Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Future is in Good Hands

Situations like the trial for the murder of young Trayvon Martin brings racism to the national consciousness and picks at the oozing scabs.  Our language, our response, the pain we feel are on two sides of a line, a line which divides us by color.  That line treats each of us racially from the time we take our first breath.  But we have CHOICE and we can NAME that line (racism) and then denounce it in word, thought and deed.     We all experience the national trauma of the country's racist history built on the foundation of cruel slavery, unique among all forms of slavery -- 1) based on color  2) human beings treated as chattel, violently stripped of all humanity  3) for one's whole life and whose babies are born into it and remain for their whole lives from the first moment they draw breath 4) purely economic reason with a recent history; as I told my students, for cold cash, not the passion of enmity.  When I say all of us suffer from trauma of this national legacy, I mean all of us.  However, the trauma is felt differently on opposite ends, as different as the namecalling which is in the news today:  Cracker or slaveowner and the N word or your life is worth nothing; you can be dead by a cracker's whim, rich man or poor man.  Racism serves a purpose in our country, so it's never been discarded.  It divides us so we don't see who really interferes with this country's ideals that all people have the freedom to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  We just get side tracked into Black and White.  Black includes all peoples whose work is exploited for the running of things and it's based on pigment or some other physicality which easily sets us apart.  And White includes light skinned people, rich or poor, perhaps reviled as part of an immigration wave, definitely exploited, kept poor, but there was the miniscule reward to insure safety and hold out a bit of promise on the basis of pigment if that race line is kept in place.  For the sake of their grandchildren's safety, they felt they had to hide their northern or eastern European last names, hide or allow ancestry to be forgotten  and inside in the hidden part of the heart that seed of slavery planted its seed as well as resentment and shame for having to give up one's cultural identity.

This murder trial and the way the defense is waging it is a flashpoint, a button which brings that sensitivity to the racist underpinning of our society out in each of us.  I feel it.  I don't want to even hear the news.  I see others feel it reading the threads on Facebook, the defensive postures of some.  The flash of impatience of others.   As a teacher I spent most of my adult life with young people, middle schoolers, a time when one really begins to be interested in who they are, where they fit, do they fit and a time where fairness is a big deal.  I have to say, even now, retired over ten years, I think the most beautiful people in the world are young people,  beginning their journey, second only to  the adults they have become.

I disown the national perception of racializing.  I reject that it is human nature.  I believe it is brainwashing and manipulation, an opiate to some and for others, a loose noose, a cocked pointed gun.  Russian roulette if you're lucky.  I believe that the human being is good, strong and intelligent and has a great capacity to give, tend and risk with great courage:  I have examples:   even after being born into slavery for generations and never experiencing it, African Americans still loved freedom, yearned for it and were the first to stand and give their lives to freedom and still do.  To be able to muster up Hope and Commitment deplete of any in their surroundings is unimaginable courage and love.  Being Human must be about courage and love.  Then there were the Garretts who lost everything they owned at the age of 60, Quakers, part of the Underground Railroad.  Losing all of ones material possessions was the punishment levied.  And Thomas Garrett, being sentenced, said he would do it again until this evilness is done.  The Garretts are just one of many people on the underground  who chose spiritual and what was right over material and physical comfort.  Anyone who is 60 knows how long it takes to own a home, how important it is to secure an elderly life.  I have to believe that it is Being Human to choose right over evil, and the spirit over material safety. So, yes, I choose not to see us as divided and I do not credit  racial consciousness as human nature.  That is not to say, that the United States, in reality, is not based on racializing, because it certainly is but that's a choice made by unquestioning it at its foundation.  We are traumatized by it by a long history, we are traumatized by our social upbringing in school systems, dealing with other systems in order to have shelter, food, health, education and pursuit of happiness, daily.  And these flashpoints, like the murder case of Trayvon Martin, and the racist defense tactic touches a nerve and brings it up for painful discussion, each of us experiencing it as a great division.

We can reject that system which relies on that division and the glorious beauty of all our differences as human beings will be evident -- like my classrooms in Snoqualmie Middle, Cherry Valley Elementary,  Monroe Middle, Madison Middle, Jefferson Middle, Roosevelt Middle and Sheldon High School, and the UO College of Education became for me.

Most of my students, if we are looking at the racialized paradigm are, in racialized language, white.  Being young, and intelligent, and open they went through some exercises which made sense to them, and then bloomed in front of my eyes.

In Madison, Troy Shawn and Eddy came up to me handing me these green tickets saying, "here's our pass." 
    "We're doing a simulation about South Africa in Mandelblatt's room and we have to show you our pass because we're Black South Africans,"
It just popped out of my mouth, "You don't need those.  You're in Angola now."

The gleam in their eyes and the grin on their faces can only be described as wicked!  We looked at each other.  I made a bargain.  "Not in my class this period.  I get to teach this class, but my prep?"

