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Fort Sill Protest Held in Little Tokyo

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Hundreds gather at rally against detention of migrant children.

Mia Yamamoto, a transgender woman and Poston incarceree, speaks at a protest on Thursday night at the Japanese American National Museum.

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

“Never again is now!” was the rallying cry as hundreds filled the plaza of the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo on Thursday night to protest the detention of migrant children at Fort Sill, an U.S. Army facility in Oklahoma.

Banners represented camps where Japanese Americans were held during World War II.

Fort Sill has become a galvanizing point for activists in the Japanese American community and institutions in Little Tokyo, San Francisco and San Jose, sites of the three historic Japantowns of California.

On Thursday, the Japantowns held coordinated events, and released a statement saying, “This government has not learned from its own mistakes. In spite of the conclusions by this government that the incarceration of Japanese Americans was based on race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership, these same factors are at play today in the scapegoating of immigrants.”

Reading the statement at the rally were leaders from 13 organizations, representing East West Players, Japanese American Citizens League Pacific Southwest District, Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, JANM, Kizuna, Little Tokyo Service Center, Manzanar Committee, Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, Nikkei Progressives, Tuesday Night Project, Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition, Vigilant Love, and Visual Communications.

Leslie Ishii speaks on behalf of Japanese American activists who traveled to Lawton, Okla. to protest the detention of migrant children at Fort Sill. The group raised strings of origami cranes, as they did during the Oklahoma protest.

Ann Burroughs, JANM president and CEO, greeting the large gathering: “We’ve gathered here to add our voices to the growing outcry that Fort Sill is to be used as a prison for children — these children who have fled their homes in countries south of the United States to seek asylum, to seek safety and seek protection.”

Posters drew parallels between the government’s treatment of Native Americans around the turn of the century, Japanese Americans during WWII, and present-day migrants.

President Trump has defended his administration’s actions at the border and blamed President Obama for initiating a policy of separating children from their families during a surge in migration in 2014.

According to FactCheck.org, “previous administrations did not have a blanket policy to prosecute parents and separate them from their children.” Thousands of migrant children have been separated from their parents after the administration initiated a “zero tolerance” immigration” policy last April.

On a cool, breezy evening, a diverse multicultural gathering of young and old came out to oppose the family separation policy. A drumming group from the Korean Resource Center traced a procession from First Street to the steps of the museum. Children from Casa Heiwa on Third Street held signs and led the crowd in one of many chants, repeating “Never again!”

Drummers from the Korean Resource Center.

Sean Miura and Mya Worrell were co-emcess of the rally.

Kathy Masaoka of NCRR said Thursday’s protest was just the beginning of what will be a series of actions by Nikkei activists.

“Different organizations doing different projects will go on until the camps being used to detain children are gone,” she said.

Ruben Funkahuatl Guevara, a poet and author, read a haiku and solemnly intoned the names of seven migrant children who have died trying to come to the United States.

Blessing by Tongva Elder Tina Orduno Calderon.

Leslie Ishii and Joy Yamaguchi spoke on behalf of the activists who traveled to Oklahoma. She said Tsuru for Solidarity is planning to go to Washington, D.C. in 2020 and asked the public to help fold 125,000 origami cranes.

Mia Yamamoto, a transgender attorney and activist who was born in the Poston, Ariz. camp, summed up the evening and warned against complacency.

“We have a legacy — we are Japanese Americans and we got put in camps for our race. The same thing is happening now. We can’t let it happen and you’re right, never again is happening again,” Yamamoto said.

Young people representing Casa Heiwa.

Out on the plaza, Minerva Garcia held a handmade sign with photos of children who have died while in CDP custody.

“This is part of the history of colonization. It happened with the Japanese Amerian internments, it happened with the indigenous at Fort Sill, and people don’t remember that and it just breaks my heart because we keep repeating history,” Garcia said.

Yas Kohata, a Gila (Ariz.) Block 34 incarceree, wore a bright green happi coat for the protest.

“If people of color, especially Japanese in camp, can’t stand up, then there’s no hope,” Kohata said.

Representatives of community organizations gathered on stage. The speaker is Sahar Pirzada of Vigilant Love.

Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo (except where noted)

Participants in the “Never Again Is Now” press conference held Thursday at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California in San Francisco. Those who represented the Bay Area at the rally at Fort Sill in Oklahoma were (seated, from right) Emiko Omori, Chizu Omori and Satsuki Ina; (standing, fifth and sixth from right) Nancy Ukai and Ruth Sasaki. (Photo courtesy Jon Osaki)

The San Jose vigil was held Thursday at the Issei Memorial Building in Japantown. Participants included San Jose JACL Co-president Tom Oshidari, who was born in the Rohwer, Ark. camp, and Alice Hikido, who was incarcerated as a child at Minidoka, Idaho. Pictured: Local Latina activist Carmelita Gutierrez speaks as images are projected onto the building. (Photo by Wesley Chang/ProBono Photos)

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