By Sharon Yamato
With the California state budget mired in controversy over its deficit of $26.3 billion, it’s sad to see many State-funded programs facing the chopping block. There are more than a few people breathing a sigh of relief that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s massive cuts have been trimmed by State lawmakers in favor of saving aid to community colleges, state parks, and other programs that need money to keep afloat. For me, I’d hate to see my nearby park and deer habitat close since it’s a place that I often go to catch a breath of nature and to escape the traffic and noise of this crowded city. And thankfully, the community college athletic program that employs a friend of mine is not under threat anymore. These two things put a personal spin on the budget cuts that are threatening to affect all of us.
One small—but important—program vital to our community is the Civil Liberties Public Education Project, which was created way back in 1999, thanks to Assemblyman Mike Honda, to provide grants for the purpose of educating people about the mass incarceration. Assembly members George Nakano and Wilma Chan fought to keep the program going, and in 2003, it became a permanent State program subject to annual budget authorizations. It’s amazing that this educational initiative has managed to stay alive through cut after budget cut.
Over the past ten years, CCLPEP has helped fund everything from films, books, web sites, exhibitions and events, to educational and curriculum projects. Many a documentary, play or book would never have seen the light of day without CCLPEP money. Even though their annual grant budget seems to drop every year, 2009 saw funding for such worthy projects related to preserving the awareness of California Japantowns; conferring of honorary degrees to Nisei college students whose education was cut short by the war; adding a Nikkei portion to the National Asian Pacific Islander Preservation Conference; digitizing the Pacific Citizen newspaper; and creating a community-accessible collection of artifacts relating to the war. Such notable figures as playwright Philip Kan Gotanda, writer Hiroshi Kashiwagi, and artist Mine Okubo, are all featured in projects given grants. Among the many deserving community organizations that are beneficiaries are the Tule Lake Committee, East West Players, Densho, the Grateful Crane Ensemble, and the Pacific Southwest District’s JACL.
Just in case you haven’t seen much about the important projects that were funded this year, it could be due to the fact that the staffing to run this program has been reduced, along with their ability to generate press releases and to conduct other strategic activities. Only two people oversee the more than 25 programs funded this year, and to make matters worse, they only work four days a week due to the furloughing of State employees. Kudos should go to Programs Consultant Linda Springer and Budget Analyst Colette Moody to keep the massive paperwork and administrative details moving along with very little manpower to back them up.
It has been jokingly said that the three I’s—Internment, Immigration and Identity—dominate the current state of Asian American media topics, especially as seen on film and in books. Yet sadly, there are still those who still don’t know anything about the incarceration story and its far-reaching implications as far as all our civil liberties are concerned. Government programs like CCLPEP are essential to that those of us who still feel it’s important to get the word out, and it’s crucial that programs like these get the attention they deserve.
Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.