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VOX POPULI: An Open Letter

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By MIKE MURASE

Dear Secretary Norman Mineta and Trustees of Japanese American National Museum (JANM):

The title of this year’s Day of Remembrance (DOR) was “Democracy in Crisis: 1942 and 2020.” And this theme unexpectedly hit too close to home.

I am writing to request not so much an apology, but a sincere pledge to do better in the future, and start by reversing your decision to disallow the viewing of U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono’s video — a decision unilaterally made. It was very unfair to the DOR Committee and to the whole community.

At the most basic level of group process, we should remember that Hirono was invited by the DOR Committee — a coalition of nine organizations, including JANM, who worked for months to plan the event. JANM trustees did not invite her. So it was not for you to disinvite or censor her.

Before moving on, it is important to acknowledge and thank JANM trustees (listed at bottom) for assuming the awesome responsibility of stewarding a treasured community institution — and to do so with prudence and wisdom. Leading a nonprofit is not easy. Often, you must resolve the delicate and inevitable tension between mission and money, and sometimes even between the powerful few and the rest of us.

The museum’s mission is “to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience.” The tradition of standing up for justice and equality and for democratic ideals is a part of our “Japanese American experience” also.

I was told JANM trustees thought Hirono’s remarks were “too partisan” and that allowing her to speak would compromise JANM’s nonprofit status. This is a gross misinterpretation of the Internal Revenue Code, which specifically prohibits 501(c)(3)s from participating in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” Hirono is not a candidate, she is a sitting U.S. senator. She’s not in a campaign for or against the president. She is simply addressing important issues of public policy. She was elected precisely to offer ideas, advocate and legislate. It is her right and her duty to do so.

When JANM prevented Hirono’s video from being shown, it contradicted its own statement that “we are … deeply committed to encouraging dialogue and inclusion of all voices and opinions regardless of partisan position or political affiliation.”

JANM recently said:

“As Japanese Americans who were directly affected by incarceration, we’re keenly aware of the parallels between our history and the present. … Policies that undermine the very thing that sets this country apart. …”

Sen. Hirono is excerpted below:

“… remember the unjust incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II … that hateful and discriminatory policy began with Executive Order 9066. Under the guise of national security, President Roosevelt signed away the freedoms of 120,000 Japanese Americans … Donald Trump is again using executive orders to attack immigrants … ”

JANM and Hirono are saying the same thing. Hirono criticized policies … of both Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat, and Donald Trump, a Republican. Does speaking Trump’s name make a statement partisan?

Mr. Secretary, you referred to “the uncertainty of the current political climate” that may put at risk significant federal funding for the Japanese American Confinement Sites grant program. I would agree that in this political climate, many unjust and discriminatory decisions are being made by the government. But I do not think that it would have made a bit of difference in this president’s future decisions, whether Hirono spoke at JANM or not. And besides, Hirono’s words are her own. Those aren’t JANM’s words. JANM cannot be responsible for Hirono’s words. Wouldn’t it have been more logical and fair if the video were shown as planned, then JANM made a disclaimer if it felt it necessary?

As for the “current political climate,” I think we should all be uniting to change the climate, however we do it.

Finally, this sort of censorship sets a dangerous precedent for JANM itself. I’ve always thought of JANM as a place where history, art and education are brought to life, where democratic ideals are esteemed. But this decision by the trustees left a bad taste in our collective mouths. If this is the way of JANM, as someone who cares about it, I worry for JANM.

Please reconsider. Do the right thing. Renounce the decision and say so publicly.

Mike Murase, Culver City

CC: JANM Trustees: Randall Lee, Robert Fujioka, Thomas Yuki, Koji Fukumura, Leslie Furukawa, Bill Fujioka, Meloni Hallock, Ken Hamamura, Linda Horioka, Stephen Kagawa, Kari Nakama, Michael Okabayashi, Mark Okada, Wendy Shiba, George Takei, Harvey Yamagata, and Gordon Yamate

 

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