Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Real America

Now, thanks to Sarah Palin, most of America knows how it feels to wear the "unAmerican" bullseye -- painted on us by the narrow few who call themselves "real Americans," you know, the ones who have grown up always with power and privilege and feel entitled, as well as those who have no power or privilege and easily blame all of us for their plight, sucking the toes of those who step on them. Palin/McCain has made anti-Arab hate and fear the heart of their campaign strategy ignoring there are hundreds of thousands of Arab Americans and hundreds thousands more who are assumed to be Arab American in her country.

It must be somewhat of a relief to feel outrage, the wrongness of being labeled, to watch Jon Stewart of the Daily Show and get some relief. You know where I'm going with this. I can't wait to check in to pudgyindian2.blogspot.com, another blog I read, to see if he has a take on it, or afrospear afrospear.wordpress.com or racialicious www.racialicious.com or angry asian man. To be labeled without the nation at your back feels quite a bit different and much more isolated.

So this year, the one trick ponies of this nation are pointing at a Presidential candidate (terroist), northern Virginia (not real America), and the whole Democratic party (disloyal).
In 1942, even if you were a kid coming home from school thinking about the winter holidays, born and bred in California all your life (as Yoshiko Uchida author of Journey to Topaz), even if you were obachan and ojiichan scraping out a living in Washington, Oregon or CA, doing the work no one wanted to do, finally making a home for your family after years of labor, even if you were graduating from high school, played on the baseball team, and coming home to help out the family, even if you were living as American as you could be, in one day, you would be labeled and imprisoned -- "enemy alien" for momma and poppa and "non-alien" for the American born sons and daughters. What the pfuck (to borrow Jon Stewart's phrase) is a non-alien?! You had only a couple of weeks to get rid of everything it took a lifetime to build and were shipped, carrying only what you could in two hands, to holding places at race tracks and fairgrounds and finally to the middle of a desert or swampland crowded, three to four families to a barrack for the duration of the war -- behind barbed wire, guards with guns pointed at you. Your crime? Looking Nihon-jin. You know, like the Aleuts who were forced at the same time into deserted mines and died in great numbers during WWII because they, the indigenous people of their land, never an immigrant, looked Nihonjin.

Or the Nihonjin citizens of Cuba, Peru, all over Latin America, actually, betrayed by their governments to allow the US to come in and kidnap their Japanese citizens to be used as prisoner of war exchange, tearing apart families, shipping them to Crystal City TX, stripped of their passport and not allowed US citizenship indefinitely until Wayne Collins of the ACLU took on their case one by one. Sounds like Rendition.

For us Nihonjin in Idaho, immigrated to the US after the Alien Land Law of 1924, owning no land but working the land, we didn't go to camp (being outside the "zone") but no doubt, the bulls eye target was painted on us too. At least we had our families and obachan and ojiichan were heads of our family, and we had the luxury to say something Constitutionally WRONG was happening 45 minutes drive into the desert at Hunts Camp (aka Minidoka.)

During the war in Kosovo, my good friend and brother Pete Mandrapa, a Yugoslavian American who loved his job as a teacher in a multicultural school/racism free zone, passionate about justice became targeted by ugly forces in town. There were calls to the superintendent to get rid of that Serb. He was reviled by letters to the editor. I remember taking a call in the office made by a hysterically hateful sociology professor who made harassing calls to our school because Mandrapa worked there. And among our students, I remember the pressure the school district received to have us turn into mini-INS agents to turn in Latino students and families and how relieved we were when the District said that would not be our role -- whether or not that meant federal funds lost.

Back in 1962, as a senior at Caldwell High School, I had a government teacher who freed my mind, John Goettsch, who warned us about war hysteria. The Cuban missle crisis had just begun. We were all excited as we would be before the big football game -- bomb those Russians -- and he sat us down and talked very seriously about the truth about war. He talked to us about war hysteria at home, about what happened to his German grandparents' home during WWI. He still wore the bulls eye. He is still Goetssch, not some anglicized form of his name, after all, and here he is in Idaho, teaching government and the Bill of Rights in the early Sixties. My favorite teacher who freed my mind was controversial in Caldwell. I remember popular a bright popular senior boasting that her father, a local lawyer, was on the school board and that he'd get Mr. Goettsch fired for being "a card carrying communist." I think they hired a guy from Alabama to take his place who taught that the South had indeed won the Civil War . . . a REAL 'merican!

