OG-SAN: Just Below the Surface

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By WARREN FURUTANI

When racism and hate rear their ugly heads, it can manifest itself in tragedies like the killings of the six Asian women in Atlanta, Georgia (2021). The Vincent Chin (1982) and Joseph Ileto (1999) murders and the Cleveland Elementary School shootings in 1989, where five Southeast Asian children were killed and 32 others wounded, are also examples.

Make no mistake about it. All these horrific examples are undeniably related to racist hate.

But most of the time racial prejudice and hate lingers and festers just below the surface. Snide remarks, insults disguised as so-called humor, being stereotyped or profiled is hidden behind sophisticated facades and rationales. Sometimes it just takes the form of plain inattention and being treated as invisible. THANK GOODNESS THESE ACTIONS ARE PROMULGATED BY THE FEW but nonetheless have become inculcated into societal attitudes and systems.

Unfortunately, an example of such has surfaced in a roundabout way. Actually, it has festered just below the surface, shrouded in inaction and hidden by the anonymous hiding places provided by social media and the dark online web. The inaction isn’t the fault of the person or the issue at the center of this story, “au contraire.”

Recently Mary Urashima of Orange County reached out to me about an issue she has been sheparding for the past decade. I have helped from time to time when called upon to support the effort of getting this historical Japanese American site and chapter recognized and preserved.

The Wintersburg site in Huntington Beach is in the same vein as the concentration camp sites and the Tuna Canyon preservation effort. They are historical touchstones for Japanese American history and because of community activists are being preserved for posterity and future generations.

Interestingly, all of these efforts have been met with opposition from government entities and other sources, but much to their chagrin these community efforts for the most part have prevailed. Such is the situation for Mary and the Wintersburg Project.

Reporters walk through the Historic Wintersburg site, with Mary Urashima as their guide.

So, when Mary again asked for some help, in her update another issue started to inadvertently surface. Mary’s advocacy was and is clearly focused on getting the Wintersburg Project established as a historical resource, a learning opportunity for all (not just in OC) and another block in the foundation of the history of Asians and Pacific Islanders in America.

What caught my attention in Mary’s update — she’s been on a bit if a hiatus because of health issues — wasn’t the validity of her efforts but the nature of the opposition she has been encountering over the years.

Some of that opposition has been the basic difficulty of resurrecting anything buried in the past. Also the general attitude of NIMBYism and the usual governmental paralysis has played its role. Finally, history isn’t that sexy or wrapped in bright lights or sequins, so a big yawn is sometimes the response.

But what could be also seen, just below the surface, was opposition based on a simmering and festering hate against Asians, specifically Japanese. In the current environment and focus on anti-Asian hate and violence, this situation cannot go unnoticed nor approached with the attitude of “just ignore it and it will go away.”

Mary Urashima is one of those relentless advocates that just doesn’t give up. Some may wish she’d just go away because the Wintersburg Project is quite an undertaking involving purchasing the site, fighting the political and business entities that don’t want this to happen, and even a bit of apathy in the JA community itself. It’s a “heavy lift,” as it were, and an interesting twist is Mary is hakujin (once married to a JA).

I only mention this because in her efforts around the Wintersburg Project she has become a “proxy” target for the haters and racists that have come out from under their rocks and from the shadows to attack Mary. But in actuality the attacks are on the Japanese and Asian community.

So from the festering creases of the dark anonymous web, Mary has received graphics and pictures depecting anti-Asian attitudes, old World War II-type anti-Japanese ads and one superimposing Mary’s face on a woman bound and placed on the railroad tracks like in an old Simon Legree silent movie. In other words, a death threat couched in an old-time graphic.

These days in the aftermath of any shooting, the perpetrators’ online presence and communications are looked at to determine motives and influences. The online presence of the attacks Mary and the Wintersburg Project have received, although some comedic, some anti-Asian women, are all hate-based.

But the associated problem with this hate-mongering directed at Mary is the lack of response by the Huntington Beach City Council, law enforcement and anyone else Mary has reported these incidents to. I know it’s difficult for governmental entities to do anything about these anonymous haters, but to do nothing, or to respond that they can’t do anything until the threats get physical, is unacceptable.

What we can do is shine a bright light on these cowardly actions by anonymous haters and racists. We can stand with Mary and the Wintersburg Project. The bright, warm light of the truth and exposing the festering hate that lingers just below the surface and right under our noses will drive these cowards back under the rocks from whence they came.

This exposure could thwart a potential tragedy and reveal that the haters are a small minority of people with the vast majority of every background being good folks of conscience and action.

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Warren Furutani has served on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, on the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, and in the California State Assembly. He is a senior advisor to Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de Leon. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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