A revolution was born.  Out of my portable every morning five young students began to wage a Free South Africa Movement.  Every day I would call Mandelblatt and assured him they were working hard on South Africa, researching what to do in the case of dismanteling Apartheid with their own twist.  They convinced the students and the whole faculty to begin to divest and boycott.  They had a freedom song.  They wrote a constitution for a free South Africa.  Admittedly, I happened to have a poster in my classroom of a constitution which I intended to hang until South Africa was free.  It was torn and raggedy but it still hung there.  They even called the tv news.  Oh, no!  But they did, and they sang their freedom song for the newssteam.

The librarian took her equipment out of Mndelblatt's room.  The office wouldn't talk to him.  I did not know this until I checked in that night and he responded with, "I really don't want to talk today, Misa.  I've got a headache.  It's getting out of hand."

"Hey Mandelblatt," I joked, "Do you think Peter Botha has a headache too?   I thought it was just the tv camera person interviewing him.

He listed all the things that happened to him that day, dictionaries taken out, the media equipment, can't even get someone to type his stuff and mimeo it.  (Yes, this was all pre-xerox and computers.)
He told me to send the revolutionaries back.  The simulation over. He needed his film projector back.

I asked how we can make this a win-win for the boys.  He argued, the reality is that South Africa is not free.  The reality is what the simulation teaches.  I argued, asking "what is it we want the boys to learn" and that we could not teach that South Africa would never be free.  But we agreed on one thing.  This was his class.  And for the purpose of this class he was trying to teach how bad it was in South Africa under Apartheid.  He was not trying to teach a hope but the reality.  That is another simulation.    I honored him for allowing the boys to wage their rebellion within the simulation and he agreed he did feel a lot of pride for them but also felt hurt.

It was his class after all.  It broke my heart to give them the bad news.  I met the kids and explained Mandelblatt's position and in real school reality they had succeeded to shut his classes down.  He was proud of them but with the grades, he felt he had to be fair to those who played within the simulation rules.   I told them that he will be consequenting them and told them to understand that heroism against a system as huge and evil and global as apartheid, sometimes  heroes are punished, martyred, like Nelson Mandela, in prison but yet free and very much part of the anti-apartheid movement as a leader.  Whatever grade they were given, they should see it as being one with Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko.  They understood, and sobered, they went to class.  The South Africa simulation was over.  They received a "C" for the simulation and an "A" for revolution in their heart.  In the long run, David and I celebrate that the future really is in the Troys and the Eddys -- in their hands.    Apartheid ended in 1991, less than a decade later and Nelson Mandela was elected President in 1994.

About that time, I was teaching in Jefferson Institute of Multicultural and International Education, eighth grade.   That is the setting of my next example.  I wanted to make the writing of the Constitution more interesting than the deadly lesson it becomes with a textbook.  I decided to do a simulation with this, dividing all the students into colonial delegates representing their colony during the writing of the Constitution.  They all memorized the preamble of the Declaration of Independance including  'That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness" to set the tone.  They all researched their speeches.  They all researched their special interest which would inform which speech they would be giving -- or so I thought.

On the day of speeches, Sari Gomez, who was giving a speech against slavery stood up.  I don't remember the words right now but it was all about her real heart and her belief.  Her voice was confident and passionate.  The rest of the delegates spurred her on.  And when it came time for the vote, I had my Mandelblatt moment.  Unanimously obliterating the institution of slavery every one of them from Rhode Island to Georgia stood up and proudly announced, We the delegates from _____ Colony cast all votes to end slavery in our new country!"   Although one part of me thought  What was I going to do?  the other part was moved to tears.   The thundering applause from my 32 students, mostly white,  made it clear that they were very aware of the triumph they made out of the simulation.  Hannah Ames had a big smile, having made the motion to demolish slavery, standing, and waving her arms about in a victory wave for sure.  (She went on to integrate the wrestling team for the school district, first girl wrestler).

I was choked up.

I took the podium and told them "today, you did something incredible.  You took history,( I pointed at the textbook,) and you molded it into your own hands.  You are different than that first Continental Congress."  And I gave them the statistics of the makeup, all male, all European, many lawyers.  "Together, women and men, many backgrounds and upbringing,  all of you served your country well and with honor today.  Because of your choice, your country and your descendants will not have to go through a Civil War which would break your nation apart.  You have prevented Jim Crow Segregation and the brutality and inequality of it.  There does not have to be a Great Civil Rights Movement because by now, the country would live up to the ideals of freedom for all you brought here with your vote.  Because of you there will not be racism and our school would be a regular school instead of special because of our Racism Free Zone.  We have a lot to celebrate today because of what you accomplished."


