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.

Not Fun and Games

February 5, 2009 at 5:51 am | Posted in Ford Fellow | Leave a comment

Yesterday a photo of teen pop star Miley Cyrus and her friends pulling back their eyes was made public. This photo marks yet another group of individuals who probably didn’t think before they made the gesture–remember the Spanish Basketball Team? Comments left on articles reporting the photo and press releases denouncing such actions, cited similar reasons for why Miley Cyrus and her friends should not be “punished”: they are just kids having fun, doing what everyone else is doing.

On any other subject, I would stay more neutral and ask thought-provoking questions. However, on this subject, I am putting my opinion on the table.

Personally, I’m tired of these reasons. It makes me sick to think that people out there seriously believe that these things are okay.

Fun and games” is not a valid reason to denigrate a group of people for a physical trait over which they do not have control. Being young and thoughtless doesn’t make it okay to participate in such racial gestures. Sure, 16-year-olds do a lot of stupid things: underage drinking, speeding, jumping into freezing lakes and rivers, sitting on rooftops, etc.

Should she apologize? Um, yes!

She’s a public figure, a role model of sorts. If her fans see her participate in this behavior, they may think it is okay for them to do it. OR if her Asian American fans see this, they’ll feel like they stick out, like they don’t belong. Does anyone remember the controversy over her scandalous photos last year? How many parents were mad at that? She’s just being a kid, right? YES, there are 16-year-olds that you and I know who take stupid pictures like that and often, they get reprimanded for it. Why should Miley Cyrus be any exception? If anything, she should feel more responsibility to uphold a positive image for young girls.

Just because “everyone else is doing it” doesn’t make it right. Speaking to your common sense, just because everyone else is jumping off a bridge, would you too? What if everyone was smoking pot, would you take a hit? Or beating up a poor kid because of his or her skin color? What about denying admission or aid to a group of people because they are “model minority” or because every other higher education institution is also doing it?

Maybe other people do not understand because they have not experienced it – so let me tell you about my experience. As a child, I remember being harassed by my “fellow” classmates who pulled back their eyes and called “ching, chong, chink” to my face. These experiences hurt – I wished my eyes had a double fold and were not almond-shaped. I wished that I wasn’t Chinese so that no one would make fun of me. Growing up, I never saw any Asian representation in teen magazines and saw, on multiple occasions, random people pulling their eyes back at me. These experiences caused personal identity issues, lower self-esteem and almost a sense of self-hatred. Of course, I don’t think that I am unique in this experience. (Note: Good thing I didn’t see any of the Spice Girls pulling back their eyes…otherwise, who knows where I would be.)

It still makes my blood boil when people blatantly say that whoever is upset needs to “get over it.” To that, I respond: YOU get over it. YOU who have had the privilege to live a life represented by the majority and the popular. YOU who think that minority experiences are invalid because in America we are all Americans. YOU who think that pulling back your eyes is equated to being “stoned.” YOU get over it and see that these experiences are not acceptable – these gestures are not tolerated.

Call to action: I read some comments that basically said “I’m Asian (or part-Asian) and I’m not offended.” Well, great – good for you that you didn’t have to experience such harassment. But speak for yourself and not for the entire group. Realize that individuals in your generation and generations before you have suffered severe consequences from these thoughtless actions. Speak for them that this is not okay, even if it doesn’t personally offend you.

Freedom of Speech? Or Freedom of Some Speech?

January 30, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Posted in Ford Fellow, hate crimes | Leave a comment

Does your campus have a hate crimes policy? Are hate crimes even recognized in your state? If so, do you know what the policy actually entails?

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’d know that the University of North Carolina System has formed a commission to study and review student codes of conduct as they relate to hate crimes. This commission, consisting of students, faculty, and staff from the 10 UNC campuses, formed after four North Carolina State University (NCSU) students spray-painted racist graffiti on campus the night now-President Barack Obama won the presidential election. The bottom line in the debate is whether or not the school, by law, can punish the students; that is, are the remarks protected as free speech by the First Amendment?

The panel held a public forum in mid-January and heard from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. On January 26, the NAACP said that the UNC system should adopt a policy for hate speech. This policy would define how the UNC system would investigate these incidences, as well as the penalties that would ensue. The commission returns in February and has until March to decide whether or not to adopt a hate speech policy.

It should be simple, right? Not really.

This definitely isn’t the first time that officials, in any profession, have debated about how much speech the First Amendment really protects.

Logically speaking, individuals who make hateful remarks often refer to the First Amendment when they are questioned. Remember the column written by a student at the University of Colorado-Boulder last spring? Or how about that one piece that AsianWeek published over a year ago? While these are clearly press-related, what kinds of standards are in place that governs this type of speech? Should speech always be protected under the First Amendment regardless of content? Or should the First Amendment be amended to protect freedom of certain speech?

