Still, though, I didn’t know anyone else who was a yonsei like me. To me, Japanese America existed in the 1940s, a culture and heritage frozen in time. Despite all my research, I still didn’t see myself as part of an existing community– or know that there were any young Japanese Americans.  

That all changed the summer of 2015. Practically through a fluke, the local chapter of the Wisconsin JACL (which my family was only peripherally part of) did not have any delegates for the National Convention, so on a whim my dad volunteered the two of us to go. I had just graduated high school and jumped at the chance to be involved in anything Japanese American, and so we decided to work the Convention into a trip to Manzanar and a family visit in California. When July rolled around, we flew out to 110-degree heat Las Vegas, found our hotel, and checked in.   

From the moment we arrived to register, I was floored. I had never seen so many Japanese Americans all in one place, and so many of them looked like they could be members of my family. What’s more, there were young people– young Japanese Americans around my age, some of whom even looked mixed! In our local chapter and my own family, I was used to my parents being some of the youngest people there. But here were people my own age, also yonsei and gosei, who came from all over the country and from all sorts of backgrounds. I was completely overwhelmed. 

My awe continued to increase as I sat down in my first Youth Orientation. Looking around, I had never felt more of a sense of innate, unspoken belonging. There were faces that looked like mine, people who were interested in the same issues I was, and so many different and diverse experiences of being Japanese American all in one group. As Convention went on, I found that the people I met were kind, friendly, and unquestioning of my belonging there. I made friends and learned a lot about Japanese American history and current issues, but it wasn’t until I sat in on a panel about being mixed race that it really clicked: this was the community I was looking for. 

In the years since my first Convention, I have gotten much more involved with the JACL and the NY/SC. I still have many of the friends I made at my first Convention, but I’ve made many new ones along the way too. With each new person I meet, my idea of what it means to be Asian American and Japanese American expands, as each person’s own history, family, and regional provenance are unique but ultimately just as Asian American as mine or anyone else’s. I am deeply grateful to my Japanese American community for showing me that there is no “authentic” Asian American experience, and that being different, being mixed, and being multitudinous, is a part of what it means to be AAPI. In the words of the infinitely wise Sarah E. Baker, who sat on the Mixed Race panel at my first Convention: “Excuse me, I am not only anything.”

  Growing up AAPI is so much more than a single experience, a single qualifier, or a single story. Over the years I’ve realized that what makes me feel most at home in the Japanese American community is not just based in the similarity of our experiences, but also in our differences. 

– Written by Mieko Kuramoto, National Youth Representative of the Japanese American Citizens League

Queer Nikkei Stories and Intergenerational Conversations: PSW Youth Rep Justin Kawaguchi interviews George Takei on growing up LGBT and Japanese American

Justin Kawaguchi, 23 June 2020

On Thursday, June 18, 2020 I had the incredible opportunity to engage in conversation with George Takei at “Queer Nikkei Stories: Intergenerational Conversations”, hosted by Okaeri, the Japanese American National Museum, and Visual Communications. The virtual event tackled complex questions about the intersectionality of experiences being Japanese-American and queer including “What was it like to be gay and Japanese American decades ago? What is it like now?”

As a rising senior at USC, I was joined in conversation by actor and activist George Takei and bicultural advocate and organizer Aya Tasaki spoke with founder of Asian/Pacific Lesbians and Gays June Lagmay. George shared his journey in the incarceration camps of World War II and how his experience being “different” for his facial features were further paralleled by the difference he felt as a gay man in a society that had yet to fully accept same-sex couples. 

Some advice that I gained from this event and its conversations include: 

  • The importance of finding shared spaces to build solidarity 
  • Seeking out the stories of our families’ pasts, specifically related to the WWII incarceration camps, can be a powerful parallel to understanding the experience of being queer and insecure 
  • Everybody has their own process of coming to terms with their identity and sharing that realization with those around them

Okaeri was founded in 2014 and is a group of LGBTQ Nikkei, parents of LGBTQ Japanese Americans, and allies of LGBTQ people. Translated from Japanese as “Welcome Home”, Okaeri is the first-ever conference focused on LGBTQ Japanese Americans. Okaeri 2014 was a great success. More than 200 people from across the U.S. and Canada attended. Okaeri inspired Nikkei in Chicago, Seattle, Sacramento, and the San Francisco Bay Area to organize similar gatherings. Okaeri 2020 was postponed due to the global pandemic and virtual programs have been activated while plans to host a Gathering in 2021 are already in the works. 

