On Belonging and Not Belonging: The Manzanar Pilgrimage

[FACTS #3]

NBC News: May 3, 2017, 1:13 PM ET

Man Who Allegedly Attacked Pedestrian, Said ‘White Power,’ Charged with Hate Crime

(The following is an abridged version of the article written by Chris Fuchs)

A 48-year old man was arrested Monday and charged with a hate crime after allegedly assaulting an Asian man on a Manhattan street corner and telling him to “go back to your country,” authorities said.

Steven Zatorski, who is white, approached the man, kicked him twice in the leg, and punched him in the face and back of his head multiple times, police allege.

“During the assault the perpetrator stated, ‘You are a f**king immigrant, go back to your country. What the f**k are you doing here? Here in my country, we are white power,” the NYPD said in an email to NBC News.

The man who was assaulted suffered pain, swelling, and bruising to his right eye, according to the NYPD. He was treated at the scene.

[Personal Reflections]

The Manzanar Visitor Center includes exhibits with a large-scale model of Manzanar War Relocation Center, historic photographs, audiovisual programs, and artifacts. One of the photographs grabbed my attention and did not let me go. I snapped a picture of the photo with my smart phone almost feeling guilty, as if I were seeing something that I was not supposed to see.

In the photo, a Japanese American family -a husband and a wife with two young children- is standing outside of what looks like an abandoned house. On the door, there is a graffiti which reads, “No Japs Wanted Here,” in big ugly letters. If we were to replace the scenery with something more idyllic, it would make a nice family portrait; They might be posing for a camera, celebrating a special occasion.

The photo jolted me. It took me outside of the realm of my own reality, my life experiences. I understood the scene, but could not comprehend what it meant for the family in the photo. I could not imagine how they must have been feeling. This was what they had to come home to, after their unjust incarceration at Manzanar.

There is another photo probably taken in 1942 at the beginning of the forced removal of Japanese Americans. There is a sign that says,”Japs Keep Moving. This is a White Man’s Neighborhood.”

Though they both seem harsh. The former one taken at the end of the war felt even more devastating than the latter. There was no happy ending here. The war may have ended, but the experiences of betrayal, loss, and shame dragged on. How can you recover from all of that?

In a fairy tale, there is a clear ending to one phase of life, however traumatic it may be. Villains die. Oppressors are overthrown. Justice is restored. Then another phase begins. The protagonist lives happily ever after. Not so in the case of Japanese American internees.

How could they/did they rebuild their life after the internment?

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Recently it hit home for me when an acquaintance, a Thai immigrant had a run-in with a white American nationalist in the affluent neighborhood of Beverly Hills.

The man threw an insult at him in a skirmish over a parking space. He used that phrase which unfortunately is becoming so commonplace in America in 2017: Go back to your country!

Such an incident of a verbal abuse may not be prosecutable by law and, because of that, it is often easily overlooked and dismissed. However, psychological and emotional harm caused by a verbal abuse should not be underestimated, since it can be as damaging as the harm caused by a physical violence.

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According to the Anti-Defamation League, there has been an 86 percent increase in anti-Semitic hate crime incidents in the first four months of 2017 from the same period last year, and a 67-percent rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes from 2014 to 2015 nationwide.

The city of Los Angeles, where I live, experienced a 15 percent increase in hate crimes in 2016, along with a significant spike in attacks against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, according to data analyzed by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino.

The worrying trend is a spike in violent aggravated assaults; there was a nearly 64 percent increase in violent aggravated assaults, according to Los Angeles Police Department data. Criminal threats rose 33 percent from 2015 to 2016.

The data also showed a 25 percent increase in hate crimes against the LGBT community. There was also a 19 percent rise in racially and ethnically motivated crimes in 2016 over the previous year. African-Americans were targeted the most.

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On May 2, 2017, at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on responses to the increase in religious hate crimes, Ms. Vanita Gupta, former chief of the Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration, had this to say:

“Today’s hearing comes at a crucial time, when too many people in this country feel unwelcome, unsafe, and marginalized. Divisive rhetoric during the recent presidential election, comments and policies targeting or casting wide aspersions on Muslim, immigrant, and other marginalized communities have heightened concerns that our country is increasingly legitimizing or normalizing hate”

Already during his presidential campaign, Mr. Trump characterized immigrants as rapists, criminals, and drug dealers. An executive order signed on January 25, 2017, states that many people who enter the country illegally “present a significant threat to national security and public safety.” It directs the Department of Homeland Security to publish a weekly comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens. Moreover, as a further attempt to accentuate crimes committed by immigrants and to demonize the immigrant population, on April 26, 2017, The Trump Administration officially launched the VOICE (Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office), dedicated to the victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

On the contrary to President Trump’s claim, several studies have concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States.

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At the time of the Pearl Harbor, about 127,000 Japanese Americans lived in the mainland U.S., mostly in California. After the bombing, many started calling for anyone of Japanese ancestry to be relocated from the West Coast to the Interior. “GET ’EM OUT,” was one headline in the West Seattle Herald.

“They are dangerous element, whether loyal or not,” were the words of U.S. Army Lieutenant General John DeWitt.

One journalist wrote that if any Japanese American were allowed to remain free in the U.S., “it might spell the greatest disaster in history.”

These words of propaganda convinced American citizens that extreme measures were justified, even such acts of horrendous violations of human rights, equality and justice went against everything that the U.S. stood for.

What is happening right now in 2017 is not that far from what happened in 1942. We need to realize that we are facing the greatest risk of loss of humanity by our own actions.

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It must be noted that racially- and ethnically-motivated hate and propaganda are also on the rise in Japan.

Amid the current political and military tension surrounding in North Korea, words of propaganda and demagogue are circulating on the Internet. “Missile launches are not the only thing that we should worry about. There are major attacks in metropolitan areas being plotted by North Korean terrorist cells in Japan.” Such accusations should not be taken lightly, for similar rumors drove Japanese to massacre Koreans during the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923.

We must not let fear cloud our judgment. We must be weary of whispers which try to convince us that our rights are more important than others’, and that sometimes it is justifiable to sacrifice other people’s rights and dignity to protect our own. If we allow that to happen, we will risk degrading our own humanity.

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Often “identity” can play tricks on you. Your self-identification may not match how others identify you, and vice versa. Sometimes your identity is so visible that you cannot escape from it, despite your wish to hide it.

I am thinking of Nikkei people, especially Nisei, natural born Americans who were betrayed by their own country. How shocking and gut-wrenching it must have been to have your identity as a proud American denied. I try to imagine how their definition of “America” changed overnight. Clearly, they were no longer part of it. A stark realization that was pounded into them every day and night of three, four years spent at the camps.

Then I try to see me through a stranger’s eyes. He may be a Caucasian person who is out to defend his vested interests as an American citizen, someone who sees immigrants as robbing him and his fellow whites of their opportunities that are their birthrights. To him how “foreign” I must look. I am a petite Asian female with slight accents in her speech. I spent most of my adult life, 27 years to be exact, here in this country, working, giving birth to a child and raising her. In my mind, I too have invested significantly in this country, and I wonder, if I would love my country, she ought to, of course, love me back?

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