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‘Don’t Let History Repeat Itself’

Members of Girl Scout Troop 5325, along with youth from the Venice and West L.A. community and former World War II incarcerees, present 1,000 origami cranes to Mohammed Abdul Aleem of King Fahad Mosque in Culver City. Left: A performance by Nakama Daiko opens the program. Right: Community activist Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed was one of the keynote speakers.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

To mark the 16th anniversary of 9/11 as well as the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, a gathering titled “1,000 Cranes: Solidarity, Vigilance and Peace” was held at the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument on Sept. 10.

The event on the northwest corner of Venice and Lincoln was organized by the Venice-West Los Angeles JACL, Camp Musubi and the office of City Councilmember Mike Bonin to show solidarity between the Japanese American and Muslim American communities.

A performance by Nakama Daiko opened the program, with Tomomi Hongo introducing the performers, followed by a flag salute led by Girl Scout Troop 5325.

“It was on this very corner that 1,000 Japanese Americans had to assemble before being taken to Manzanar,” noted Venice-West L.A. JACL President John Saito Jr., president of Venice-West LA JACL. “ … Today, in light of executive orders and government policies repealing vital programs that safeguard civil rights, such as DACA … We believe it is even more important to share our history … We want to stand up for everybody, including Muslim Americans, the LGBTQ community, undocumented neighbors … and we need to continually educate the public to ensure that the mistakes of our country’s past are not repeated to any group.”

Keynote speakers Warren Furutani and Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed

Attendees included kids who had participated in Camp Musubi’s Family Fun Day two weeks earlier and folded a thousand paper cranes. They were joined by former World War II incarcerees May Kakehashi, Arnold Maeda, Dr. Jimmy Hara, Jean Shigematsu and James Yamamoto.

Phyllis Hayashibara of the VJAMM Committee commented, “We hope that VJAMM becomes a focal point for other events about solidarity between diverse communities, vigilance about protecting our civil rights, and peaceful protest against injustice. The Japanese American experience of forced removal and incarceration without due process … must never again repeated to any other group solely on the basis of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, race or religion. That’s the quote on our monument.”

Len Nguyen, senior field deputy to Bonin (who was unable to attend), said, “For me, the big moment [showing]why this monument is so important is when I had the opportunity go to Manzanar with then-Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, and it was quite something to see and experience what the local Japanese citizens here went through … It really motivated me to get this done, and I’m grateful to be a part of this project … I never thought it would be important now more than ever, but sure enough it is … Let’s never forget.”

A performance by Nakama Daiko opens the program.

Former Assemblymember Warren Furutani recalled that when he was a “radical activist” in the ’60s and ’70s, he often heard the famous poem by German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

“What this program is about is the bringing together of voices to speak up on behalf of not only your own community, but our neighbors, our sisters and bothers, friends and others. We need to speak up and make sure our voices are heard when other people are being put in a position where they are being subjugated to oppression, racism and the many other ‘isms’ that we know tend to blossom … in this kind of environment.”

Former President Obama’s recent tweet quoting Nelson Mandela — “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion … People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love” — “was so accepted and was so readily embraced … because it was a simple, positive message,” Furutani said.

He urged the mostly Japanese American audience to “reach out and share through respect, friendship and yes, love, with the Muslim American community. I think it is important … that we share this not on the grand scale, not on the national sale [but]on a person-to-person scale … The collective human power that we have when we work together .. is going to build the kind of unity that we need in this country.”

Speakers included (clockwise from top left) John Saito Jr., Venice-West L.A. JACL; Phyllis Hayashibara, VJAMM Committee; Len Nguyen, representing Councilmember Mike Bonin; Stephanie Nitahara, National JACL.

The two communities need to work “hand in hand” this fall when the Supreme Court takes up the Trump Administration’s Muslim travel ban, Furutani said, adding that a law “directed at certain countries and people of a certain faith” should be familiar to “Japanese Americans who were incarcerated because of their ethnicity.”

National JACL Associate Director Stephanie Nitahara pledged that her organization will continue to stand with Muslim Americans. “Shortly after 9/11, JACL National protested Islamophobic policies that were eerily similar to policies during World War II that were targeting the Japanese American community, such as special registration of predominantly Muslim men in 2003.”

