Ethnic media outlets discuss intersections of ‘Exclusion’

The Presidio Trust and New America Media held a panel discussion among San Francisco Bay Area ethnic media outlets Oct. 5 at the Presidio Officers’ Club in San Francisco’s Presidio. The panel, entitled “Your Voice Matters” featured ethnic media leaders from a variety of ethnicities and reflected on their respective communites’ parallels to the “Exclusion: The Presidio’s Role in WWII Japanese American Incarceration” exhibition and current political climate in America.

“Exclusion,” an ongoing exhibit at the Presidio Officer’s Club through March of 2018, tells the stories behind the Presidio of San Francisco’s key role in the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Gen. John L. DeWitt signed 108 orders from his desk at the former military base, leading to the incarceration of some 120,000 people of Japanese descent during the war.
The panel featured seven ethnic media outlets and was moderated by Odette Alcazaren-Keeley, New America Media’s national media network director and board trustee of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Kenji G. Taguma, editor-in-chief of the Nichi Bei Weekly; Fernando Andres Torres, freelance reporter and contributor to La Opinión de la Bahía; Jaya Padmanabhan, former editor-in-chief of India Currents; Jean Ho, radio host for News for Chinese; Joseph Peralta, vice president and general manager of Asian Journal Publications; Nam Nguyen, publisher of Cali Today; and Wanda Sabir, arts editor of San Francisco Bay View participated in the panel.

“It all comes down to fear,” Eric Blind, director of heritage programs at the Presidio Trust, said at the start of the panel discussion. “Not only in the fear of the other, but in the fear of economic competition, in the fear of a destabilized culture. All kinds of fears that wove together to create an environment which an executive order like this could be implemented.”

Taguma spoke of the Japanese American community’s role of being in solidarity with marginalized people today. “Right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Japanese American community was quick to stand up for Muslims, Arab Americans and South Asians who were targeted as the enemy in their own country,” Taguma said. He went on to say that given this wartime exclusion the Japanese American community continues to support the marginalized communities noting, most recently, the families of Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Min Yasui signed an amicus brief Sept. 18 against the Trump administration’s travel ban.

Several panelists also noted that their communities have been excluded throughout history. Ho mentioned how fears over “job security” stoked racial tensions leading to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Peralta noted that some 250,000 Filipino soldiers were barred from veterans’ benefits following World War II as a result of the Rescission Act of 1946.

Citing the Bracero program, which invited Mexican laborers to America, and only benefitted growers, Torres questioned if Mexicans were ever invited to be included in the first place.

“If you are never included for real, you can never be excluded,” Torres said. Padmanabhan noted that other Asian communities turned a blind eye to the racism Nikkei faced during World War II to prove their loyalty, but said communities must instead work together to prevent history from repeating itself.

“Yesterday it was Japanese, today it’s the Muslims and who will it be tomorrow? The past is invariably someone else’s present,” Padmanabhan said. “One way to do this is telling cross-cultural stories, stories that won’t necessarily belong to our community. We have a powerful platform, we are ethnic media journalists, and sometimes telling other people’s stories normalizes experiences and we don’t tend to think in stereotypes then.”

“Exclusion: The Presidio’s Role in WWII Japanese American Incarceration” is currently on display at the Presidio Officer’s Club, located at 50 Moraga Ave., on the San Francisco Presidio’s Main Post. Exhibit is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call (415) 561-4400, e-mail Heritage@presidiotrust.gov or visit www.presidio.gov/exclusion.

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