S.F. Japantown vigil opposes family separations and travel ban

The Aug. 9 United 4 Compassion 2 rally in San Francisco’s Japantown.

Japanese Americans gathered on the evening of Aug. 9 in San Francisco Japantown’s Peace Plaza to convey their solidarity against the continued attacks the Trump administration orchestrates against minorities in the United States. Hundreds of activists, both young and old, withstood the chilly evening to hear first-hand experiences of immigrants and the voices of veteran activists fighting against Islamophobia, anti-immigration rhetoric and U.S. imperialism.

“United for Compassion 2” followed the initial rally organized in November 2016 by Japanese Americans reacting to post-election hate following the election of demagogue Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States of America.
The rally, featuring more than a dozen speakers, including undocumented immigrants and a Muslim community activist, addressed issues facing minorities today, with emcees Jon Osaki, executive director of the
Japanese Community Youth Council, and Allison Yamamoto, a former Nikkei Community Internship fellow.
Among the speakers were California Assemblymember Phil Ting; Nisei poet Hiroshi Kashiwagi; Miya Sommers, representing the Nikkei Resisters and other Japanese American activist groups; Emily Murase, executive director of San Francisco’s Department on the Status of Women and school board member; and youth affiliated with the community. Spoken-word artist Yukiya Jerry Waki and saxophonist Francis Wong provided entertainment, along with a video presentation of the late Sox Kitashima’s “Let Us Not Forget” in tribute to the recent passing of Nikkei activists Art Shibayama, Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, Jimi Yamaichi and Peter Yamamoto.
The event also featured a Wall of Compassion, where attendees attached messages of hope and support.
Osaki said the rally was held on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which admitted the United States had wrongfully incarcerated people of Japanese descent, a decision that was driven by wartime hysteria, racism, and a failure of political leadership during World War II.
Yana F., a Filipino Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient, spoke about the difficulty of coming to age as an undocumented youth. Expressing the difference in experience she saw between her and her classmates during high school. Yana, who currently works as an educational advisor, said she owes her life to DACA, saying that the status helped her through a suicidal high school career to eventually graduate from San Francisco State University.
“I thought to myself that I don’t really need to live anymore, because I was not being accepted, but I recently talked to a lot of friends who went to high school with me, and I’m really proud to say that 16-year-old Yana, would be proud of 23-year-old Yana,” she said.
“In the big scope of things, I’m hopeful … because we have a new generation of people, we have a new generation of youth who are really empowered to really make a change. And so, I want you, I can’t vote, so please, make sure that you vote for me,” she said.
Estella Alva-Garcia, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, spoke about the pain over her family’s dispersal due to immigration laws. Currently living out of the Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda, Calif., Alva-Garcia, along with her husband, her four children and have turned themselves in to the federal government in hopes of one day attaining legitimate papers to visit their family remaining in Guatemala. Speaking through an interpreter, Alva-Garcia expressed her gratitude for the support she has received and the hopes she had for the future.
She also noted that her niece’s husband was taken by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and deported, leaving her and a young daughter alone in the United States.
“It’s a very sad situation, but we’re hoping for the help of God and the help of many of you to be able to help her situation,” she said.
Satsuki Ina, who was born at the Tule Lake, Calif., concentration camp, spoke about her own time in Texas hearing stories from immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. She spoke about one encounter with a family of three — a mother and her two teenage sons — who were granted release from a family detention center in Dilley, Texas.
“I sat in the back seat with the young boys, about 14 years old, and I could tell he’d been very severely traumatized,” Ina, a professional therapist by trade, said. “If you’re a boy and older than 8 years old, you’re taken from your mother and put in a separate prison section with the men. He seemed detached and in some ways frozen as he sat in the back seat of the car. Very vigilant and fearful.”
Ina said the volunteer organization she was with helped families after their release from the detention center.
She was headed to a safe house where the mother and two boys could spend the night before continuing on their journey. Through an interpreter, Ina said she spoke with one of the boys who gave her a woven bracelet.
“I asked him if he made it and he said, no. The night that they escaped from El Salvador, to seek freedom in America, all his friends gathered at his home and brought him these wristbands and said, ‘please don’t forget us.’”
Taking one of the wristbands, Ina said she promised she would not forget the young boy.
“I’m here tonight to make sure we hear all the political, legal, economic issues,” she said. “But also to remind you that these are children, people who are just seeking freedom and peace and togetherness.”
Calling on Nikkei activists, the rally tied the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans to the current day anti-Muslim policies, including the travel ban upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States June 26.
The ruling overruled the infamous Korematsu v. United States case defending the wartime incarceration, but in the same breath upheld the travel ban, stating the two issues were separate. Karen Korematsu, daughter of the late civil rights icon Fred Korematsu, and Donald Tamaki, Korematsu’s attorney during the 1980s coram nobis case, spoke at the rally.
Tamaki noted the disturbing parallels between Trump’s travel ban and the justifications behind Japanese American incarceration.
“Both arose out of war, … both featured the government invoking national security as a shield from judicial scrutiny, both had high abundance of prejudice expressed by high officials against the targeted minorities, both involved hidden intelligence reports that the government refused to disclose, and both ended with the court’s failing to question whether such a sweeping deprivation of fundamental freedoms were necessary for the nation’s safety or instead the fulfillment of racist policies and campaign promises that were made earlier,” the attorney said.

