JOURNEY TO TEXAS: Japanese Americans Protest Family Separations

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Satsuki Ina (right) and other Crystal City detainees share about their WWII experience of family separation and indefinite detention during a protest rally outside the South Texas Family Residential Center, a detention center in Dilley, Texas, on March 29. (Photos by MARTHA NAKAGAWA)

Second of three parts

By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor

More than a 100 people turned out for a protest rally outside the Dilley Detention Center, which is currently imprisoning 2,400 women and children immigrants.

The more than 25,000 cranes sent to the Grassroots Leadership office were strung along the detention center’s barbed-wire fence by former Crystal City incarceree and their supporters.

Juan Mancias, head of the Carrizo Comecrudo tribe, who are the indigenous people of the area, opened the protest rally.

“Right now, we are building villages along the Rio Grande to monitor the abuses of Homeland Security and to monitor the abuse of the Border Patrol,” said Mancias. “Nobody has been holding them accountable. It’s time that we, the original people, start taking the land back and our villages back.”

Mancias also noted that they are known as the Crane Clan and commented that it was not a coincidence that the Japanese American community would bring thousands of folded cranes as a show of solidarity.

Before leading the group in a protest chant, Mike Ishii, a Yonsei, said, “We are here, not only to oppose what’s happening in these camps, but also for the healing of our people who were also incarcerated, so it’s important for us to be here. We had to be here today. And each one of us represents thousands of people back home from all over the country who are here in spirit. And each of these cranes represent family members who were incarcerated. It represents our ancestors whom we bring here today.

“We understand the long-term, multi-generational effects of what happens when you lock people up and take away their human and civil rights. When you lock children up, when you drug them, when you tase them like animals and deny them proper medical care and strip them away from their families — this is unacceptable. This is absolutely unacceptable. So we have come here from across the United States today because we couldn’t just speak out. We had to bring our physical bodies here to say this is not okay.”

Satsuki Ina was among the former Crystal City survivors who spoke at the rally. “We’re here to protest what happened to Japanese Americans over 75 years ago,” she said. “Hatred, racism, political failure has led to a repetition of mass incarceration of innocent people here and we’re grateful to have you here to participate in this protest. Our mission, our purpose for this is we’re just a grassroots group of people who were incarcerated as children. We want the children inside to hear our voices.”

Marge Taniwaki, a former Manzanar incarceree, places a strand of origami cranes on the Dilley fence.

James Arima, who came from Washington state to participate in the protest rally, was born in Crystal City. His father was taken away on Dec. 7, 1941 and was not reunited with his mother and older siblings for three years. He was the product of that reunion at Crystal City.

“I didn’t know what I could do,” said Arima. “But I just felt that something had to be done, so when I heard about this Dilley rally, I said I’ve got to go. I didn’t know what I was going to be doing here but at least for myself, I needed to be here.

“It’s bad enough for the adults here, but for the children to be separated from their parents, and some of them will never be reunited because of the incompetency of our government and policies.

“At least our family got together, and we may have gotten our physical freedom, but emotionally, I think, we’re still captive. I think our community is still captive.”

Kazumu Julio Cesar Naganuma, another Crystal City survivor, said, “My family was kidnapped from Peru. We were stripped of our human rights, civil rights. We were never charged with a crime. We were imprisoned without due process. We don’t want this to happen again. In other words, stop repeating history. Never again now means never again NOW.”

Marge Yamada Taniwaki, a former Manzanar incarceree who came from Denver, found it difficult to place the strands of tsuru on the barbed-wire fence at Dilley.

“When I went up and saw the barbed wires, it reminded me of one of my strongest memories of Manzanar, where my mother told me never to touch the barbed-wire fence because people had been shot and killed for doing that,” said Taniwaki. “Our barrack was near the perimeter, and I would always look up and see the soldier standing on guard duty. He always held a rifle with a fixed bayonet. Thinking back on that, I don’t think any child should have those kinds of memories.”

Taniwaki felt that her childhood incarceration contributed to her politicization later in life. “For about 30 years now, I’ve produced a radio show at KGNU in Boulder, Colo., and have dealt with migrants fleeing oppression from Central and South America, so this is very close to my heart.

“I was also hoping that participating in this event will bring more light to this ongoing atrocities that is happening to our fellow human beings. We really need to fight when we say it should never happen again. We truly need to mean it and put all our efforts behind it to change our governance structure to make life equal for all.”