This being said, I hope that these moments they gifted me with -- just a tip of the iceberg of many many moments when each student molded my classroom with their own hands, bringing their families in, their stories, their dreams, stood up for someone whether it was at the State House for school funding, in front of the city council to save their rec center, or make sure someone was safe on the bus who had been tormented day after day.  They made of my drama class a Gay Straight Alliance center, something one of my students let me in on years after I was retired and had said with regret, we should have and we didn't even think of it even with all the culture clubs, and was assured there always was a GSA in school and they called int Drama.   All this and more were  transforming and healing not just the classroom but sometimes the whole community.  We mourned Cesar Chavez death, memorialized King each with a re-dedication to justice,  welcomed home the Viet Nam vet (these were student inspired and led events) and quietly sat in the little theater where one of the vets took that time to wheel his chair back and forth on the stage, and put to rest what has haunted him his whole life, his buddy's death while 100 middle schoolers witnessed in silent respect.   We took 30 students and parents on the road each year, each year guests of a tribe.  It was the students' idea, at each place, to give back to our hosts.  It was planned, like taking the Shakespeare production there and act it for the little children, or an impromptu gesture when they saw anti-Indian graffiti in the bathrooms, immediately  painting of the rec center so that the little kids wouldn't see it.  I learned as much as I taught.  I received as much as I gave.  More, I think.    My students come from all hues of the beautiful human rainbow -- none of them colored white, flesh, or black.  Their eyes flash if there is something unfair which needs to be dealt with.  Their grins widen when they can do something awesome as one.  Their coloring flashes or glows when they make their mark, count their coup, turn things so upside down, right side up.  That's what color they are.  Can you visualize it?

I believe it is from 35 and still going years I have spent in the company of youth White, Black Brown, Red and Yellow that I have hope, and that I have love in my heart, and I believe it is because of the younger generation (some now in their 40's now) that  I always will drop the "prejudice bruise" the pain I carry from the national trauma of racism to grasp a beautiful, precious relationship, a glimpse of a future in another generation's hands or the past made right by them.  A lot of them became teachers, I mean A LOT, so the future is definitely in good hands.  And for those who didn't, many of them my Facebook friends, they are still educating, and touching the next generation reaching  way out to all the directions and far into the future.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Why saying Weirdo White Cracker is not Racist

A flurry of Facebook debate rose around the flimsy defense for Zimmerman, murderer on trial for killing Trayvon Martin, a young Black Man full of promise killed because Zimmerman claims to have felt threatened in his neighborhood.

Racism is prejudice based on race backed by the full weight and power of the institution, law, society behind it. Yes prejudice hurts, but without the full power of the institution it is prejudice, not racism. Prejudice hurts, it may even traumatize. It's ill mannered at the least. I'm not downplaying that. However, I am saying, in this discussion of race, calling a white person a cracker is not racism. When Trayvon uses it to describe the killer stalking him as a weirdo cracker, he is not being racist.

Racism is a line of division.  On one side is the "racist list." All kinds of people can uphold racism with a spectrum of behaviors from blatant thought. words, and actions like the KKK, Aryan Nation all the way to supporting with silence, or apathy or cowardice. The list supporting racism even includes people of color shoring up racist institutions and action by being gatekeepers, laughing along with a racist jokes against them, cutting down someone who is speaking against racism by a stamp of approval for the racist side. These are people of color being pro-racist. You can be on that side of the line of racism by being a Supreme Court Justice white or black who gutted the voting rights act, defending this racist murder by putting parents on trial and the victim on trial for calling this vigilante stalking him a white cracker, etc etc.

On the other side of the line is the "anti-racist list" ALSO the full spectrum of humanity. This is a list of people who are committed in thought word and action to obliterate racism by standing up against it, acting against it and educating oneself to understand that racist line better. Of course, people of color as a state of survival and health have to stand up to it. It's a powerful stand to take rather than alienation, fear, self hatred. Who wants to be Clarence Thomas or S.I. Hayakawa? Remember him? Japanese American Pres of SF during the Student Movements who was an apologist for the concentration camps during WW2 who put his parents behind barbed wire (It wasn't bad. It was fun to be a kid there) and disrespected the students of color he was supposed to care about by bringing in armed and ready for combat police force to stop the demonstration which were being supported by clergy and NAACP and other organizations. So the list on the anti-racist side, for example, on this thread, John is reading the heck out of literature which has to do with that relationship of all kinds of people including white people to racism, thinking and then educating. I'm taking his reading list down. Would you join me, those of you who are taking names like cracker so personally in the context of this murder trial, taking comments made about Christianity personally, in this context?