LONG LIVE INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY­— Rev. Jeanelle Nicolas Ablola of Pine United Methodist Church spoke about the United State’s support for injustices abroad in the Philippines.

Speaking on the international ramifications of Trump’s policies, the Rev. Jeanelle Nicolas Ablola, pastor at Pine United Methodist Church and representative of Japanese American Religious Federation, addressed the U.S.’s support for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Ablola, who identifies as a queer and trans second-generation Filipino American, said the two presidents are using borders and immigration policies as weapons.

“I am here because we need to expand our compassion and solidarity beyond these borders, even beyond what we can do here in the U.S. Because we know that the foreign policy of our country, and that our tax dollars, are being used to fund injustice worldwide that people worldwide are trying to escape,” they said.

RENEWED STRUGGLE ­— Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, speaks at the Aug. 9 “United For Compassion 2” vigil held in San Francisco’s Japantown to connect the Japanese American community’s wartime incarceration experience with present-day injustices against people of color and the Muslim community in the United States. photo by William Lee

Zahra Billoo, executive director of the the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, returned to the rally to report on the effects of the travel ban, which targets people from the majority Muslim countries of Iran, Syria, Somalia, Libya and Yemen, along with Venezuela and North Korea.

“Tell me it’s not a Muslim ban and let me show you the tens of thousands of people who cannot see their grandparents, who cannot accept job offers, who cannot to come to be with family as children are born or as graduations happen,” Billoo said. She added mention of the Saudi Arabian Aug. 9 bombing of a Yemeni school bus that killed 40 children using American bombs.
“It’s not just that we’re banning people from coming here, it’s that we are terrorizing their countries. Why would they want to come here, but for the reality that their children are not safe on school buses,” Billoo said.
“This fight did not end in June 2018, it only really began,” Billoo said of the travel ban. “All of you out here in this freezing San Francisco summer, are what give me hope, are what remind me that those school children in Yemen are not alone. That we will remember them. That we will continue to … fight for them, in the streets, in the courtrooms, online on Twitter where our President fights, and in the halls of Congress.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
The following organizations are supporting vulnerable communities affected by the Trump administration’s policies
The West County Detention Facility Community Fund
The fund serves to pay for bonds and assist with expenses, such as the costs for phone calls from detention centers.
Contra Costa Immigrant Rights Alliance: https://www.facebook.com/ContraCostaImmigrantRightsAlliance/.American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California
Contributions to the ACLU of Northern California will support litigation, communications, advocacy and public education efforts.
Checks can be sent to: ACLU Foundation of Northern California, 39 Drumm St., San Francisco, CA 94111. Info: (415) 621-2493 or www.aclunc.org.

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties organization, that counsels, mediates and advocates on behalf of Muslims and others who have experienced religious discrimination, defamation or hate crimes.
Donations can be made to: CAIR Foundation, 453 New Jersey Ave, SE, Washington, DC 20003, Info: https:///www.cair.com or (202) 488-8787.
San Francisco Bay Area Regional Office: https://ca.cair.com/sfba/ways-to-give/

Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services
(RAICES) promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families and refugees in Central and South Texas. A diverse staff of 130 attorneys, legal assistants, and support staff provide consultations, direct legal services, representation, assistance and advocacy to communities in Texas and to clients after they leave the state.
E-mail donate@raicestexas.org or call (210) 544-7811; donate online at https://www.raicestexas.org/donate/

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