At NCSU, the graffiti threatened the life of the then President-elect. This type of language is not just offensive but hostile and frightening. Should this be protected under the First Amendment? What about when someone walks by you and screams “Chinaman/Jap/Gook, go back to your own country?” This isn’t particularly life-threatening, but it still embodies similar ignorance and intolerance.

Take a moment and ponder this debate. What are your thoughts? How would you respond? What are alternatives to attacking this problem? I would like to hear your thoughts.

DC Direct: The 111th Congress Begins with a Bang

January 23, 2009 at 2:08 am | Posted in fmori | Leave a comment

By Floyd Mori, JACL National Director

January 8, 2009

The atmosphere in Washington, DC is electric with excitement and anticipation for change to occur. The JACL is a very integral part of much of the preliminaries and the main event. I thought you might be interested in some of the things we are doing during this first week of the new Congressional session.

Congress opened for business yesterday, and a lot of the ceremony of swearing in and getting settled for the long run was evident in the Halls of Congress. New and old furniture lined the office buildings, and welcoming parties were going on throughout congressional office buildings. I attended a party that welcomed in the first Vietnamese Congressman, Republican Joseph Cao from New Orleans. Many AAPI leaders were there to greet the new Congressman. It brought back memories of the time when I upset some heavy party supported candidates some 33 years ago in California.

Supporting Asian Hollywood

January 13, 2009 at 7:51 am | Posted in Masaoka Fellow | Leave a comment

Hollywood’s award season has begun and there are a lot of movies that I feel I need to see. Honestly, the holiday season has left me a bit warm-and-fuzzy, and I’m not in the mood for depressing, sobering, thought-provoking films. I don’t want to pop the bubble just yet.

Still, the nominees from last night’s 65th annual Golden Globe Awards have got me feeling a bit cowardly and ignorant for not supporting them.

The buzz surrounding new, non-mainstream movies like Slumdog Millionaire and Gran Torino has me on a guilt trip for not seeing these films featuring Asian actors and Asian stories.

Hopefully I’ll get over the holiday high from Marley & Me and make room for these other films before the Oscar nods go out.

Planning ahead

January 6, 2009 at 7:57 am | Posted in Masaoka Fellow | Leave a comment

Ok, ok, so as 2009 gets started, I’m making one of my many personal resolutions to be a little more active—or at least timely—in my blog posts.

Although I’ve said farewell to a city where I like to think I was becoming one of the many transplanted locals, DC has not paused for my departure—and why would it?
The global economy continues to struggle and according to President-elect Barack Obama, the national economy is “bad and getting worse.” As Congress gets back to work with a new session, The New York Times had some recommended financial resolutions for Washington.

Despite the economic gloom, it’s encouraging to know that Asian Americans are part of soon-to-be President Obama’s vision for the future. Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) noted the diversity in the president-elect’s new administration in an article for AsianWeek. (I should note that AsianWeek, once the oldest and largest English-language newspaper for the APIA community, is now exclusively an online publication, leaving a significant hole in the coverage of Asian Americans and APIA issues.)

For me, personally…as the new year begins, I guess I’ll be corny and vague. I’ll reflect on the good and bad of 2008, and look forward to new days and new, promising experiences.

Intolerance of Religious Symbols

December 20, 2008 at 1:52 am | Posted in Ford Fellow | Leave a comment

N.C Mission Rejects Charity Over Turban ” read the title of a November 21 US news article on


In short, a man and his wife were asked to leave a mission in North Carolina after he refused to remove his turban–which is required by the Sikh faith–before entering the building. They wanted to see where their annual donations were going and decided to visit the mission. The building has a large sign that outlines the mission’s policy regarding headwear. The in-take director and executive director of the facility said that the man became argumentative after being asked to remove his turban; he was then asked to leave.

An Associated Press article posted on December 17 is titled: “GA judge jails Muslim woman over head scarf .”

Hold on…back up.

A Muslim woman who refused to remove her head scarf at a court security checkpoint was sentenced to serve 10 days in jail by a local judge. The judge said she violated a court policy that prohibits people from wearing headgear in court. The woman was freed unexpectedly following the involvement of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

You haven’t heard anything yet: “Sikh family accuses deputies of abuse, taunts ” was the title of a December 5 article in the Houston Chronicle.

A Sikh family returns home to find that their house has been robbed. Like any other human being, they called the police, hoping they would document the scene, track down the perpetrator, and receive some piece of mind. Upon arriving at the residence, the deputy became hostile and inquisitive and asked for IDs from the family members. After noticing that one of the family members was carrying a Kirpan, a small ceremonial knife mandated by the Sikh faith, he “freaked out.” The confusion multiplied when the deputy pointed a taser to the woman and started handcuffing other family members, even holding one of them in the back of the sheriff’s car. More deputies arrived, but none investigated the robbery, until a supervisor arrived and ordered the deputies to release the family members.