The Bridging Communities program, a collaboration between JACL, Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Kizuna, “brought together Japanese American and Muslim American high school students to learn about their cultural and religious identities as well as each other’s community histories as well a as examine parallels between post-9/11 and post-Pearl Harbor,” Nitahara said, adding that the program has spread to Northern California, Seattle and Chicago.

Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed, founder of South Asian American Voting Youth and co-founder the #GoodMuslimBadMuslim podcast, reported that she had recently visited Honouliuli, site of a World War II internment camp on Oahu where Japanese American community leaders were held. “It’s not open to the public yet, so we had to get permission … What really struck me was how desert it was. Hawaii’s such a lush, green place but this one gulch was so dry and so desertified, it reminded me so much of what I had seen at Manzanar just a few months earlier …

“As we go to the gulch, we had to hike for about half an hour to the valley where the bunkers were kept … There’s nothing left now. All that’s left are a concrete slab where the mess hall used to be and the remnant of an aqueduct.”

Annia Yoshizumi and Amy Watanabe of Venice-West L.A. JACL organized the event with Tony Osumi of Camp Musubi.

Manzanar now has a visitor center that is open year-round, and the same needs to be done for other confinement sites, Ahmed said. “There are locations all across America which aren’t memorialized … We need to have that memory in place … I have a lot of friends who are Japanese Americans and I wanted to know their experience, know their history …

“For a Muslim American like me, when I go to these places I’m wondering what my future is going to be … Is this mess hall going to be something that I have to live through? … Is this the path that has been set forth for me?”

Hearing stories about Issei who were rounded up immediately after Pearl Harbor, Ahmed said she was reminded of the aftermath of 9/11. “[Muslim] people were scared to walk in the street. I have friends who had their hijabs pulled off their heads.”

And after last November’s presidential election, she said, “There was so much fear. There was a stabbing in Portland. There were attacks in Missouri, anti-Muslim hate crimes … CAIR reported an increase in hate crimes by 91 percent between the first six months of last year and the first six months of this year … It’s absolutely a repeat of history that we’ve been experiencing …

“Islamopobia isn’t just one person pitted against another … It’s systematic. There are studies now that show $206 million has gone into the Islamophobia industry … 74 different organizations … We’re really battling a bigger infrastructure in place right now … to make sure that people who look like me are hated.”

Regarding the Muslim ban, Ahmed said, “We need people to take to the streets again, we need to organize again … It’s up to us to create the commotion and media and message … that we’re not going to stand for it.”

Tony Osumi of Camp Musubi said that he worked on the crane project with Amy Watanabe and Annia Yoshizumi of Venice-West L.A. JACL. “We wanted to bring young people but also their parents together as families to learn about their heritage … We also wanted them to find pride in that, but even more than that we wanted to make sure that they used that information, that they used the Japanese American experience to reach out to build bridges, to reach out to other communities in need, as we do today.”

Former WWII incarcerees (from left) Arnold Maeda, Jean Shigematsu, James Yamamoto, Jimmy Hara and May Kakehashi.

The cranes, a symbol of peace, were presented by Girl Scouts Ally Yamashita, Iris Hirata, Amanda Matsubara, Jacklyn Oldoerp and Lindsey Kojima to Mohammed Abdul Aleem of King Fahad Mosque in Culver City and his family.

“We deeply express our appreciation to all the Japanese American citizens,” said Aleem. “The Japanese American community is one of the greatest examples of patience, resilience in the face of social injustice from a dark part of our country. In honor of the 1,000 Japanese Americans who were unjustly detained right here, I hope you will all join me in a pledge that we will not take our civil liberties for granted, we will not bargain [away]our civil liberties under threat of security, we will stand together an work to preserve the founding principles of our nation for all communities, and we will do it with love for all people.”

He closed with some advice from the Prophet Muhammad: “Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and if they do wrong you will do wrong to them. Instead, accustom yourself to do good if people do good and not to do wrong even if they do evil.”

Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo

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