By JORDAN IKEDA, Rafu Columnist
The Year of the Ram will be remembered through the lens of fear both abroad and here at home. Amidst that overarching theme has been change: Change that has contributed to the spread of fear and change that has given hope of collectively overcoming it.
Nothing has symbolized this fear more than ISIS. The militant group ushered in 2015 with the beheadings of Japanese hostages, the burning of a Jordanian pilot, and the announced rape and murder of an American human rights activist.
The civil war raging in Syria has had widespread implications. The United States, France, Great Britain, and Russia involved themselves with the dropping of bombs. In response, jihadis launched major terror attacks outside of Iraq and Syria. Bombings of a train station in Turkey, a Metrojet plane bound for Russia, a marketplace in Lebanon, and a bus in Tunisia along with attacks in Paris and California have thus far accounted for 525 deaths.
The war in Syria has had other consequences. Tens of thousands of refugees have sought asylum in Europe and America and sparked international disputes and policy shifts. Hungary closed its borders while the United States has been caught in a political battle over the prudence and security risk of allowing 10,000 Syrian refugees into its borders.
This fear has sparked national debate and has touched a chord that resonates with Japanese Americans and what the Nisei generation fought so hard to earn.
In November, President Obama awarded the late Minoru Yasui the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Yasui spent his life as a civil and human rights leader who challenged the constitutionality of the military curfew ordered during World War II on the grounds of racial discrimination and was a key member of the JACL who fought for redress.
And yet, 70 years later, it as if nothing has changed. Two of the leading Republican presidential candidates loudly defended Japanese American internment — a view promoting their stance on banning Muslims from entering the U.S. and promoting fear-inducing, hateful rhetoric regarding Islam. This despite the fact that America has enough hate within its own borders to fill the world.
In 2015, the U.S. experienced 57 mass shootings. From Robert Dear killing three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood, to Dylan Roof killing nine at a South Carolina church, to Chris Harper Mercer, who killed 10 at an Oregon community college, the U.S. has enough home-grown, American terrorism that needs immediate political resolution. It is foolish to focus solely on foreign-born threats through hate mongering and sensationalism.
In early December, the Japanese American community rose up to denounce this thinking — from George Takei to Mike Honda to Karen Korematsu — and gathered together in Little Tokyo for a “Vigilant Love” candlelight vigil against violence and Islamaphobia.
Through gentrification, Little Tokyo has once again become a destination, a trend set to increase once the Metro station — and all the difficulties its construction has created — is completed.
Oiwake, the “Cheers” of Little Tokyo, closed its doors in September and after 57 years, Rafu Bussan had no choice but to vacate Second Street after the building’s owner decided to sell. In fact, tradition has had a difficult time throughout the community. While the sale of Keiro has been the most attention-grabbing, other changes will have significant impact in the years to come.
The Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California came to an end after 38 years of serving the community and The Pacific Citizen announced its plans to go fully digital this year.
Good change has happened as well.
The Go For Broke National Education Center broke ground in May. The new office and interactive space will be housed in the old Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple. Sawtelle in West L.A. is now an officially designated Japantown.
Asian Americans solidified their existence on television this past year. Shows like “Fresh Off the Boat,” “Dr. Ken,” “The Mindy Project,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” and “Master of None” have taken Asian stereotypes and presented them in witty, smart, engaging, and relevant ways and thus broadened the scope through which Asian Americans are viewed.
All of this change, both positive and negative, both fear-induced and hope-filled, only serves to reinforce the rarity and value of tradition, of continuity.
The Little Tokyo Service Center celebrated its 35th anniversary. The Orange Coast Gakuen its 40th. The Manzanar Pilgrimage saw its 46th trek up north. The Japanese American Optimist hosted its 62nd installation. The Southeast Japanese School and Community Center turned 90. The Hollywood Buddhist Church celebrated its centennial. The Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California celebrated its 111th year.
And Nisei Week turned 75. For three-quarters of a century, Nisei Week has carried the Japanese American legacy and remains a shining example of the good that can come about when people work together.
When communities bond together, positive change is possible. Something old and broken can become new and vital.
Here’s to leaving behind the death and hatred that filled 2015, and building upon the growth and optimism and positive change throughout 2016 and beyond.
This article appeared in The Rafu Shimpo’s New Year’s Edition.