One weekend in late-May, I attended two events that focused on a subject that is dear to my heart, that of forming alliances across racial lines and working toward the common goals of more justice, equality and solidarity among people of color. The first was a May 19 concert at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco called “Jon Jang’s Pledge of Black/Asian Allegiance.” It was a commemoration of the shared birthday of the late activists Yuri Kochiyama and Malcom X, featuring the Jon Jangtet with pianist and composer Jon Jang; bassist Gary Brown; percussionist Deszon X. Claiborne; saxophonist Hitomi Oba; and trombonist Nick DePinna. The program also included a performance by Francis Wong on saxophone, “Prayer for Melvin Truss,” (a 17-year-old black youth killed by a San Jose police officer); and poetry by Amanda Kemp, a theater artist.
With so many talented individuals involved, it was a rousing event. Nikkei Resisters member Miya Sommers gave a speech, “Reflections on Yuri Kochiyama,” calling on us American Japanese to do more to form coalitions with African Americans. We all have more in common than we think, she said, and Yuri exemplified this joining of groups to work together. Parts of the program were labeled “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” and “More Motherless Children.” Jang, who is of Chinese descent, included a piece that served as a nod to his own ethnic heritage, “Butterfly Lovers Song,” which recounts the legend of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, contributing yet another strand of culture to the program.
The following day, I went to the biggest event yet created by the People’s Kitchen Collective. It was a lunch for 500 in West Oakland, with a table stretching the length of a block of Magnolia Street (at 28th Street). What a sight it was, this long table with flowers, programs, pickles, hot sauce, flavored butter and table favors created by Jun Hamamoto’s origami classes conducted at San Quentin. Several hundred volunteers manned the tables, serving garden salad, cornbread, collard greens, Midnight black beans, pulled chicken with PKC BBQ sauce and spiced almond cake.
There was tea contributed by Native Americans: Artemisia tea, Yerba Buena tea and rose hip tea. With lots of music, singing, some speeches and great vibes all around, it was a great celebration. These young folks are speaking out for a host of communities, including those who are Muslim, black, Latinx, Native, immigrants, refugees, people of color, undocumented, incarcerated, women, disabled, LGBTQ+, low income and/or activists.
Again, Kochiyama, Malcolm X and Bobby Hutton, a 17-year-old Black Panther killed by police on 28th Street, were honored.
Well, did they leave anybody out? There was an impassioned speech on behalf of the Palestinians. The Ohlones were acknowledged in that the very land we were celebrating on once belonged to them. The Nikkei Resisters were also recognized, and we were made to feel like honored guests. Well, nothing works like combining fun, food, exhortations to solidarity and unity in the face of tough times. The energy projected in all of these activities gives me some hope that we’re going to move forward on many of these issues that confront us. The young people that I meet at such gatherings give off such positive vibes that I can almost believe that together, we can make changes, can tackle hard issues and make this a better society.
I hope that all this people power will be enough to keep our democratic form of government intact. The political news gets more alarming by the day. It would appear that there are some flaws in our system which make it difficult to counter the assaults that our president is making on some essential parts of our government, like attacking our justice and legal systems. He seems indifferent to the fact that our elections are in peril of corruption from foreign entities. He has no interest in climate change or environmental degradation. There’s no end to the insults that he has heaped on many of the things that we all hold so dear, like racial equality and dignity for all.
The most alarming thing is that Trump continues to receive the support of something like 40 percent of the population and almost no opposition from the leadership in the Republican Party. This indicates that nearly half of the country doesn’t have much interest in our democratic institutions and the standard norms. Everything is under threat and we should all be worried.
Chizu Omori, of Oakland, is co-producer of the award-winning film “Rabbit in the Moon.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.