The other night I went to a vigil in front of the Japanese American National Museum sponsored by the Civil Rights & Redress (NCRR) and the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), who were showing support for Muslim Americans. Originally, my wife and I attended the event with the intention of leafleting the crowd. However, we got caught up with experience which was respectful. We noticed that no political literature was being distributed.
The message was clear. The vigil was to "to remember the victims of 9/11 and to speak in defense of Arab Americans, Muslim Americans and Southeast Asians who were being maligned as terrorists, physically attacked and even murdered in places such as Arizona." The organizers stated "Japanese Americans remember all too well how it feels to be a community singled out with suspicion, marginalized and viciously attacked by the media."
Clearly the vigil was a response to the rhetoric surrounding the building of the Mosque near ground zero and the plans of the Florida minister to burn the Koran. Friends who I spoke to were also concerned that the rhetoric in Arizona was getting out of control. There the governor, elected officials, a gaggle of extremists funded by ultra-conservative billionaires and fear driven retirees are acting like a lynch mob.
Japanese American history is fraught with racism. California's anti-miscegenation law (1905) outlawed marriages between Caucasians and Asians. The Oriental Exclusion Law (1924) excluded Japanese immigrants from attaining citizenship. During World War II, over one hundred thousand persons of Japanese ancestry were herded into concentration camps. About 80,000 were Nisei (Japanese born in the United States) and Sansei (off springs of the Nisei). Many lost all of their worldly possessions during this period when "Hate was for Sale."
At first, many Japanese Americans wanted to remain silent ÔÇô forget this traumatic period in their lives. Many who spoke out in the camps were American citizens and resentful at the way their elderly parents were treated. They were repatriated to Japan during war time. Others rioted in the camps; but, most wanted to forget.
However, the memory could not be erased.
Mexican Americans frequently draw parallels between these horrific injustices to the Mexican Repatriation of the 1930s that saw a million people of Mexican ancestry rounded up and shipped to Mexico. An estimated sixty-percent were born in this country.
The years have not erased what happened during the times when "Hate was for Sale." As in the case of most immigrants remembering the Japanese American community with time has become more sensitive to injustice. Unlike many of the merchants of hate, they have read the Constitution. It has moved beyond the Nisei and the Sansei generations that I grew up with and their great grand children have become professionals and business people. In Little Tokyo the Japanese American National Museum is a testament to that community's memory.
Today, many of the grandchildren are hapas, a Hawaiian term for mixed racial or ethnic groups. This sector is also remembering what happened in 1942 and its lesson of the danger of hate speech and making hate a commodity.
Thus, the Japanese Americans realize the value of speaking out against the commoditization of hate. They remember that few Americans spoke out when their community was herded into camps. Thus, the vigil in Little Tokyo to speak out against ignorance.
Slowly the Mexican American community has learned that same lesson. Many resent the fact that they did not speak out louder during the Repatriation of the 1930s, the Sailor Riots of 1943 and Operation Wetback in the 1950s. They are learning that hate is infectious, it does not do away.
Hate and ignorance must be confronted where ever they occur. Hate does not go away.
The parallels with places like Arizona are deafening. People cannot forget about the past. It comes back to haunt the merchants of hate.
I could not help see the irony of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton describing Mexico's drug cartels as "insurgents" giving them the equivalent of revolutionaries or guerrilla fighters. She corrected herself drawing the distinction between Columbia's insurgents which are trying to overthrow the government and Mexican drug traffickers who are businessmen. If it was an insurgency then U.S. troops could be employed in Mexico. Considering the U.S. long history of intervention in Mexican affairs, Mexicans who remember the invasions are naturally skittish.
The choice of words also brought to mind that much of the hate is generated by words such as the "War on Drugs." The truth be told, the main cause of this war is not Mexico or even Colombia but the market in the United States. Colombian cocaine flows into the U.S. market and it is a source of income for the Mexican cartels.
Rather to control the U.S. market with sane policies, the U.S. spends billions on prisons, stereotyping drug dealers and users as black and brown. To shift attention, American officials talk about Mexican corruption and its failure to control the cartels instead of emphasizing the role of the growth of prisons and the corruption of American law officials. Remember prohibition existed under similar circumstances.
Attacking corruption should be a priority but it has to begin here in the United States. We could start by remembering the sins of the past and how they affect the present.
Words have meaning. Statements such as those made by General John DeWitt in 1942: "A Jap is a Jap; I have no confidence in their loyalty whatsoever" sell hate. Statements that equate all Moslems as disloyal are equally inflammatory, as are the racist comments made about documented and undocumented immigrants. People are being killed because they look different.
I close with a question, if Secretary Clinton characterization of the cartels as insurgents is true, should this change the status of Mexican undocumented workers. If they are insurgents, then there is a civil war and they should be given the status of political refugees.