These incidences are maddening. I remember growing up in school, and wondering why kids were able to miss class because of religious observances when I didn’t have any of my own. I realized that it was part of the community and we should respect that. Reading these articles hints at the intolerance possessed by too many individuals in this society.

In a country that witnesses people getting up early on Sunday mornings and wearing their best outfits to church for the sake of adhering to and respecting their faith; that considers Christmas a national holiday where nearly every establishment is closed; that has Easter sale specials painted on every TV ad and newspaper, you’d think that we would be fine with turbans, head scarves, and ceremonial knives for religions that do not have a national holiday or special deals. Especially with the peak of the holiday season next week, I urge everyone to go beyond tolerance and exercise a higher sense of understanding

Free book for new JACL members

December 9, 2008 at 2:48 am | Posted in JACL, JACL Blog | Leave a comment

As an added bonus to new members, the Japanese American Citizens League is giving JACL: Paving the Road to Opportunity, a book commemorating the JACL’s first 75 years, free to new members who purchase a membership on their own and/or to new members who have gift memberships purchased on their behalf by December 31.

Tim Koide, National JACL Membership Coordinator, and Ryan Chin, new Vice President of Membership for the JACL, are trying to enhance the benefits of a JACL membership. They are also encouraging people to join the JACL. They cannot do it alone. They need the help of the JACL members to bring in more members.

This is the season for giving. As you are contemplating what to give for gifts, please consider a gift membership in the JACL for family and friends.

If you are not currently a JACL member, please join. If you have any questions about membership, you can contact Tim Koide via email at or call the JACL Headquarters.

December 7

December 7, 2008 at 12:11 pm | Posted in APA News, Masaoka Fellow | Leave a comment

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the significance of today.

It’s been 67 years since Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, forcing—or encouraging (depending on your point of view)—the United States of America to become a major player in the second world war.

All across the national mall today, flags flew at half-staff, remembering the day when an “enemy” caused bloodshed and chaos on American soil.

Yes, President Roosevelt declared December 7 as a date, which will live in infamy. But 67 years later, I feel that it’s also a date that will forever be a ghost, haunting my American experience. I can speak only for myself as a yonsei (fourth generation Japanese American), but today I carried December 7 as both a cultural burden and an opportunity.

When Japan, the enemy, attacked Pearl Harbor, Americans of Japanese ancestry became the enemy in the eyes of the federal government. On December 7, Japan turned its back on its brethren and allies, just as America turned its back on its people, herding 120,000 Americans into internment camps.

It’s a burden to know that my great-grandparents’ siblings fought against America. When I visit the National World War II Memorial, I feel guilty. It’s a burden to know that my great-grandparents and grandparents suffered behind barbed wire fences. When I visit the National Japanese American Memorial, I feel a mix of anger and nostalgia.

But dwelling on the past isn’t helpful.

I look at December 7, also as an opportunity.

It’s important to remember, but it’s also important to move forward, make new history, grow from the past. As a Japanese American, I feel a responsibility to create new days, new reasons, for remembrance and recognition.

December 7, 1941: Pearl Harbor attacked.

December 7, 2008: Anh “Joseph” Cao (LA-02) becomes the USA’s first Vietnamese American elected to Congress. (read the New York Times article)


December 6, 2008 at 3:24 pm | Posted in Ford Fellow | Leave a comment

Study after study states that Asian Americans maintain a higher stress level compared to other groups. However, it seems that this holiday season brings stress to everyone. The American Psychological Association (APA) issued a press release Thursday regarding a new poll that found more than 8 out of 10 people anticipate a stressful holiday season. This poll also found that the economic crisis is impacting women and families the most. What were these sources of stress? In order, they were money (82%), the economy (82%), and work (69%).

Women are more likely than men to worry about having enough money to purchase gifts. About a quarter of the respondents are feeling pressure to purchase gifts. In households with children, these stressors are even more likely.

With the economy in shambles, it seems like folks are having a real love-hate relationship with the holidays. But as APA’s executive director for professional practice states, “It is important to put things in perspective and realize that materialism is not the focus of your holiday.” The press release goes onto provide some ideas to prevent stress, such as taking time for yourself, volunteering and creating realistic expectations.

These ideas shouldn’t be practiced just during a straining holiday season, but throughout the year as well. The number-one suggestion was to take time for yourself. I can’t say how many times you hear that from mentors as an undergraduate: take time for yourself. Often, as involved, young adults, we want to be like the Energizer bunny (machines even!) and turn out product after product, and show up at event after event while living, breathing and drinking caffeine.

My question to you is: how can you change the world if you can’t take care of yourself? How can you prioritize other important issues if you don’t prioritize yourself?

Your work is important, but realize that your work can’t be done if you are keeling over in pain from not eating in the last 10 hours or dozing off at the wheel because you haven’t slept in days. Lead by example, practice what you preach, or pick your own cliché to follow. Bottom line, give a gift to yourself this season: time.

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