Okaeri continues to serve as a resource to connect with LGBTQ Japanese Americans and allies, find support, resources and information, and learn how Nikkei have embraced their LGBTQ family members. To find more information, follow Okaeri on Facebook and Instagram or on their website at https://www.okaeri-losangeles.org/

The recording of this event will be posted by JANM in the coming weeks on their website. 

Tsuru For Solidarity Fold In Workshop

Hosting a Fold-in Workshop

Introducing TFS

The movement: Tsuru for Solidarity is a direct action, nonviolent project of activists and allied organizations within the Japanese American community. We work to end U.S. concentration camps and support immigrant and refugee populations targeted by inhumane and racist immigration policies, grounding ourselves in our collective history and moral authority as survivors and descendants of the WWII prison camps. As a formerly targeted community and as allies to those currently under attack, we demand that this country stop repeating history.

As a movement, our mission is three-pronged. We strive to: 

  1. Educate, advocate, and protest to close all U.S. concentration camps;
  2. Build solidarity with other communities that have experienced forced removal, detention, deportation, and separation of families; and 
  3. Coordinate intergenerational, cross-community healing addressing the trauma of our shared histories 

Events

The importance of a fold-in: “Tsuru” is the Japanese word for “crane,” and has long been a symbol of hope, strength, and resilience in Japanese and Japanese American culture.

As part of our protest, we are folding 125,000 cranes to be brought to Washington D.C. during the National Pilgrimage to Close the Camps in June of 2020 (see below). These cranes will be hung on the White House fence to demand that the government close the U.S. concentration camps immediately and remember the damage that was done during WWII. 

We are accepting cranes from all over the country and all over the world up until May 1st! See below for the addresses to which cranes should be sent. 

National Pilgrimage to Close the Camps: We plan to bring 125,000 paper cranes, or tsuru, to the White House as expressions of solidarity with immigrant and refugee communities that are under attack today. The 125,000 cranes represent the members of our community who were rounded up and incarcerated in U.S. concentration camps during World War II, including both Japanese Americans and Japanese Latin Americans. 

Caravans: Additionally, in the days preceding the D.C. program, a caravan of buses will leave from Los Angeles and other locations. These buses will carry a smaller group of activists to World War II concentration camp sites and present-day immigrant detention sites, where they will join in solidarity with local activists who are leading efforts to shut down these sites. The caravan will then join the larger group in Washington, D.C. We are also working to schedule meetings with members of Congress while the caravan is en route. 

Structure

Structure may vary depending on the audience for the fold-in, the size, the formality, etc. If you are working with a larger group, you may want to present some basics of the movement at the beginning. A rough outline for an hour-long fold-in might look like this:

  1. 10 min: Introduction to movement
    1. Fort Sill protest video (June 2019)
    2. Protest at Yuba County ICE detention facility (January 2020)
  1. Folding lesson 
  2. Free fold
  3. Activity/discussion 

More resources are available at https://tsuruforsolidarity.org/ . Videos and other information can be found there. 

Activities/Discussions 

At Tsuru for Solidarity, we use the Marshall Ganz framework to tie our own experiences to what’s going on today. 

The Marshall Ganz framework is an especially powerful way to tie your personal/family story to our calls to action. Like the Values/Problems/Solution/Action framework, it begins and ends with shared values and a call to action, but the middle is more personal. According to Marshall Ganz, a public story includes three elements: 

A story of self: Why you were called to what you have been called to. 

A story of us: What your constituency, community, organization has been called to; its shared purposes, goals, vision. 

A story of now: The challenge this community now faces, the choices it must make, and the hope to which “we” can aspire. 

We encourage the use of this structure to build bridges both with Japanese American/AAPI participants, but also with individuals from other communities. 

Note: Fold-ins do not always have to involve this intensity or level of discussion! These events can also be informal and conversations may happen naturally.

How to fold a crane

More information is available at https://tsuruforsolidarity.org/tsuru-resources/ on how to fold and string cranes. 

If you’ve got cranes to send, they can be mailed to one of these locations:

JACL Chicago  
5415 N. Clark St, 
Chicago, IL 60640

National Japanese American Historical Society
1684 Post St.
San Francisco, CA 94115 

Duncan Ryuken Williams, ℅ Ito Center
825 Bloom Walk, ACB 130D 
Los Angeles, CA 90089-1481 


EDC Summit: Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival

This year, the Eastern District Council’s NY/SC summit was hosted as a part of the  Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival programming and focused on issues surrounding coalition building between different immigrant communities in the United States. We hosted a panel discussion featuring several community members from Tsuru For Solidarity (a Japanese-American grassroots organization protesting migrant detention), the Council for American-Islamic Relations – Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, and Shut Down Berks Coalition. We held a conversation about the ways in which we as immigrant communities can support each other and collaborate on the common goal of achieving equal rights and justice for marginalized communities in the United States that face issues such as mass detention, incarceration, and the perils of race based discrimination and violence. We followed up our panel with a lunchtime discussion with Tsuru For Solidarity leaders Mike Ishii and Lauren Sumida about intergenerational trauma and activism in youth populations. 

