THROUGH THE FIRE: On Being Grateful in 2016

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YAMATO, SHARON 09By SHARON YAMATO

They say as you get older, time goes by at warp speed. It must be true because my nieces and nephews, not to mention my friends’ kids, suddenly went from 12 to 45. Remember those lyrics from “Fiddler on the Roof”: “I don’t remember getting older, when did they?” I always feel a little weepy when I listen to those words but instead of mourning the loss of youth, I’ve decided to take a moment to ponder the passage of time and the end of another trying year in a different way — with gratitude.

Despite a year of horrible shootings, the rise of ISIS, and Donald Trump, to name just a few of the worst of 2015, there are so many people and things for which I’m grateful. In the Bay Area over the Christmas holidays, we took a slight detour to visit a few friends and family members suffering from poor health. In laughing and reminiscing with them, I am reminded how much our connections enrich our lives.

Sharing history with our friend Butch Soo Hoo, who turned 92 on Christmas Day, I continue to marvel at what a remarkable man he is. Butch, a Chinese immigrant who came to this country on his own as a young teenager, served at the close of World War II as a naval photographer in the Bikini Atoll, where U.S. nuclear testing was being conducted. Butch risked exposure to radioactive contamination while performing a job refused by another photographer and went on to become the first Chinese American non-commissioned naval officer. Butch then married a former Japanese American detainee at a time when interracial marriages were strictly taboo.

Despite a lifetime of battling the norm, he remains the kindest and gentlest person around, and his joy for life is reflected in his ability to survive health issues with strength and determination while surrounded by a family he adores. It’s people like Butch who demonstrate what family and friendship are all about.

Besides friendships, there’s something called community for which I am also especially thankful. Which brings me to an article I read recently called “I Racist” by John Metta, which, among other things, describes the differences between what it means to be a white individual in America and being a black member of a larger community. As Metta points out, “White people do not think in terms of we . . .Whites are often not directly affected by racial oppression even in their own community, so what does not affect them locally has little chance of affecting them regionally or nationally. They have no need, nor often any real desire, to think in terms of a group.”

Being part of a group definitely has its negative consequences. Just as all Japanese Americans in 1942 got identified as the enemy, blacks, Muslims, and Mexican Americans today get categorized in their respective groups as thugs, terrorists, or thieves.

However, there is a positive aspect to being part of a community. As a group once deprived of its civil rights, we can and must stand by others who continue to be targets of racial discrimination. During this time of anti-immigration rhetoric, police brutality and killings of unarmed blacks, Syrian refugee refusal, and anti-Muslim hate crimes, it’s more important than ever for us as a community to stand together to combat ignorance and hate.

It was gratifying to see the show of support recently with the vigil held in Little Tokyo in support of Muslims, Sikhs, South Asian and Arab American communities. How heartwarming to see Little Tokyo lit up by a giant peace sign of supporters. Equally rewarding were comments by public figures like George Takei and Mike Honda, who used the example of the Japanese American incarceration to underline the need for tolerance and compassion.

Sadly, there’s still deep-seated racism that pervades our society, but in the spirit of gratitude, I’d like to end with the positive aspects of being part of our community today. We are fortunate to be surrounded by people who’ve battled racism and triumphed. We’re also lucky to be a member of a larger community that shares a common culture and history (which, by the way, is always joyously celebrated during this time of year with Oshogatsu).

Finally, we are privileged to be able to show by example just how critical it is to speak out against intolerance and injustice at a time when our voices are needed the most.

Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey and can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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