SENIOR MOMENTS: 9/11 — Before and After

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By Phil Shigekuni

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(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on September 15, 2011.)

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I read now and then how certain minority groups cast themselves as victims, presumably so that they can make majority America feel guilty and hit them for conscience money. It’s called victimization. Probably, JAs getting redress is assumed to be a part of this.

After 9/11, the country seemed to look for people to blame for this tragedy. Middle Eastern people were the inevitable targets.  Thousands of them were deported after having their visas and passports cancelled for trivial reasons. Women in traditional Muslim attire were subject to discrimination. The radical fundamentalist Muslims who committed the terrorist attacks were lumped together with all Muslims, as were the turban-wearing Sikhs, who were of a different religion.

To our credit, Japanese Americans largely saw through this injustice.  I was proud to see National JACL, as well as many chapters, speaking out in defense of the Middle Easterners.

Locally, NCRR scheduled programs to educate the public about what was happening. Senshin Buddhist Church reached out to Muslims and celebrated Ramadan with them. The organizers of the Manzanar Pilgrimage included dialogues with Muslim young people. Important human bridges were created.

I was proud to be part of a community that, having gained a measure of justice, sought justice for another group that was being subjected to the same sort of discrimination. Yes, we were once victims, but we were victims who were willing to show concern and reach out to other victims.

Last night, I regrettably missed a TV program featuring actor Ken Watanabe addressing how our community reacted toward 9/11.  I was told one of the segments dealt with Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta and how he stood firm in rejecting racial profiling in screening passengers boarding airliners after 9/11. Because of his experience as a 10-year-old in Heart Mountain, he had to be sensitized to any form of racial discrimination.

Then, last year there was opposition to the building of an educational center and mosque close to Ground Zero in New York City. I was surprised to find two of my friends bought the argument that the center should not be built there out of consideration to those who lost loved ones in the attack. JACL in this instance pointed out how there was strong resistance to the building of a hostel in New York City to house JAs relocating from internment camps. Remember Pearl Harbor.

More recently, a similar scenario developed in Temecula in Southern California, where there was opposition to the building of a mosque. Those opposed could not use proximity to Ground Zero as an excuse. The racial and religious bigotry was exposed for what it was.

In closing, allow me to shift gears. It also, however, has to do with matters redemptive.

On Sept. 24, the Japanese American National Museum, in conjunction with many community organizations, is sponsoring a program featuring Al and Jane Nakatani. This couple, who lost three sons — two to AIDS and one to a shooting incident — have a powerful story to tell.

They have produced a DVD and written a book, “Honor Thy Children,” in which they tell of how they made grievous errors in raising their boys. The book relates how their 17-year-old son Guy, who was dying of AIDS, courageously, in his last year, toured high school campuses across the country to educate other high-schoolers about AIDS. Guy’s brave action caused Al and Jane to want to tell their story to as wide an audience as possible.

Their story is as moving as it is redemptive. Last year, after the publicity about bullying and suicide in this country, they were asked by the Department of Education in Hawaii to tell their story at high schools in the state.

There will be no charge. The program will run from 9 to 11:30 a.m., and will also feature writer Kristel Yoneda from Honolulu and Marsha Aizumi, whose son Aiden suffered bullying before finally graduating from Arcadia High School.  For more information: [email protected], (818) 893 1581.

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Phil Shigekuni can be reached by email. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

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