J-TOWN BEAT: As Trump Marches On, Will JAs Stand Up?



With Donald Trump’s march toward the White House becoming closer to reality, I wonder where the Japanese American Republicans are during all of this.

Where do they stand as their party looks to tear itself apart ahead of the November general election? How do they feel as the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan is turning into the party of “build a wall” and “ban all Muslims”? What about Trump’s ’80s-era talk of Japan’s unfair trade practices and currency manipulation?

My stepdad Mas Uriu was a longtime member of the Japanese American Republicans (JARS), a civic-minded group that met in support of JA GOP officials and candidates. At the last meeting I attended, I was impressed to hear the young and charismatic Placentia Mayor Jeremy Yamaguchi, as well as former assemblymember and current Lodi City Councilmember Alan Nakanishi, who in some respects represent bookends of Nikkei GOP politicians in California.

Their message of fiscal responsibility and family values resonated. It is one of the reasons that Republicans deemed that Asian Pacific American voters were “up for grabs” this election cycle despite taking a drubbing in 2012 when Obama got 72 percent of the Asian vote.

Trump’s ascendance throws all of that out the window. Efforts to make the party inclusive are no match against the rage of an electorate that is looking to The Donald as their standard-bearer. Is there no doubt that the implicit message of Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” is make America white again? The violence at Trump’s rallies seems like the inevitable culmination of the racially charged bullying language that Trump has utilized in speech after speech. Where all of this could end is, frankly, terrifying.

The Rafu has not historically taken positions or made endorsements, but times like these seem to demand that communities take a stand. A Japanese American community that has had its rights taken away is particularly invested in a moment like this one.

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It has been very quiet on the Keiro/Kei-Ai front and that is a real shame. Since escrow closed last month nothing has been heard from either the new operators or what remains of Keiro Senior Healthcare about where they go from here now that the dust has (apparently) settled.

Even a “community advisory board” announced publicly last November and made a condition of the sale by the attorney general has done nothing to say what their goals and plans are. Since they are said to represent the community, shouldn’t they at least state who they are and what their mission is? Didn’t the attorney general stipulate that this body was formed to ensure that the new operator complied with the conditions of sale?

From the get-go, Keiro’s vision of “community” has been shaped by a need for control. “Community” has been a closed group, rather than the larger “community” that has supported Keiro through the years and rightly feels that it has a stake in the organization. That community felt that it was told, not listened to, and that is a large reason why this rift has occurred.

Japanese and Japanese Americans are so polite, for the most part, that the depth and breadth of the criticism had to really sting. But if ever there is an opportunity to repair the relations damaged by all of this, holding silent does not seem the best course of action.

If I sound frustrated, then I guess it’s because this whole Keiro episode should be a lesson to those in power in the JA community — those who have influence, money and sit on governing boards — that their opinions are not the only ones that matter. And just simply that with that power comes a responsibility to act for the greater good of a community that is evolving and is no longer the Sansei/Nisei community of old.

There is a strong populist undercurrent in America right now, evidenced by the Bernie Sanders, and yes, Trump campaigns. The Keiro Ad Hoc campaign was a rather remarkable example of a populist movement right here in the JA community.

Folks feel their lives aren’t improving and are upset at traditional power structures that have calcified and become corrupt. Is that also true here in Little Tokyo?

It doesn’t have to be that way.

The turnaround taking place at the JACCC, under the leadership of Leslie Ito and board chair George Tanaka, shows that an organization that fully confronts its problems and involves the community will in return find a community that is willing to support it.

Keiro and its board aren’t unique in the problems they are facing. All institutions and organizations in the JA community, The Rafu included, are in the same boat. How each leadership team comes to grip with those problems will determine whether those organizations continue to exist into the future.

Going back to Keiro, as early as December 2014, a reader wrote to The Rafu, questioning why community leaders did not speak out on the proposed sale at that time to the Ensign Group.

Irene Tanaka wrote: “Why are the community leaders allowing this and remaining mum on the subject? It’s time, or past time, for discussion and resolution to take place. It’s still not too late to save this worthwhile and much-needed organization. The state, by voiding the sale, actually has given the community time to do the right thing.”

If nothing else, I would hope that this whole episode has put our leaders on notice: listen, engage and as Irene said, do the right thing before it is too late.

Gwen Muranaka, English editor-in-chief of The Rafu Shimpo, can be contacted at [email protected] expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.



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