Last week, master community organizer Diane Ujiiye convened a Zoom meeting of 55 people to discuss the exploding anti-Asian hate issue. The discussion centered on what was happening in the community but its FOCUS was solutions.
I, along with fellow Movement OG David Monkawa, was asked to put the issue in a historical and community context. David hammered home example after example where the API community fought back against such anti-Asian attacks.
From Chinese railroad workers pushing back against their stark reality of a “Chinaman’s chance.” To Nikkei demonstrating and protesting conditions in America’s WWII concentration camps. To the Vincent Chin case that, like the Chol Soo Lee case, the redress/reparations campaign and others, galvanized the API community.
I made the point that historically and today, international relationships with Asian countries impacts domestic relationships with Asian and Pacific Islanders in America. The obvious example being the source of this current surge of anti-Asian violence being the coronavirus pandemic and the repeated reference to China being the source.
I further referenced examples of politicians using their “bully pulpits” to scapegoat Asians in America for economic and social problems. It’s not the “model minority” stereotype that dominates the narrative during these times, it’s the “forever foreigner” trope that is repurposed by the hate-mongers.
I also pointed out that is some ways I welcomed the situation in that it was a reminder that as Asians and Pacific Islanders we are not “adjacent white” people. We are people of color with a history rooted in the building of this country and are equitable and dynamic contributors to American life, past, present and the future.
I also welcomed and was more than impressed with the multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-regional and multiple backgrounds of the people Diane pulled together in a moment’s notice. I understand the age range was from 15 years old to 75 (whew, I wasn’t the oldest at 73) years young.
But the commentary, perspective and energy of the young activists was on full display. Tammy Cho and Michelle Hanabusa, co-founders of Hate Is a Virus, are using the slogan to organize a proactive response to the issues at hand. Sean Miura, community activist, writer and raconteur, shared an “on point” narrative that captured the unfolding issue from what David and I laid out to what is happening today.
All the ensuing “chats” and commentary heartened me as I fight not to be the “old head” standing behind the screen door hollering at the neighborhood kids to stay off the lawn. Re-embracing my status as a Movement OG-san, my column designation, I have been pleasantly reminded that as an activist from back in the day, I then, as the activists are now, am a part of a continuum, a tradition of activism, a part of an ever forward-moving social justice movement.
Proof of that is that earlier in the year I was on a panel discussing social justice issues with the great-granddaughter of political activist icon Yuri Kochiyama. Also, for the UCSB Day of Remembrance, I was on a Zoom where I shared the screen with the great-grandson (and grandson of another Movement OG, Art Ishii) of Amy Uno Ishii. Amy guided us Sansei activists through the WWII camp experience when most of the other Nisei didn’t want to talk about it (late sixties).
All this to say that the Asian and Pacific Islander social justice movement is alive and well. Remember, where there is crisis there is opportunity and where there is oppression there is always resistance.
So bring on the HATE and we’ll not cower in fear, we will organize, organize, and organize. And if “hate is a virus,” let’s find the antidote, let’s vaccinate against HATE (too much?)!
Warren Furutani has served on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, on the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, and in the California State Assembly. He is a senior advisor to Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de Leon. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.