The Story of Japanese in Southern Jersey (aka JACL Seabrook) by Floyd Mori

June 1, 2011 at 9:06 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Seabrook is a small town in a farming district of southern New Jersey. Near the end of World War II, Charles F. Seabrook and his sons ran a frozen food business with 20,000 acres under cultivation, and they faced a labor shortage because of the war. To find workers, they recruited people from the camps along with other displaced persons to become crop pickers and workers for their food processing plants. In 1944 and 1945, about 2,500 people of Japanese descend had migrated to Seabrook. Thus, the birth of the JACL Seabrook Chapter.

The Seabrook Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) continues its rich heritage by holding an annual Keirokai event, which they have been doing for over sixty years. The dinner is held to honor the Japanese Americans in the area who are 65 years and older. The oldest male at this year’s event was Mr. Hank Furushima, and the oldest female was Mrs. Mitsuko Omura. They take a group photo of the attendees each year and have photos going back to the late 1940’s.

The Japanese Americans in Seabrook adapted well to the surrounding culture and area while maintaining their traditions and heritage. A museum begun by Japanese American residents in 1994, the Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, helps preserve their identity and provides a platform for telling the Japanese American story. The museum is staffed by volunteers and has been directed by John Fuyuume, who grew up in Pasadena, California, where his parents grew vegetables and owned a family grocery store. His family was incarcerated in 1942 at Gila River, Arizona, where they stayed until relocating to Seabrook in 1944.

Fuyuume with his wife Setsuko, whose family also lived in Seabrook, moved to Philadelphia from Seabrook a few years ago to a retirement area where they joined Setsuko’s sisters and brother in law, Eiko and Bunji Ikeda, Chizujo Sakata, and Miyoko Wong. They all attended the Keirokai event.

Floyd Mori, National Executive Director of the JACL, and his wife Irene were attending a JACL Eastern District Council meeting at Medford Leas, New Jersey, when John Fuyuume, who is a former Seabrook Chapter President, mentioned that the Seabrook Chapter would hold their Keirokai later that day. Fuyuume was representing Seabrook Chapter since the chapter co-presidents, Sharon Yoshida and Lenore Wurtzel, were busy preparing for the event of which Linda Ono was chair. Floyd and Irene Mori attended the Keirokai where they talked with former residents of the Poston, Gila River, and Topaz camps who had made those homes in Seabrook after the war.

The Keirokai is held at the Seabrook Buddhist Temple, which was founded in 1945. Entertainment was provided by the Minyo (folk) Dancers and the Hoh Daiko Drummers taiko group. The Minyo dance group began in 1975 under the direction of Sunkie Oye. They were formed as part of a cultural presentation by members of the Seabrook Japanese American community at the 1975 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife. The taiko group in Seabrook began in 1991.

Door prizes and favors were provided by the Seabrook JACL chapter board and members as well as local merchants. All the attendees received gifts and had a good time, ending the event with Bingo.

“Ground Zero Mosque”: How Far is Far Enough?

May 14, 2011 at 6:17 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

By Alexa Wong, JACL intern

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s plans to build Park51, a combined mosque and community center, became the focus of much debate this past summer as many objected to its location two blocks from “Ground Zero.” Sponsored by the nonprofit organization Cordoba Initiative and modeled after Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y, Park51 would encourage “interfaith dialogue” and include a 9/11 memorial and contemplation area. On August 3, New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the proposed site of Park51 as fit for construction. Still, controversy has endured – particularly visible in anti‐mosque protests and politicians aiming for support. Those who support Park51 stress the importance of adherence to constitutional ideals, while critics of the center argue that its location is the largest problem. It is evident that the American public possesses significantly differing interpretations of 9/11, Islam, freedom of religion, Muslim Americans and, ultimately, what it means to live in the United States of America.

A common claim made by critics is that the memory of 9/11 still remains an open wound for the U.S., that Ground Zero is a “sacred” site, and that the Cordoba Initiative’s choice of location is insensitive. Among those against Park51 are Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and the Anti‐Defamation League. In a poll conducted by CNN, 68 percent of adult Americans oppose Park51. Voters who were white, over 50 years old, and from rural areas were most likely to vote against the center’s construction. But at the same time, votes transcended other demographics: men and women alike of varying social strata and education levels across the nation oppose the center more than they favor it. For many Americans, Park51’s construction is too soon for families of 9/11 victims and brings unnecessary hurt. Thus, Cordoba Initiative’s plans become an issue of whether sensitivity takes precedence over legal rights. With construction at the site approved and Obama’s declaration of Imam Rauf’s rights to build, critics resort to questioning the legitimacy of Cordoba Initiative and Rauf’s motives.

