‘Mourning Breath’: On Historical Amnesia, D.O.R., Love & Revolution

Just a little over two weeks ago, I celebrated the 25th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday becoming a national holiday. I did so by accompanying a group of high school youth to Youth Speaks’ “Bringin’ the Noise for Dr. King,” event in San Francisco, California. The clarity with which the young poets (ranging from the ages of 5 to 21) told their stories and shared themselves was a testament to what Youth Speaks elder/poet, Aya de Leon described as “great art.” “Talent doesn’t even exist,” she stated. “Great art has always been about work… and having the time and resources to put in that work.”

This showcase was not only an amazing tribute to the memory of Dr. King, but also a profound reminder of what is possible when young people have serious time, energy, and resources invested into them. For a few hours I, my youth, and everyone in the Herbst Theater collectively went to battle against historical amnesia, and exhaled a breath of simultaneous mourning and celebration.

Just a little over two weeks from now, I will perform as a part of the National Japanese American Historical Society’s (NJAHS) 2011 “Day of Remembrance” ceremony at San Francisco Japantown’s Kabuki Theater. I feel humbled and grateful to understand today that this incredible honor comes not due to my being more talented, better and/or worldly wise than anyone else, but because of the time, energy and resources that were invested into me by my parents, extended family, friends and community.

Due to the (privileged) tutelage, love, support, and respect I have received from peers, elders and students, I have come to concretize the ways that the act of remembering is a revolutionary one. In a nation built on the genocide of Indigenous people; the enslavement of African heritage people; the otherization of Asian and Latin@ people; and the economic exploitation of poor and working people of all colors and cultures, historical amnesia has played a profound role in sustaining an unsustainable way of living.

I am undeniably biased. As a mixed-heritage, raised working-class (now middle-class), East Asian/white, able-bodied, Jodo-Shinshu Buddhist, heterosexual Yonsei male from Richmond (now El Cerrito), California — there is a very particular way that I view and operate in the world. However, I would argue that I am not alone in such subjective circumstances. As you read this, your own life’s experience is bringing forth feelings of criticism and/or agreement with the viewpoints of the author. I claim that the more we are able to move past the fear that arises when we push to examine and critique ourselves deeply, the more we may identify exactly how impossible it is for anybody to be truly “objective.”

The personal search for subjectivity begins with remembering, and often times revisiting memories can be painful. A trick I have pulled (and am still working to perfect) from my elders, mentors, s/heroes, Sensei, etc., is to begin training the brain to move toward this pain, as opposed to away from it; to push into and meet this challenge as opposed to avoiding it — in efforts to grow, mature, and develop.

On February 20th, many of us will come together to do just that. With this year’s D.O.R. theme being “Allies & Activism,” our ability to not only dig deeply into our own histories as Nikkei people — but also those of our brothers and sisters in the U.S. and around the world who continue to suffer unjustly today — has and will be a revolutionary act. Openly remembering and loving ourselves in a way that does not come at the expense of others is a revolutionary act. Openly standing in solidarity with other people of color is a revolutionary act. Being open, tactful, and purposeful in our actions is a revolutionary act.

As we arrive at a proverbial fork in the road with regards to the environment and humanity’s future survival — the forgetting of our individual and collective pasts is not only counterintuitive, but largely rooted in conformity, complacency, and ultimately cowardice. In thinking about our ability to be allies to other communities, I’d argue that the act of love and loving must never be silenced from the equation. In a world and society where openly telling somebody that you love them is often met with disdain, scorn, rebuke, infantilization, condescension, etc., an act of love becomes a revolutionary act.

On February 20th, as we come together to mourn and remember our elders, selves and each other in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Seattle and every other city that our Nikkei brothers and sisters dwell, I look forward to our breeding revolution.

With love and in remembrance of we,

Colin Masashi “Senbei” Ehara

P.S.L Happy (belated) Fred Korematsu Day!

P.P.S.: Happy Black History Month!

About Colin Masashi Ehara

Colin Masashi "Senbei" Ehara is a Yonsei Nikkei/Scottish/German/Iroquois American writer, Hip-Hop/Spoken Word artist, and educator from Richmond, Calif. He received a B.A. in American Studies and Education from UC Santa Cruz, an M.A. in Asian American Studies from San Francisco State University, and is currently completing a Single-Subject (English) Teaching Credential at the University of San Francisco. He resides in El Cerrito, Calif., with his wife, artist Emalyn Lopez.

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