San Francisco’s Japantown holds vigil against post-election hate

Some 500 people gathered in the San Francisco Japantown Peace Plaza Nov. 22 for “United For Compassion,” a community vigil addressing post-election hate. photo by David Toshiyuki

Some 500 people gathered in the San Francisco Japantown Peace Plaza Nov. 22 for “United For Compassion,” a community vigil addressing post-election hate. photo by David Toshiyuki

Two weeks after the election of Donald J. Trump as the next president of the United States, a crowd of about 500 people gathered at San Francisco Japantown’s Peace Plaza Nov. 22 to hold a candlelight vigil to express their unity with the groups affected by the hateful rhetoric that both the president-elect and his allies have spread.

This included an alarming rise of hate incidents across the country — more than 700 at the time, as tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center — with many seemingly perpetrated by those emboldened by the rhetoric of the Trump campaign.

Never Again

Speakers at the vigil, which was hosted by the Bay Area Day of Remembrance Consortium, denounced the racism, sexism, homophobia and Islamophobia espoused by Trump and his supporters. Attendees also posted messages of support on a “Wall of Compassion.”

Jon Osaki, executive director of the Japanese Community Youth Council, and Satsuki Ina, board member of the Tule Lake Committee, emceed the event. Osaki said his parents and grandparents were once the “number one target for hate and persecution” in the United States when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which led to the mass incarceration of some 120,000 people of Japanese descent during World War II.

“We are here today to send a loud and strong message that, that cannot happen again. We will not allow groups to be targeted, groups to be told that they should leave our country, that they should register,” he said. “Our story and this community is not a precedent for anything. The only thing that it is, it’s a story of racism and a story of failed leadership.”

Reading a statement by the consortium, Osaki and Ina said the “United for Compassion” event was held in solidarity with “Muslims, Arab Americans, immigrants, Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, LGBTQ persons, Native Americans and women.”

Hiroshi Kashiwagi, a former Tule Lake inmate and a poet, spoke about his incarceration. “The threat of registry for Muslims is an ominous sign. It must be an awful time of fear and uncertainty. We feel for you, but stay strong,” he said. “If possible, seek legal counsel. Know your rights and how to defend them. Don’t be afraid to assert your rights and remember that protest is a legitimate American tradition.”

Spoken word artist Yukiya Jerry Waki also performed, reciting “This is Survival.” Waki later joined saxophonist Francis Wong and drummer Melody Takata to lead the vigil to chant “J-Town for unity” at the close of the program.

Eclectic Voices for Unity

Zahra Billoo. photo by William Lee

Zahra Billoo. photo by William Lee

People of multiple faiths and backgrounds gathered, including the Rev. Naofumi Nozawa representing the Japanese American Religious Federation, Zahra Billoo of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Patricia St. Onge of Idle No More SF Bay, a group of Native Americans and allies working for indigenous rights.

Billoo said she came of age as an activist following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and that it saddens her that Islamophobia remains an issue 15 years later. “In other ways, I find hope, courage, strength, inspiration and so much more in the fact that all of you are out here tonight repeating what was said 15 years ago, that should our racist, misogynist, Islamophobic president-elect attempt to fulfill any of his campaign promises, that we will stand together,” she said.

Several elected officials representing San Francisco also spoke at the vigil. With San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s pledge to remain a sanctuary city despite Trump’s threat to pull federal funding, both Assemblyman David Chiu and Emily Murase, executive director of the city’s Department on the Status of Women and school board commissioner, said the city remains steadfast.

“These are dark days. But I am so proud, that here in this city of St. Francis, we are a sanctuary city,” Chiu said. “What that means is that every elected official in this city, we are standing with community, to say to Donald Trump, if you come for any of us, you’re going to have to come through us.”

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi stressed that those gathered at the vigil must not only speak, but also act. “You know, we all have to be public defenders now,” Adachi said, holding up his candle in the air. “We gotta make sure that we defend our constitution, we gotta make sure we defend our brothers and sisters who are in harm’s way, and we have to make sure that we defend our own humanity, because that’s what’s at stake in this country.”

Adachi also shared how he is working to “put together a legal army to provide representation to immigrants who will be facing exclusion and deportation from the United States.” He warned that Trump could repeal executive orders President Barack Obama enacted as soon as he takes office in less than two months. He said this could repeal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans.

Many other community leaders within also spoke out at the vigil, including representatives of Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, the San Francisco Japanese American Citizens League, the “Comfort Women” Justice Coalition, Tadaima Bay Area — a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people and their allies — as well as Network on Religion and Justice.

Dean Ito Taylor, executive director of APILO, said he and his organization are taking Trump’s victory, “a little bit personally,” because the constituents he serves in his organization are all “under attack.” While the rest of the world was slower to embrace progressive change, Taylor said “we are the antidote for the hate and bigotry coming from that administration.”

Judy Hamaguchi. photo by Kahn Yamada

Judy Hamaguchi. photo by Kahn Yamada

Judy Hamaguchi, president of the San Francisco chapter of the JACL, stressed that the community should not resign themselves to fate. “Shoganai (it can’t be helped) cannot be our response to the undermining of our values,” she said.

“The last two weeks have wiped me out emotionally. Our LGBTQ friends have said they are just in shock,” said Suzie Morita-Endow, who spoke on behalf of Tadaima and the Network on Religion and Justice. “I became depressed and despondent with realizing that unless you’re white, we’re all targets in America.”

Youth also spoke at the vigil on their role as future leaders. Lakambini O’Donnell and Lee Osaki spoke from JCYC’s Japantown Youth Leaders. O’Donnell acknowledged her generation’s media savviness and future role to “end racism, sexism, homophobia and Islamophobia.” Osaki, Jon Osaki’s son, spoke about his grandparents’ wartime incarceration.

“We are the next lawmakers, teachers, politicians. Our future is bright, I am not giving up hope and I encourage all of you to not give up hope either,” said Amelia Huster, Berkeley High School senior and board member of the Berkeley chapter of the JACL.

“It’s clear we need to roll up our shirt sleeves, we need to go to work as we come out of our haze of depression and despair,” Ina said in closing. “It’s time for us to gather together not just to speak out, … but also to take action. It’s important to make financial donations to organizations working for social justice, to speak out and offer safe harbor to the most vulnerable.”

Resources

For information on responding to hate or to support organizations working to circumvent the incoming administration’s policies.

• The Southern Poverty Law Center: https://www.splcenter.org/

• American Civil Liberties Union: https://www.aclu.org/

• Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach: http://www.apilegaloutreach.org/

• Council on American-Islamic Relations: https://www.cair.com/

• Immigrant Legal Resource Center: https://www.ilrc.org/

• Japanese American Citizens League: http://www.jacl.org/

• “Comfort Women” Justice Coalition: http://remembercomfortwomen.org/

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