Another argument made by those opposed to Park51 is that Islamic extremism is something to be feared even in American communities. Al‐Qaeda terrorist Anwar al‐Awlaki, formerly a prayer leader at the Dar al‐Hijrah Islamic Center and mosque in Virginia, reportedly inspired at least two of the 9/11 hijackers. The King Fahd Mosque in Los Angeles has been associated with 9/11 terrorists, and Masjid Taiba in Hamburg was recently banned by German
authorities for its links to 9/11 (National Review). At a Muslim‐ American convention in Chicago this past December, several speakers expressed “frankly anti‐Semitic” views. Organizers of the event report that they did not plan for such declarations of hate and will not ask the speakers to return; yet, says columnist Cathy Young, Islam – as is the case with other religions – harbors a number of radical followers who cannot be ignored (Real Clear Politics). Add this to the fact that the nation remembers that nearly 3,000 people of all cultural backgrounds perished on 9/11 because of Islamic extremists, and it is not difficult to understand why people might feel uncomfortable with a mosque and community
center two blocks from Ground Zero. While they might concede the right of Muslims to practice Islam, and while they might not intend to be intolerant, some cannot help but see Park51 as a symbol of Muslim supremacy and as an offensive political statement.

But New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, numerous Jewish groups, 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, and others all have several reasons for backing Park51. Imam Rauf has pitched the idea of an Islamic center for more than a decade because Masjid al‐Farah, a mosque at which Rauf was an imam for nearly 30 years, regularly experiences an overflow of people who sought a place for prayer. Similarly, Masjid Manhattan, located four blocks from Ground Zero, often turns congregants away due to a lack of space. What’s more, the Pentagon, also struck by 9/11 attacks, opened an interfaith chapel in 2002 where Muslims gather Monday through Friday, “drawing no complaints” (Newsvine). Why should we treat Park51 any differently? In fact, Imam Rauf hopes that Park51’s location – where a piece of wreckage fell through the roof on 9/11 and where Muslims have already prayed throughout the past year – will serve as a “potent symbol to counter religious extremism” (New York Times). Rauf practices moderate Islam and his Masjid al‐Farah is considered one of the most progressive mosques in the city. This, says journalist Fareed Zakaria, is what we need: “Victory in the war on terror will be won when a moderate, mainstream version of Islam…fully triumphs over the world view of Osama bin Laden” (Newsweek). To reject the construction of Park51 is to sustain anti‐Muslim sentiment around the country and send the message to Islamic extremists that the U.S. neither defends nor practices the freedoms it preaches and believes in – the very  rights terrorists sought to attack in 9/11.

What concerns me to a greater degree is the number of people who forget the Constitution’s emphasis on granting freedoms and rights for all. A Siena College poll reports that among those who oppose the mosque, only half  agree that Cordoba Initiative possesses  the constitutional right to build it (Yahoo! News). Amidst these poll results, protests over Park51, and the case of the taxi driver in New York City who was stabbed recently for being Muslim, I observe a rather disturbing trend. Muslim‐Americans are increasingly viewed as “unwelcome strangers” in their own country. How many more times will people in America alienate ethnicities that are not among the majority? The makeup of our country will never be static – and I believe that a deep discomfort with that fact is what drives a fair number of people to oppose the constitutionality of Park51 and commit hate crimes. The media is at least partly responsible for this fueling of anti‐Muslim sentiment. Besides coining the misleading term “Ground Zero Mosque” – and besides overreporting the controversy for weeks to the point of international coverage – mass media has separated “Ground Zero” from New York City and crafted it into a symbol of terror on American soil. We must realize that it is wrong  and deplorable that when many people think of Park51, an image of 9/11 terrorists comes to mind. Peace between nations and the end of prejudice do not begin with prejudice, and they do not begin with negative coverage of groups by the media. It is up to us to not be swayed by media biases and instead take charge of how we act and perceive others in our own communities.

In April 1944, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia  strongly protested the establishment of New York City’s first hostel for Japanese‐American evacuees approved by the War Relocation Authority (WRA). Located a mile from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the New York Japanese American Hostel was feared to “turn [Japanese‐Americans] loose” on the city (New York Times). Secretary of the Interior Harold  Ickes, the ACLU, and numerous Christian groups advocated for detained Nisei and their families, and the hostel  opened the following month. Work in hotels and other organizations began to open up for Japanese Americans and by the end of the war, the WRA helped roughly 2,000 citizens who were removed from their West Coast homes relocate to New York City. In the face of war, it is too easy to let discrimination take over and place the blame on others who are in no way responsible. The protests over the hostel and Park51 are such instances. Regretfully, regardless of whether Cordoba Initiative proceeds with construction and regardless  of how near or far it is from “Ground Zero,” prejudice against Muslim‐Americans has no definite ending. But
if our nation believes we can do better, we must begin by no longer reinterpreting our emotions over 9/11 and, instead, start defining what we want to see in the future for our country.

