People of many skin colors, faiths and backgrounds were drawn to two neighborhoods in Tacoma on Sunday, compelled by common cause. Yet many didn’t know about the other gathering, separated as they were by several blocks on South Ninth Street.
In two places on the same afternoon, they walked, marched, listened and learned, connected in concern about something deep-seated and toxic: their country’s propensity toward racial and ethnic exclusion — a pernicious fear of “the other.”
In particular, they lamented how U.S. presidents across three generations blessed exclusionary treatment through their use of executive orders.
On Broadway, many Japanese-Americans joined an observance of the 75th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066. That shameful decree resulted in more than 100,000 Japanese immigrants (issei) and their children (nisei) being forced from their West Coast homes and businesses and shunted into camps, for fear they were sympathizers or saboteurs for Imperial Japan during World War II.
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A guided tour Sunday offered glimpses of Tacoma’s old Japan Town neighborhood. After FDR’s order, Japan Town emptied out and never recovered its identity. Many families resettled elsewhere after the war.
There also were Sunday performances of a short play, hosted by Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, about an uprooted Japanese-American family and a teenage girl’s futile cry for civil rights.
“But I’m not from Japan! I’m from Tacoma, Washington!” the girl pleads with her mother in the first scene, after learning of Roosevelt’s order.
Seventy-five years later, her words echo the desperation of second-generation Hispanic immigrants who find themselves on shaky ground under the Trump administration. They’re known as Dreamers, and many, like the girl in the play, have done no wrong — unless it’s a sin to be children of immigrants who wanted nothing but to make better lives for their families.
The girl’s appeal for justice was given contemporary voice Sunday, up the street in the Hilltop neighborhood, where about 150 Dreamers and their allies rallied in People’s Park.
Starting in 2012, President Barack Obama allowed more than 700,000 children of illegal immigrants to live and work in the U.S. under his Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program. Trump and his team, however, are so amped up to clamp down on illegal border crossing, and have issued executive order drafts with such abandon, that Dreamers are wise to be alert. McClatchy reported this weekend that the Homeland Security Department was working to expand the number of immigrants who can be detained and deported.
Dreamers appear to be protected under one draft memo, and Trump claims to have a soft spot for them. “The DACA situation is a very difficult thing for me as I love these kids. I love kids,” he said at a news conference last week.
But that’s little comfort in light of the administration’s pledge to build walls and secure borders, damn the consequences. It is little comfort to supporters of Daniel Ramirez Medina, the 23-year-old Dreamer now held at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma under flimsy pretenses (no criminal record, disputed gang ties).
We hope the president takes a break from pandering to his base long enough to demonstrate swiftly and clearly that he will not dismantle the DACA program.
If he persists with his assault on basic rights, citizens should keep doing what they did in two Tacoma neighborhoods Sunday: Condemn racial injustice through demonstration and conversation. Harness the power of art to enlighten the head and the heart. (The Broadway Center play, “Nihonjin Face,” has toured the state and been seen by 14,000 students.)
And learn from the issei, nisei and now sansei (grandchildren of Japanese immigrants) who stand in solidarity with today’s Latino and Muslim immigrants.
There’s a Japanese word for what carried them through oppression 75 years ago. “Gaman” — perseverance.