I mentioned John Goettsch freed my mind. We had a research paper to do. I didn't have a topic yet. I had joined his class after taking American History (to get it over with) in summer school, where we learned about the Russian subs in the Snake River and where our teacher took us on a field trip to hear Cleon Scowson, right wing reactionary lecturer and gave us extra credit for tuning in to Ronald Reagan on Dr. Ross' Dog and Cat food sponsored radio show "Let Freedom Ring." Listening in, I learned that "Spartacus" was a communist inspired movie and that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a communist sympathizer. So here I was, senior year, in Mr. Goetssch's class trying to figure out my research paper topic. He took the time to talk to me and suggested I check out "civil liberties after WWI" and pointed me in the direction of the town library (as opposed to the school library) and encouraged me to check out the stacks. There I would find magazines going back to the Twenties, like "The Nation."

There in the middle of my town which Sarah Palin would call "the real America" where kids were taught to be real Americans, learning that the South had won the war, that the enemy lurked in the neighborhood river, that we had everything to fear and nothing to contemplate, was the modest brick building called the public library where the librarian still had a collection of magazines buried and dusty, ignored, ready to blast some mind open. I spent my after school hours pouring over the articles, forgetting to take notes, so intrigued with what I read. Sacco and Vanzetti. The Red Scare. Eugene Debs. The hate mongers -- Charles Lindburgh, Henry Ford. I couldn't stop at 1930. I kept going into the Fifties. The Rosenbergs, young Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover. I ate it all up, every Nihon-jin "group traumatized cell in my body" soaked up the truth, and my love for the Bill of Rights was born. You would never catch me taking a short cut around history again.

So those of you in Northern Virginia and the rest of Fake America, and not sitting around the metaphorical Palin kitchen table for a bit of morning toxic tea with Sarah who would be speaking for her god again, you are in good company. You've got a bullseye on your chest anyway, and at the moment, it seems you're safe because those who label you are looking like the Three Stooges right now. I encourage you to take advantage of being targeted and vote, vote, vote. Vote down all legislation which targets people and strips them of their humanity: English only measures, mandatory prison sentence measures, anti-gay measures, measures which would strip public schools, public services and retirement (to replace them private schools, privitized prisons, privitized retirement plans, privatized services if we read between the lines). And we've all found out in the last couple of weeks what would have happened to seniors if social security were in the hands of private investment companies.

The Sarah Palins and the Fox News contingent, John Stewart's Daily Show all have given us in larger numbers than ever, more clearly than before, a glimpse of the ugliness which would divide us, always there barely out of sight for many and all too nightmarish and true for many others

This is my wish. That the public, now that the majority wears bulls eyes, will vote for the Bill of Rights for everyone. Vote for tax measures for education and health. I hope the majority of the public will remember that taxes are simply what we all pay for what we want for all of us, schools, infrastructure, parks and libraries. I hope the majority will vote against measures which target people. I hope we have been able to connect the dots during this time enough to vote against this big move to drain what is public -- school levies drained by building more prisons, measures which would add more financial burden to schools such as English only legislation -- a dispicable move to force us to privitize every aspect of our lives, retirement, healthcare, education. I hope we can see through the "don't trust government" rhetoric. They're just saying "Give me, me, me." I hope that wearing the bullseye turns millions of Americans into community organizers because no matter how it's been derided during this campaign, America is built by those who love this land enough to stand up and work for its highest ideals and honor its commitments and take personal civic responsibility on behalf of universal healthcare, children, the earth and water, prison reform, honor treaties, for libraries, for higher education, for school funding, the list goes on.

Wear the bulls eye proudly. Instead of being Palin's real Americans we can make America real.
Oh, and thank you, Mr. Goettsche!!

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"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.