LASTING COMMITMENTS: Give generously to the Nichi Bei, onegai shimasu

On Sept. 2, 2019 the Nichi Bei Foundation will hold an online fundraising event, a celebration to mark the 10th anniversary of its founding, as well as the 120th anniversary of the Nichi Bei Shimbun, founded by Kyutaro Abiko. For more about the celebration, which will include hourly raffles and gifts for contributors, see www.nichibei.org/give2nichibei.

This anniversary is truly something to celebrate. Our Japanese American community press has been important throughout the Nichi Bei’s long history, and it is especially important for the times we live in now.

On a personal historical note, my great-grandma, Dorothy Miyamoto, was living in San Francisco in the year of the Nichi Bei Shimbun’s founding, 1899, with her older brother, Tom Okawara, and her parents. Dorothy was a Nisei, born in San Francisco in 1896. When I learned about the 1906 Gentlemen’s Agreement excluding Issei and Nisei kids from San Francisco public schools and about the numerous anti-Asian laws, I would always envision my grandparents and great-grandparents suffering from the discrimination. The Nichi Bei Shimbun was there to be a voice for Dorothy, Tom and my family.

My auntie, Evelyn Mitarai, recently showed me a commemorative photo book that Dorothy had put together after a tragic premature death of one of her children. I saw my great-great-grandfather’s face for the first time. I also saw clippings from the Rafu Shimpo about the tragedy. The Japanese American press has documented our personal family stories of triumph and grief.

I have seen scrapbooks from my own family with other articles and pictures cut out from our Japanese American newspapers and treasured over the decades. When we were a young immigrant community, we relied on our community newspapers to connect us to the English-speaking community and to establish our footing in this country. In the years of worsening hostility toward Japanese Americans, and in the wartime years of detention and exile, our community press helped us to maintain our identity and civic significance. After the war, we relied on our community papers to reconnect with each other. Now our community press is helping us to gather our strength to support newer immigrants to this country who are facing an onslaught of racist actions.

I’m tremendously proud of how our Japanese American community activists have been speaking up for kids being separated from their parents and about conditions in present-day U.S. detention camps.

Readers may not realize that a generous donor to the Nichi Bei Foundation helped to fund news coverage of the protest at Crystal City, Texas this past March.

Since then, the Tsuru for Solidarity group has formed and protests led by public memory activists in the JA community have received national news coverage. Recently, my friends Hiroshi and Sadako Kashiwagi were featured in a Washington Post video linking their wartime experience at Tule Lake, and their participation in the Tule Lake Pilgrimage, to present-day civil rights advocacy by the Kashiwagis, and by others, especially including therapist and filmmaker Satsuki Ina, who has been a leader in the Tsuru for Solidarity effort.

Last year, the Nichi Bei Day of Giving raised $103,000. This amount gave some breathing room to the extremely hard-working and diligent staff at the Nichi Bei. This year we would love to raise $120,000 to strengthen the organization.

As you likely know, the Nichi Bei operates on limited resources. Every publication and community event requires a tremendous amount of energy. Through your gift, you become part of the positive results. Nichi Bei employs staff to the equivalent of only five full-time positions. Through their creativity and connections, they have coordinated a community of contributing writers and they pull together enough supporters to keep the bills paid and the work going — but it isn’t easy or assured. The Nichi Bei needs our support to continue its important mission.

Do not underestimate the power of the press and of public opinion.

My favorite professor at UC Hastings, Ray Forrester, told us in our constitutional law class that there are actually four branches of government rather than three. In addition to the judicial, legislative and executive branches, he told us that the press helps to govern official action. As a preface to studying the Korematsu case, Professor Forrester read us headlines from the newspapers published after Dec. 7, 1941.

You have probably seen — or some readers may remember — newspaper articles that repeated false allegations of military necessity for our incarceration. For example, the San Francisco News in March 1942 referred to “persons definitely suspected of sabotage and espionage, of which several thousand already have been taken into custody…” (http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist8/intern13.html) and newspaper reports appeared of confiscated items like short-wave radio sets (http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist8/intern6.html) and signal flares (http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist8/intern13.html) that implied the owners had bad intentions without ever presenting a case.

One of the most widely quoted diatribes came from Hearst syndicated columnist, Henry McLemore, who equated a U.S. immigrant community with an overseas military enemy, writing, “I am for immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast to a point deep in the interior. I don’t mean a nice part of the interior either. Herd ‘em up, pack ‘em off and give ‘em the inside room in the badlands. Let ‘em be pinched, hurt, hungry and dead up against it . . . Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them.” (https://web.archive.org/web/20190703062155/https://www.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/manz/racism.html )

The idea that there was a military necessity for our incarceration was so successfully ingrained in the public’s mind by this repetition in the press, that even since the official apology issued by the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, non-JA friends have shown me they still are not completely convinced there was no military necessity to incarcerate us.

If the written word can do such damage, then it can certainly create good results as well.

I believe we can receive encouragement from our Issei and Nisei family who have experienced oppression.

We are used to obtaining news for free these days, but our community newspapers are our treasure. All of our newspapers have struggled to provide us with the luxury of paper publications. It is expensive to print newspapers. The Nichi Bei needs continual funding to keep the presses rolling!

The Nichi Bei is fulfilling its commitment to keep the community, “Connected, Informed and Empowered.” Every dollar counts, so please join me on Sept. 2 to partner with us during these troubled times.

Laurie Shigekuni, Esq. is the lead attorney at Laurie Shigekuni & Associates, a firm that practices estate planning, trust administration, probate, and Medi-Cal long- term care planning. Her primary office is located in San Francisco, and she has a satellite offices in San Mateo County and Pasadena. Contact information is: www.calestateplanning.com, contact@calestateplanning.com (415) 584-4550, (800) 417-5250. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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