Vietnamese Man in St. Louis Murdered for Being Asian

May 14, 2011 at 5:58 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

St. Louis, MO

In responding to the recent murder of an elderly Vietnamese man in St. Louis, Missouri, the national JACL pointed out the possibility that the victim may have been targeted because of his race.

On April 18, Hoang Nguyen and his wife were approached by four individuals, when, according to court documents, it is alleged that Elex Levell Murphy punched Mr.  Nguyen in the head, causing him to fall and strike his head on the pavement, when a second male suspect began kicking Mr. Nguyen in the body, fracturing his ribs.  Court documents further state that Murphy then hit Mrs. Nguyen in the eye, fracturing her socket.  Murphy was charged with murder and the remaining suspects remain at large.  Murphy characterized the incident as a “Knock Out” game, which involves unprovoked attacks on innocent bystanders.

In a letter to Daniel Isom, the St. Louis police chief, JACL Midwest Director Bill Yoshino raised the concern that the Nguyens may have been singled out because of their race or national origin where hate crime charges would also apply.  Yoshino said, “Oftentimes, Asian Americans are seen as vulnerable because they are perceived in a stereotypic manner to be unaggressive and non-threatening.”  A request was made to broaden the investigation to include the racial motive.

On May 2, Isom responded that the department is taking the situation seriously and aggressively investigating every lead.  As to the hate motivation, Isom stated, “we are confident this was a random act of violence on an older couple walking alone in an alley where they were vulnerable” pointing out that similar incidents of this nature have taken place in other parts of the city and outlying areas.

As a result of this crime, Yoshino has also been in contact with Karen Aroesty from the St. Louis Anti-Defamation League who invited the St. Louis JACL to become a member of their U.S. Attorneys Hate Crimes Task Force.  Yoshino also had a phone conversation with Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St.  Louis NAACP to discuss concerns related to inter-group tensions arising from the incident.  Finally, Yoshino also spoke with Rita Valenciano with the Community Relations unit of the Department of Justice in Kansas City who wanted to meet with representatives of the Asian American community in St. Louis.

Three Ways To Combat Hate

April 23, 2009 at 5:03 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Committee of 100 national, non-partisan, non-profit membership organizations composed of American citizens of Chinese descent, released important findings on Monday, revealing substantive perception disparities between the general population and Chinese Americans. See the press release, fact sheet, and full report here

The survey had four key conclusions:

  1. The general population really does not know that much about Asian Americans, let alone ethnic-specific groups (i.e., a substantial majority of the general population believes that there are far more Asians in the United States than in reality).
  2. A lack of education and cultural exposure is a key underlying factor for prejudicial views.
  3. More interactions with diverse communities improve public attitudes (i.e., more than a quarter of the general population report they never or rarely interact with Asian Americans).
  4. Negative attitudes toward Asian Americans correlate with negative attitudes toward other racial groups such as African Americans and Hispanic Americans.

So what does this mean? What do we do? Well, as much as these findings are alarming and saddening, the Committee of 100 Survey left me with some action items to share with you.

First, what do you do when there is a lack of knowledge? You bring the knowledge. As the population continues to grow, policymakers and the general population need to increase their awareness to make good decisions that affect all Americans. How can we help increase their knowledge? Participate in the 2010 Census so that there is an accurate count of Asian Americans. Fight for Asian American Studies courses on your campus. Host Asian Pacific American Heritage month activities with your organizations. Post accurate information about Asian Americans on your Web site. Correct inaccurate representations and respond to clearly ignorant incidences. There are many active things we can do to ensure that accurate information about Asian Americans is out there.

Second, put your best foot forward. With more than a quarter of the general population reporting that they never or rarely interact with Asian Americans, Asian Americans need to increase their visibility through participating in local activities, increasing philanthropy, and enhancing their voices in government. However, increasing visibility isn’t just putting any foot forward, but your best foot. If the 25 percent of people who never or rarely interact with you, and they see you doing something you shouldn’t be doing, what do you think that they’ll remember? Treat any interaction with respect and don’t burn any bridges. It only takes one bad experience to set a lifetime of expectations.

Last, and probably one of the most important and least recognized tip, bridge minority communities. “Power in numbers” or “the more the merrier,” whichever idiom you pick, remember the survey showed that negative attitudes toward Asian Americans correlate with negative attitudes toward other racial groups. Other findings in the survey showed that more prejudiced respondents are also less tolerant of gay marriage, free speech, and equal rights. So, remember that fight towards equity isn’t just one group’s fight. Band together and stay together.

