‘A J-Town Community Gathering Against Hate’

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Vigil participants held candles as they gathered in San Francisco Japantown's Peace Plaza.

Vigil participants held candles as they gathered in San Francisco Japantown’s Peace Plaza.

Rafu Staff Report

SAN FRANCISCO — About 200 people participated in “United for Compassion: A J-Town Community Gathering Against Hate,” which was held Nov. 22 at San Francisco Japantown’s Peace Plaza.

Presented by the Bay Area Day of Remembrance Consortium and sponsored by the San Francisco JACL, Nichi Bei Foundation, Japanese Community Youth Council (JCYC), Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC) and Nakayoshi Young Professionals, the gathering showed solidarity with communities being targeted nationwide by incidents of hate in the wake of the presidential election.

Co-emcees Satsuki Ina of the Tule Lake Committee and Jon Osaki of JCYC read a statement from the consortium, which consists of more than a dozen community organizations: “Since and before the elections, there has been a rise in incidents of hate throughout the country, which appear to be emboldened by the misogynistic, xenophobic and racist rhetoric of the Trump campaign. The Southern Poverty Law Center, to date, has documented more than 700 incidents since the elections alone, including physical assaults and racist vandalism.

“As a community that knows all too well the effects of wartime hysteria, racial prejudice and the failure of political leadership, the Japanese American community responds, using our own experience as a stark reminder of the effects of the deprivation of civil liberties.

Japanese American youth groups were represented at the rally.

Japanese American youth groups were represented at the rally.

“Seventy-five years ago the FBI began arresting our Buddhist priests, Japanese language school teachers and community leaders. Within two months the U.S. government began the mass incarceration of all Japanese Americans from the West Coast. This human tragedy and violation of constitutional rights is not what a Trump advisor stated as a ‘precedent’ for a present-day ‘Muslim registry.’ It was a grave injustice and grave mistake, for which the nation apologized.

“In a show of unity with targeted communities — including Muslims, Arab Americans, immigrants, Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, LGBTQ persons, Native Americans and women — the Japanese American and Japantown community is taking a clear and unequivocal stand against hate, while addressing the fear that has shrouded our communities. We stand in solidarity for equality, equity, and freedom.”

Hiroshi Kashiwagi, 94, a noted San Francisco poet, recounted his experiences at the Tule Lake Segregation Center. He called the government’s actions during World War II “a flagrant violation of our civil rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”

He continued, “We are determined that this shameful act will not be repeated on any person or any group of people again.”

Poet Hiroshi Kashiwagi and filmmaker Satsuki Ina were among the speakers. Kashiwagi was incarcerated at Tule Lake after graduating from high school and Ina was born there.

Poet Hiroshi Kashiwagi and filmmaker Satsuki Ina were among the speakers. Kashiwagi was incarcerated at Tule Lake after graduating from high school and Ina was born there.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said, “It’s hard to believe that it’s been 75 years since 120,000 Japanese Americans, including my parents and grandparents, were removed from their homes and put in concentration camps for four years. When the United States finally apologized for that crime, they said it would never happen again. And yet we’re here defending against the same totalitarianism that was allowed to grip this country …

“But there’s one big difference this time. We have a resistance, and the resistance begins with each of you … Right now I’m working on a plan with community nonprofits and community law offices around the city to put together a legal army to provide representation to immigrants who will be facing exclusion, deportation from the United States …

Zara Biloo of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Zara Biloo of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

“In 60 days when the Trump Administration takes a hold of this country, he could on that day repeal DAPA [Deferred Action of Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents], DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] and other executive orders that President Obama made possible, and the impact is going to be huge.

“We have over 44,000 people in San Francisco alone who are undocumented. Forty-six percent of our population here are immigrants. When they’re talking about going after this group or that group, don’t kid yourself. No one will be safe. No one will have the protection of the law. And innocent people will face persecution …

“People think, ‘It’s not going to happen to me. It may happen to my neighbor, it may happen to my friend, it may happen to somebody who I’ve worked with or I’ve employed, but it’s not going to happen to me.’ That’s where all of you have to make a difference, because we must stand together as a community, we must work together and think of creative solutions that are going to protect those who are most vulnerable.”

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

Zara Biloo, executive director of the San Francisco chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said that if the new administration threatens people’s rights, “We will protest. It will not be business as usual. We will litigate … We will stand together more so now than ever before.

“As someone who considers herself a child of the 9/11 terror attacks, an activist who came of age 16 years ago … know that I am so grateful for all of you.”

A similar vigil was held in Peace Plaza shortly after 9/11 in response to a wave of hate crimes against Muslim and Arab Americans as well as those perceived to be of Middle Eastern origin, such as South Asians.

Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) told the gathering, “Every elected official in this city, we are standing with the community to say to Donald Trump, if you come for any of us, you’re going to come through [all of]us.”

Speaking for the younger generations were Amelia Huster, a Berkeley High School student and board member of Berkeley JACL, and Lakambini O’Donnell and Lee Osaki from the Japantown Youth Leaders program of JCYC.

“This happened to my family members, this happened to my grandma,” Huster told KRON-TV. “So because we know all too well what it’s like when our government fails us and what it’s like when our community fails us, it’s really important for us to stand up.”

Spoken-word artist Jerry Yukiya Waki.

Spoken-word artist Jerry Yukiya Waki.

“Over half of eligible U.S. voters didn’t vote at all [in the last election],” O’Donnell noted. “By getting educated now, us youth can help prepare and show each other how important and how much responsibility it is for us to exercise our right to vote. People tend to underestimate their votes, being of the mindset that their one vote won’t make much of an impact. Those are the same people that forget that there are millions of other Americans thinking the same exact way.

“Oftentimes we are told that we’re living in a bubble in San Francisco. Well, we can use that bubble to our advantage and instead of waiting for outsiders to pop it, we can expand it by using the tools that youth know how to use best, like media. If we can actively try to educate future voters across the country about the reasons why discrimination is not an answer to fears and insecurities, then maybe our generation can end the racism, sexism, homophobia and Islamophobia that have been lingering in some parts of our country to this day.

“Abolishment of this hate in our country is far overdue. Taking action is the only way to make things change.”

“In 1942, my grandparents were wrongfully placed in internment camps just for being Japanese,” said Osaki. “History has proven that the incarceration … was one of the worst mistakes our country ever made. As we move forward, we must not forget the pain and suffering that this country has caused many groups in the past.

“During the incarceration, one of my grandfathers was thrown into a stockade without a trial or any evidence that he had done anything wrong. He was denied basic human rights … and this is just one example of the mistreatment of Japanese Americans in these internment camps, and as a country we must never let this happen again … Let’s continue to stand together.”

Other speakers included Emily Murase of the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women and the San Francisco Board of Education; Dean Ito Taylor and Maria Geneva Reyes of API Legal Outreach; Judy Hamaguchi of San Francisco JACL; Grace Shimizu of Comfort Women Justice Coalition; Suzie Morita-Endow of Tadaima LGBTQQ and Allies, and Network for Religion and Justice; poet Peter Yamamoto; and Rev. Naofumi Nozawa of San Francisco Japanese Seventh Day Adventist Church, representing the Japanese American Religious Federation.

Spoken-word artist Yukiya Jerry Waki read a piece entitled “This Is Survival” and musicians Francis Wong and Melody Takata closed the program with their rendition of “We Shall Overcome” as Waki led the crowd in chanting, “J-Town, for unity!”

Photos by DAVID TOSHIYUKI

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