Central Valley Nikkei Summit (CCDC)

On January 26th of 2019, NY/SC Youth representatives Kelly and Jenna Aoki worked with the CCDC District Council, Yonsei Memory Project, Central California Nikkei Foundation, and Chinatown Fresno Foundation to host the inaugural Central Valley Nikkei Summit. This summit aimed to create cohesion within the Japanese American youth community and foster intergenerational dialogue, while keeping questions of changing demographics and the engagement of diverse communities in mind. Over the course of the day, presentations by various sponsoring AAPI organizations were interspersed with the opportunity for participants to talk about Japanese American identity, youth engagement, service, and inter-community communication. The NY/SC is very proud of the community partnerships formed during the planning and run of the summit.

Japanese American Youths (JAYS) Kickoff

The summit kicked off on-campus with an in-depth introduction to the JACL and Japanese American history from local leader JACL leader Rick Okabe. This introduction was crucial for the summit as many attendees, some still in high school, had not previously been engaged with their racial identities before. Following the talk and discussion, participants moved to Olympus Hills Bowling Alley for dinner, bowling, and other activities.

A complete recap from summit-organizer and IDC Youth Representative Eric Tokita is forthcoming (he needs to get through finals first). As suggested by its title, this summit is the first in a series of social and educational events in IDC that Eric Tokita plans to organize in hopes of establishing a more robust district-level IDC youth group.

Allegiance:

A New Musical Inspired By a True Story

From PSW Youth Representative Juli Yoshinaga’s summit recap report: 

Each and every time JACL events are held, participants leave with a broader understanding of the Nikkei community, and the California Summit was no exception. On March 10-11, 2018, National Youth/Student Council District Representatives – Juli Yoshinaga from Pacific Southwest (PSW), Kelly Aoki from Central California (CCDC), Michelle Huey from Northern California Western Nevada Pacific (NCWNP), along with JACL Associate Director Stephanie Nitahara – joined efforts in hosting an educational summit taking place at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC) in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles.

Co-hosted with the JACCC, the two-day summit brought together 50 participants from all corners of the State of California to watch a live performance of Allegiance starring George Takei, Elena Wang, and Greg Watanabe at the Aratani Theatre. The JACCC and East West Playerses production of Allegiance provided an emotional connection and energy that only grew throughout the weekend.

Following the play, former Executive Director John Tateishi participated in a “fireside chat” with Nitahara detailing his experiences as Redress Director as well as his time serving as Executive Director during 9/11. Tateishi also gave valuable insight and offered a unique perspective regarding Mike Masaoka, the only non-fiction character in Allegiance.  Thank you to JACL National President, Gary Mayeda, for joining the program introducing Tateishi.
The next day, summit participants gathered to participate in Breaking the Silence on Sexual Violence in the API Community led by Huey, who works for My Sister’s House, an organization that serves the Asian and Pacific Islander and other underserved women and children impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. In addition to the workshop, youth representatives facilitated further discussion regarding the future of Japanese American youth in California. Youth participants identified the need for a space for youth to gather within the JACL. The summit concluded with the passionate and energized participants visiting the Go for Broke Museum.

Incarceration by Executive Order: Japanese American Internment and Immigration Detention Centers Today (EDC)

On December 1st of 2018, the campus of Smith College welcomed back its second NY/SC youth summit with the event “Incarceration by Executive Order: Japanese American Internment and Immigration Detention Centers Today.” Jointly organized by NY/SC Youth Representative Mieko Kuramoto, NY/SC At-Large member Aiko Dzikowski, and Smith College campus organizations Pan Asians in Action, the Latin American Student Organization, and Organizing for Undocumented Students’ Rights, the event focused on historic and modern parallels between the Japanese American incarceration and current Immigration detention practices. Keynote speakers Dr. Franklin Odo (Amherst College) and Dr. David Hernández (Mount Holyoke College) addressed racialized immigration policy, incarceration, and lesser citizenship in the United States, and the following student-led discussion allowed attendees to have an open conversation about cross-cultural coalition building and joint activism between the Asian American, Latin American, and undocumented communities.