Spring Blooms with the National Cherry Blossom Festival

April 3, 2009 at 10:50 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

National Cherry Blossom Festival
By Mai Suzuki, JACL Intern

March 2009

cherry blossomThe cherry trees were presented as a gift from Japan in 1912 and are symbolic of Japanese flowering trees and a lasting friendship between people in the United States and Japan.  On Saturday, March 28, 2009, the opening ceremony of the National Cherry Blossom Festival was held at the National Building Museum.  This two-week petal party takes place around the Tidal Basin, which is a spectacular sight lined with beautiful cherry trees, and all over town in Washington, D.C. to mark the beginning of the celebration of cherry blossoms and the commencement of spring in Washington, D.C.

Continue Reading Spring Blooms with the National Cherry Blossom Festival…

Remembrance Plaza: Hurt, Heal, Hope, Honor

February 17, 2009 at 12:58 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Generations of Americans came to the former site of the Pinedale Assembly Center in Fresno, Calif., on Monday, to remember and respect the legacy of the Japanese American community during World War II and the subsequent redress of injustice.

The dedication capped off the three-day Tri-District JACL Conference, which featured panel discussions with former internees, the coram nobis legal team and those involved in the legislation of H.R. 442, seeking redress for the internment of more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry.

Excerpts from Secretary Norman Y. Mineta’s Keynote Address:

  • They came from all walks of life, but they all shared the common experience of having their lives disrupted and their freedoms removed simply because of their race.
  • It required willingness to confront the mistakes of the past and force some to confront their own life awareness of what happened here, and it took more than 45 years.
  • Forty-five years in which we slowly but steadily educated our fellow Americans about our story. Forty-five years in which we saw the ranks of our allies and friends continually grow, our numbers stronger each and every year until the day the Congress of the United States formally apologized for those injustices that we had faced with president Ronald Reagan signing that apology into law.
  • I have had many moments in my life for which I am grateful beyond my ability to adequate describe…September 17, 1987, it was on that day after years of work as part of the Japanese American community and our friends, that the United States House of Representatives took up the bill to redress the injustice of the internment.
  • The debate lasted much of that day and it was not easy for many of us to watch. The House at that time had a number of members who vividly remembered the opening days of World War II and a number who defended the internment as a necessary action as a result of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, something that we all recognized was a great threat to our great nation.
  • But as I look back on that day, I have to say that I am glad they were there because it gave us the opportunity to actually respond to those arguments and to respond to those fears. It gave us the opportunity to have an honest debate about the internment, and at the end of that day, it gave us the opportunity to vote.
  • September 17, 1987, is significant for another reason. It was the 200th anniversary of the adoption of the constitution of the United States of America. History will record that the United States House of Representatives observed the bicentennial anniversary of the Constitution by debating the meaning of the Bill of Rights, and history will also record that in doing so, this time, the House voted to get it right.
  • This memorial is about much more than what happened here in Fresno, it is about much more than what happened in the 1940s, this memorial also tells the story of what happened after.
  • Pinedale was like Santa Anita, a kind of weigh station. The memories that were forged here in 1942 are bitter ones, of that there is no doubt. They must be remembered, as others have mentioned, and thanks to this memorial they will be. But equally importantly is the understanding of how far we have come as a nation. There are many people who even to this day look at the commemoration of the internment and the injustices that we suffered as a people as somehow unpatriotic, less than American but what those people do not understand that nothing could be further from the truth.
  • This country has made light-years of progress beyond where it was in 1942. It is progress that all of us are deeply, deeply proud, but progress cannot be properly understood without reference to the past. In other words, you cannot understand how far you have come if you do not remember where you have been.
  • And this memorial tells the story of a community that has suffered terrible and heartbreaking discrimination but it reminds us all as well of what happened next. It tells the story of a people who never stopped loving their country, and who never stopped working to make it the nation that it could be.
  • It reminds us of the fact that Americans of Japanese ancestry are one of the smallest minorities in this great country, and that redress for injustice of the internment, could not have been accomplished by our votes, and our voices alone. It was accomplished by the dedicated support of our fellow Americans from all walks of life: white, black, Latino, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhism, men, women, gay, and straight. All of whom came to see us as fully American and who then poured their hearts into the effort to redress the wrongs that were done so long ago.
  • Many of you who are here today will visit this site in future years and your children will visit this site as well, and when they do so, remind them that while this memorial reflects on a time of great injustice, it’s most fundamental purpose is to show how far we have come. As I said, you cannot appreciate where you are if you do not understand and remember where you have been.

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