Little Tokyo community discusses concerns and fears about Trump

LOS ANGELES — Japanese Americans and friends gathered for a meeting held at the Japanese American National Museum Nov. 13 to discuss their concerns and fears about how President-elect Donald Trump and his administration might affect the nation and this community.

Bill Watanabe, retired executive director of the Little Tokyo Service Center, revealed to the gathering of 100-plus people that on Wednesday, the day after Trump’s election victory, “I felt sadness and grief, I felt anger, anxiety and fear. A sense of mourning was strong because my concept of America died on Tuesday and there was a new reality that had to be accepted on Wednesday.”

But by Nov. 13, the community had come together, he said. “We are facing some very tough battles … Trump has declared war on civil society. He has declared war on most of the progressive values that we hold very dear.” 

Trump has promised to build a wall, to deport millions of men, women and children, to murder the families of terrorists, to call global warming a hoax, Watanabe noted. “We must step up … and fight this head on.”

During World War II, Watanabe’s parents, who had been farmers in the San Fernando Valley, were locked up at the Tule Lake, Calif. concentration camp. “The future looked very dark for Japanese and Japanese Americans at that time,” he commented. But his father, who wanted to leave the U.S., realized that despite their wartime experience, America was a country that affords opportunities to make a change. So his parents decided to stay and his father became a U.S. citizen in 1952.

“Just like them, we need to make the decision we aren’t moving anywhere,” he said. “We’re going to stay and we’re going to fight this new administration that seeks to take away so many civil rights and human rights. We are going to have to fight in this country for the America that we believe in.”

For a Better Tomorrow

Mitchell Maki, interim president of Go For Broke National Education Center, shared how his grandmother came to America as a young girl looking for a better life. She worked on the plantations in Hawai‘i, got married at a young age, and by the time she was 30 she had six children.

“All the hopes and dreams she had for a better tomorrow rested squarely on the shoulders of her children and grandchildren. My grandmother didn’t speak much English so my mother translated for her. The message was always the same: Be good, take care of family, and remember those that came before you. And today that’s what we are doing here: remembering those that came here before us, the sacrifices that they made for a better tomorrow.”

Maki delivered the veteran group’s statement that it “recognizes that one of the hallmarks of the United States democracy is the peaceful and universal transfer of power from one president to the next despite any differences in policy, values or perspective, and this current 2016 election is no exception to this critical and time-honored tradition that the office of the president of the United States of America needs to be respected.

“At the same time, our organization is committed to promoting equality and remembering the discrimination against Japanese Americans during World War II. As such, the Go For Broke National Education Center will be ever vigilant of policy or practices that discriminate against individuals in the United States based on the color of their skin, the god they choose to worship, the person they choose to love or the country of their origin … Go For Broke National Education Center is committed to ensuring that these violations of law and civil liberties do not take place again.”

Maki concluded, “Equal protection under the law is a fundamental American value which serves as the core of our democracy. We have seen the abandonment of this value in times of national crisis and hysteria. We are ready to stand and protect this right for all individuals in America.”

Unabashed Racism

“JACL fully understands the protests and despair that have arisen in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump as president,” Stephanie Nitahara, interim associate director of the Japanese American Citizens League, read from a JACL statement, adding that her organization actively supports the denunciation of the “unabashed racism” evident during the campaign. 

Alluding to the early 1990s when Japanese Americans and Asian Pacific Islander Americans became victims of Japan-bashing, a reaction to Japan’s strengthening economy and a rallying cry for politicians, she stressed, “We know that when groups are singled out and targeted that it tears at the social fabric…  Respect for diversity has always served to strengthen America despite deep divisions caused during the recent elections. We must now continue to defend this unique American value and adamantly reject attempts to further undermine it.”

Ann Burroughs, interim CEO at the museum, said  her institution “respects the democratic process and its result in selecting the next president of the United States. As an institution whose mission is to promote understanding and appreciation of American ethnic and cultural diversity, we hope that the 45th president of the United States will remember the violation of Japanese American civil rights during World War II that led to their incarceration in concentration camps and aggressively act to prevent that kind of history from repeating itself.”

In a press release, Norman Mineta, a survivor of the Heart Mountain, Wyo. concentration camp, JANM board of trustees chair, and cabinet member during George W. Bush’s presidency, stated, “During his campaign, Donald Trump made statements threatening the civil rights of a specific ethnic group. I hope that as he selects his cabinet members and fully prepares to assume the role of president, Mr. Trump has the opportunity to reconsider what he has said and to be a leader who supports equality and liberty for all in this nation.”

