EAST WIND: February — A Meaningful Month

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By MIYA IWATAKI

“We have to confront ourselves. Do we like what we see in the mirror? And, according to our light, according to our understanding, according to our courage, we will have to say yea or nay – and rise!” — Maya Angelou

“In February there is everything to hope for and nothing to regret.” ― Patience Strong

February is the month we commemorate our Day of Remembrance – Feb. 19, 1942, the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, leading to the imprisonment of 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry into WWII American concentration camps. A day to remember those who experienced and fought against this cruel and racist injustice, and to renew our commitment to Never Again let this happen.

February is Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. It grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.

It is appropriate that the DOR celebrations in 2021 have brought together these February themes by integrating topics addressing our shared histories of personal and institutional racism, and acknowledging the leadership of the African American movement in the fight for civil rights and social justice.  

During 2020, social media enabled wider exposure to the increasing number and frequency of police violence and killings. The Black Lives Matter call for action resonated widely, channeling the anger and angst of Black families and all those who had experienced false imprisonment and police and racist violence.  

Thousands of multi-ethnic, multi-generational Americans from all walks of life took to the streets to march for justice in cities all across the country. It looked like America, in all its wonderful diversity, was finally getting the wake-up call. The nation — and the world — were rallying around the cry for Black Lives Matter and an end to police violence.

And then the pandemic struck a blow at the escalating momentum – necessarily curbing the mass marches and demonstrations out of health precautions.    

But even as the marching in the street lessened, the Black Lives movement had penetrated the psyche of America; subsequently broadening and deepening an awareness of the pervasiveness and the ugliness of white supremacy, privilege and entitlement. The images were visceral, reaching millions of people through TV news, social media, virtual forums; and a new generation of artivism (artist/activists) was spawned.  

All of this was underscored by the response of the T**** Administration, with the daily barrage of tweets attacking the protestors, while egging on racist groups like Bugaloos and Proud Boys.

Hope Is in Our Communities

Kathy Masaoka of Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress testified before a House subcommittee in favor of HR 40, which would create a commission to study and develop Reparations proposals for African Americans. (Art by Cassie Zhang)

32 years ago, Congressman John Conyers introduced HR 40 to establish a commission “to do a comprehensive investigation into the wide scope of harms committed and the range of injuries still being suffered by 44 million Black people in America, and to develop proposals for reparations” (N’COBRA – National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America). The bill has languished in Congress for 32 years.

The alarming racial disparities emerging from the pandemic, the Black Lives movement, national protests, and the rise of white nationalist movements have generated renewed interest and relevance in the issue of Black reparations

This morning, Feb. 17, a hearing on HR 40 was held by the House Committee on the Judiciary: Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.  Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), who chaired the hearing, announced that the Japanese American community had sent 300 letters in support of HR 40. 

Kathy Masaoka testified before this Congressional House Subcommittee with a strong statement of support for HR 40 representing NCRR and Nikkei Progressives.  The Black Reparations movement is very familiar with our Redress/Reparations history; and having a Japanese American presence was very meaningful and well-received. And in California we now have legislation AB 3121, to establish a task force to study and develop proposals for African American reparations

Each February, the Day of Remembrance also celebrates the victory for justice and redress won by the Japanese American community. Those who survived or had family in camp; our heroic 442nd veterans; those who testified at or attended the CWRIC hearings; those who lobbied in D.C. for our bill or worked for R/R in any capacity – we all remember how good it felt to stand together to win justice and reparations!  

A victory helped by unwavering support from African American friends like Congressmen Mervyn Dymally  and Ron Dellums, the Congressional Black Caucus, and community activists. Now our community has an opportunity to offer our friendship and strong support for Black reparations legislation, HR 40 and AB 3121. Let’s do it!

GAMBARE!

Please write a letter to your congressional representative in support of HR 40, which is in the House Committee on the Judiciary: Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

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Miya Iwataki has been an advocate for communities of color for many years, from the JACS Asian Involvement Office in Little Tokyo in the ’70s, through the JA redress/reparations struggle with NCRR while working for Congressman Mervyn Dymally, to statewide health rights advocacy. She also worked in public media at KCET-TV, then KPFK Pacifica Radio as host for a weekly radio program, “East Wind.” She can be reached at [email protected]. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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