Protesters chant in solidarity. At left in front is Dr. Sister Gamba of the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio.

While most Americans view undocumented immigrants as a Latino issue, J. Kim, an undocumented immigrant of Korean descent, spoke out to say it affects Asian Americans as well.

“I’m a DACA recipient,” said Kim. “I’m undocumented but I’m not afraid. I just want to say the undocumented issue is not only a Latinx issue or a black issue. It’s also an Asian American issue. There’s more than a million undocumented Asian Americans in this country, and they’re always living in fear of deportation.”

Kim said that last year the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium started a Citizenship for All campaign, which would provide a pathway to citizenship to all people living in the U.S., including undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Several NAKASEC members were collecting signatures for this campaign.

Karina Alvarez, head of the Laredo Immigrant Alliance, is also a DACA recipient.

“I found light in people who shared the same ideals,” she said. “We need to fight back policies like SB 4 that terrorizes our community.”

Senate Bill 4, which passed in May 2017, is similar to Senate Bill 1070, which was passed in Arizona. This Texas “Show Me Your Papers” bill allows law enforcement officers to ask about the immigration status of anyone they lawfully detain, and this provision extends to college campus police. This law also allows individuals to initiate an investigation into sanctuary cities.

Little Tokyo activist Sean Miura, along with Becca Asari and Linda Morris, led the group in a “human mic exchange” in which they delivered a phrase and supporters repeated them, thus amplifying the voices.

Miura said he wanted to witness the detention camps in person. “We talk about these detention centers in the abstract. We talk about separation of families as a concept, and I think, for a number of reasons, we choose not to ground it in reality. But these are actual people being impacted in devastating ways that are going to have a generational impact and there are implications for not only for themselves but for the entire country and the world.”

Just before Jenni Kuida arrived to the rally from Los Angeles, she confirmed with her mother over the phone that her grandparents had been reunited at Crystal City and that one of her mother’s sisters had died there.

“My mom’s oldest sister passed away two days after they got here,” said Kuida. “She had a brain tumor but my grandfather was able to see her before she passed away.

“It’s eerie the connection between Dilley and Crystal City, and Crystal City is not that far from here. It’s really sad what’s happening. That’s why we needed to make this trip to Dilley.”

Kuida’s daughter, Maiya, found the trip educational. “I’m glad they organized this because I think it helps educate a lot of people, including me. I didn’t know much about this camp, so I’m glad I came.”

Libal said this rally was the most moving he’d been involved with. “I think it’s incredibly important to be drawing these connections. I’m reading a book on Crystal City and the similarities between the facility behind us and the one just down the road in Crystal City, are overwhelming. This is the nation’s largest immigration detention center. It has 2,400 children and mothers detained here today, including babies. This facility is a moral outrage.”

Linda Morris, from New York, does not have a Crystal City connection but her mother’s family was imprisoned at the Jerome and Rohwer WRA camps during the war.

“Over the past couple of years, my mom and I have been talking more about her family’s experience, so any chance that I have to be involved in building a community with other Japanese Americans, who have that shared experience, is important to me,” said Morris. “Also addressing the issue that our country is currently going through with immigration is really important, so that’s why I came.”

Morris said her father is a member of the Creek tribe from Alabama. “My parents have different experiences, but there are similarities in terms of facing discrimination in this country and also forced removal.”

Stacy Kono, from Berkeley, whose father was in Tule Lake, Jerome and Rohwer and whose mother was in Tule Lake, talked about how inspiring the protest rally was.

“I want to share about how proud I am to be a Japanese American, how proud I am for all of us for standing up in this moment and sharing our stories and our family’s stories in a time when our country is engaged in human rights violations against people who are simply seeking to survive and escape conditions that our government has contributed to,” said Kono.

Holly Yasui, a daughter of Minoru Yasui, who challenged the constitutionality of the curfew during World War II, sent a bilingual letter to the children detained at Dilley. Robin Yasui read the letter in English and Rebecca Fong read the Spanish version.

The letter read in part, “We want to support you as some groups supported us, Japanese Americans, during the war when we needed it most. We want our country to live up to its principles of justice and democratic ideals that attracted our ancestors to this land.”

One World Taiko and Soh Taiko performed, and the protesters sang “De Colores,” a folk song that was commonly sung during the United Farm Workers’ rallies, followed by the Japanese folk song “Kutsu ga Naru.”

To be continued

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