NY DOR on the 75th anniversary of EO9066: Never again!


Editor’s Note: The following is a speech made at the 2017 New York Day of Remembrance.

Imagine your family immigrated to this country. (That would include most of us). And please imagine that your country of origin is at conflict with the United States. You are torn, because you hate violence.

In fact it may be part of the reason you came to this country: to seek a safe haven to raise your family, to offer your children a life of prosperity and freedom. You work very hard, often many jobs.

You learn a new language, pay taxes, contribute to civil society, and yet you are treated badly by many.

Your heart is torn asunder because you miss the people of your native land, but you have made a new home here, your children are of this land, and so, too, now is your heart.

Then the endemic racism in this country turns its full gaze upon your community. You become the scapegoat for the failed promises to working white people by the country’s leaders.

Those who hold wealth begin to consolidate their power, using you and your community as targets of hate. It happens in small ways at first, but then there are acts of violence aimed at individuals.

It becomes dangerous to be identified with your group. The forces controlling the government begin to create policies that undermine civil liberties, citing “wartime” conditions or threats represented by your group.

Then come the registries. And plans are made to find your people and round them up for imprisonment. Executive orders are used to bypass the proper discourse of a functioning democracy.

Government raids take place during the night and your family members are taken away, to where you, don’t even know. The government begins a full-out propaganda crusade against your community to justify its actions.

In what year does this scenario happen? 1942 or 2017?

My name is Michael Ishii and I am honored to be a member of the NY DOR committee. I am a fourth generation (Yonsei) born and raised in Seattle.

My family was imprisoned at Camp Harmony holding center in Puyallup, Washington and then in Camp Minidoka in Hunt, Idaho.

My upstate NY family was attacked in 1942 by a white WWI veteran who entered their home and opened fire, killing my great uncle and critically wounding my great aunt and her mother.

Their mentally disabled son fled the scene and was spared.

My grandfather learned of the attack on his family while listening to the radio while imprisoned behind barbed wire in Camp Minidoka.

When my parents were raising our family in post-war Seattle, white supremacists tried to drive us out of our home. They spray painted death threats on the street in front of our house, they would wait until my father left for work and then anonymously call my mother to tell her,

“We’re going to kill you, bitch.”

They shot at our windows with pellet guns, which left holes in our front windows. They organized neighborhood white supremacy meetings against my family.

Because my father worked in forensic criminology and had friends who were police officers, police cars often parked in front of our house at night to protect us and on several occasions we were told never to answer the door if white strangers came to our house because my father’s life had been threatened.

I tell you this story to offer a face to the legacy of Japanese Americans. My story is unique, but sadly it is not extraordinary. These kinds of experiences were common to our people and to many other people of color in our country.

The incarceration of Japanese Americans 75 years ago represents one of the worst moments in American history and we, the community that survived this dark chapter, have stood as watchdogs so that no other community will be subjected to similar violation of their human and civil rights.

Today, we are deeply troubled by discourse concerning a national registry for Muslims. We are further concerned by President Trump’s selections for his administration. Stephen Bannon, the White House strategic policy advisor, has ties to white supremacy groups.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a history of hate speech and opposition to the NAACP and led a crusade in his home state to preserve Alabama’s long history of separate and unequal education.

The U.S. is currently witnessing unprecedented levels of anti-Muslim hate speech and racially motivated hate crimes against minority populations. The need is greater than ever to publicly and vocally speak out against white supremacist ideology that is in conflict with our values asa nation.

We strongly denounce racist policies regarding Muslim bans, civilian registries and detention centers and prison camps. We decry a national dialogue that dangerously courts with policies based in racism, fascism and xenophobia and we call on our fellow Americans to stand with us in solidarity for a civil society based on protection of civil liberties.

The best qualities of our country are embodied in our determination to uphold a society based on respect and equality for all people.

To our Muslim and immigrant friends and neighbors and all others who face attack on their civil liberties:

Know that Japanese American leaders and organizations are organizing across the country.

We have a history of having resisted and survived organized institutional attacks on our community and we are committed to building alliances to stand with you and bring our resources to collective defense.

To my fellow Japanese Americans:

We cannot stand by silently as these historical models of oppression are being used again.

Our community holds moral authority around the issues of civil liberties protection and when we speak in a unified manner, people pay attention.

We must continue to use our voices and be visible in order to frame the conversation with truth and historical fact rather than the revisionist and “alternative facts” that are being put forth powerfully by the current administration.

The NY Day of Remembrance Committee proposes the formation of “Rentai.”  In Japanese this word means, “solidarity.” This non-violent action group will stand up visibly in its opposition to the targeting of Muslims or any other community.

We will stand in alliance with others in opposition, to protest, to resist racism, and to speak out for protection of civil liberties.

We will bring our collective voices and bodies as a first line of defense.  If they come for the Muslim community, then they come for us.

This is a time we hoped would never come again. But we are here.

This is the time to be the allies that we needed during WWII.

We are the front line that says, “Never Again.”

This is what is truly great about this country — an understanding of the inherent beauty of all human beings and the powerful vision of a shared future together.

This is the time to take action and join together. We will be standing with you.

Michael Ishii is the co-chair of the New York Day of Remembrance Committee. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly

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