Burroughs then read the following statement from actor and activist George Takei, who serves on the museum’s board of trustees, and appeared with Trump on the “Celebrity Apprentice” television show in 2012. “ … Then and now, we disagree on many things. I did not vote for Mr. Trump on Election Day … While we must all abide by the results of a fairly executed democratic election, I remind him that now as president of all Americans he must acknowledge the diversity of our history, experiences and contributions.”

Takei said that he hopes Trump will lead “in a way that brings honor to this country and treats all Americans with the dignity they deserve … No matter whom the president is, this museum will ensure that the Japanese American experience is shared and that a tragic chapter in our country’s history is not repeated.”

Speaking for Keiro Senior HealthCare, Diane Kujubu Belli said, “Election Day 2016 reminds us of the meaning and importance of civic engagement to promote the quality of life in the community both through political and non-political processes, and reminds us of the significance of Keiro’s mission to enhance the quality of senior life in our community.”

“We are experiencing unprecedented increases in the numbers of older adults in the U.S. and, indeed, the world and … increases in the numbers of older adults with memory and cognitive disabilities, multiple health conditions and an increasing demand for and stresses on family caregivers … It is evident that decisions that impact programs like social security and Medicare, decisions that impact funding for Medi-Cal, meal programs, senior services, etc. and decisions that impact caregivers, medical research and intergenerational volunteerism, are critical.”

“Keiro joins the rest of the country in hoping that our government leaders at the national, state and local levels can work together to shape public policy that will support our seniors in the manner in which they deserve … Keiro pledges to work collaboratively within our community and outside our community to build a future in which our seniors live a healthy and fulfilling life.”

No Quiet American

“We are here today as concerned citizens and caring human beings to take a stand,” exclaimed Dean Matsubayashi, executive director of Little Tokyo Service Center. “Today is not a day to be a quiet American. We must express our great concern about the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency and the impact it could have on the people in communities we serve.”

People already know what Trump claims to represent and what kind of platform and policies he’s likely to advance, including the rounding up of undocumented immigrants into concentration camps, Matsubayashi said. “It reminded me of Japanese and Japanese Americans being incarcerated in WWII. He plans to get rid of the Affordable Care Act and replace it. Many of our clients at LTSC who recently got insurance, will face uncertainty about whether they can access proper medical care. His probable nominees for the Supreme Court have the potential to dismantle many protections and freedoms for women, LGBT community and other vulnerable individuals.”

While accepting the results of the election, many remain “shocked and dismayed,” he commented. “But going forward, all of us at LTSC pledge to continue to provide social services and counseling to those in need … to build much needed affordable housing for those individuals and families and work with others to maintain Little Tokyo as a historic cultural center for the Japanese American community. Beyond Little Tokyo and the Japanese American community, we will continue to build partnerships and coalitions with people from other communities to fight for social justice and equality for everyone.”

Following the public session, several people explained their presence at the event.

Al Muratsuchi, who regained his 66th state Assembly District seat after a two-year absence, told the Nichi Bei Weekly, “I’m concerned about the future of our country with the President-elect Donald Trump. We need to … redouble our efforts to fight the rise of racism, misogyny, anti-immigrant sentiments that are being exploited in our country. I don’t know what to think in terms of what Trump will actually do because he doesn’t seem to be a man of his word. I’m ready to fight for what’s right.”

Go For Broke’s Maki told a reporter after the first session, which was open to the media, that he has “grave concerns” about where Trump is going to take this nation. “I think the organizations that are here today are all committed to making sure that the policies and practices that he puts into place will not violate equal protection under the law, will not violate our constitutional rights of all individuals in the United States. Given our history as Japanese Americans, that’s our responsibility.”

Obamacare Beneficiary

Chris Komai, board chair for the Little Tokyo Community Council and former public information officer for JANM, told an inquiring journalist that Trump’s campaign threat to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), could have affected him and his wife. “If the Affordable Care Act had not been there, we would have been uninsured from 2014 until we turned 65 and we got Medicare. We would have had no insurance at all because of pre-existing conditions. My wife went into the hospital recently, where she had an intestinal blockage. Without insurance, it would probably have depleted all of our savings. We can’t understand how this repeal of the Affordable Care Act is going to be better for our country if you remove a safety net that has helped us.”

Komai, who said he did not vote for Trump, stated, “What’s disturbing is that we can’t understand how any sensible person could vote for someone who is a misogynist, who is obviously prejudiced, who is an opportunist … The idea that he’s going to make this country great again seems impossible to us.”

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