This line of racism exists all the time in our racialized country. Which side are we on at any given moment -- especially when we feel poked and personal. Making the decision to be racist/pro-racist or anti-racist in this racialized country is a daily exercise. I encourage everyone not to be tempted to get into this reverse racism argument -- over  names used now in this moment to defend of a man who murdered of a young Black man with such a bright future or to resent  affirmative action during times which make it tough on everyone to get into colleges or get a job.  All of this is just "red herring" in support of an unjust system which divides us so that a few elite robber barons can gain from our misery and division. Choose always to be powerful.  Choose always to be on the side of the line which rejects all the isms designed to divide us.  Choose to be Outside the Belly of the Beast.

Comedian Louis CK on the subject of Crackers.

Russell Mean's Welcome to the Reservation

My Mind is on Trayvon Martin

It's so obscene I can't even listen to the trial nor say the name of the murderer of young Trayvon Martin. I can't listen to the defense, see the old footage, listen to the replay of Trayvon fearful of this creep stalking him in the night as if he were prey.   It is angering. We're just a couple of generations after Jim Crow, remember, the time when young Black men could be viciously and violently killed for being Black BY LAW!! If this isn't the ugly face of the traitorous Confederacy slave states with their violent, ugly empire of Jim Crow Segregation again! That's what this reminds me of. If it's ok for a hateful, fearful, disturbed white predator of a  man given authority by the State to be a vigilante of his neighborhood, licensed to have a weapon to kill this young Black man full of promise for no reason, what is the difference. Trayvon used a WORD, "white Cracker"  to express a real fear that night, a white cracker stalking him  in a darkened street who means him harm. And we all know what that un-nameable fearful fiend filled with racial hatred used to express his fear because Trayvon Martin is dead, murdered, even though he called for help, even though the police knew.  If that is not angering enough, the defense of this ugly fiend proposes as a part of his defense that Trayvon used a "racist word -- cracker" and was in fact taught by his upbringing to use that word.  I CANNOT LISTEN TO THIS and not be angry.    Are parents supposed to teach their young men "Don't EVER call a white man a name or you might be killed?"  or "even if you are being stalked by white people who want to hurt you and kill you and erase you because of your Blackness, don't EVER call them cracker because they will kill you?"  Sounds like a lesson for the racist segregationist south enforced by crazy KKK vigilantes in the night out for blood -- like this sick fiend on trial. How is this a defense. Remember the "twinkie defense"?  There are satires out now about this Cracker Defense and I understand satire.  But I can't listen.  There is nothing about Trayvon Martin's death that I can be arm's length about.  Last night I left the room rather than listen to tv liberal pundits with their self-important voices, excited to yak about the racist stupidity coming out of the trial,  repeating repeating repeating each gem of outrageous stupidity,  pontificating the stupidity of it as if the tv audience were stupid and needed to hear something horrible over and over again to understand how fascinating their news analysis was.  I could not listen to the "entertainment factor" liberals get out of someone else's pain by enjoying to excess their clever words picking at another person's intellectual and moral flaws.

What's in a name.  I remember when Will and I were in Brooklyn, walking down a street of brownstones with neat front yards and iron fences.  An elderly Black Man stood watching us -- two Asian women from Idaho and a Hippy white guy -- walking through his neighborhood.  I smiled and he nailed me with a look of hatred which made me shrink and see what he saw.   I felt the stab of "Jap, Gook."  In racialized Amerika, though, like a knee jerks to a tap, I have a choice to pause and decide, " It is not about me.  It's about our history."   I even imagine that if I moved IN rather than be a tourist, over time, the gentleman might nod back when I smiled.   Why do I imagine?  Because that has been my experience in this racialized country.  The divide may always be there in the back of the mind, but it is shelved to make room for relationship.   Them's the rules for polite reasonable people in a racialized country.   The Difficulty of living together is not personal.  I am not oblivious about stores in the community run by Asians who do not live in the neighborhood and who are fearful of the Black community, un-trusting,  doing business which takes from the community and but never becoming part of it.   I have experienced the judgment of Asians too as third generation Asian myself.  Race festers.  And relationships are very hard to develop across the divide in this country.  So what do I think of the glare I received for a smile?  Is it wrong?  Is it right?  Neither.  It just is.  Welcome to Amerika.  That's one mind exercise we who live in Amerika can choose, learn learn learn, experience, experience, experience away the borders between us and build as much as one can.  Then there is the other, to take offense, to personalize, to be defensive, to be offensive, to take bad experiences and generalize from them, to accept hate and fear of the State and become a pawn of racist thought and stay stuck in the systems which invented Amerika, its foundations built on brutal taking of land from sea to shining sea and the slave labor to build it.   Breathing in the fear, division, violence and forming oneself into tools.  We have to make a choice every day.

Have I ever used racialized labels.  You bet.  All the time.  Every time, I feel weighed down by institutionalized racism, every time I see someone victimized by racism, every time I'm walking along minding my own business, thinking good thoughts and am slapped by racism by some White Cracker in what my girlfriend called our city (Eugene), Haku-Jin (White people)  Oregon where everything beautiful we have fashioned to address racist isolation to open and welcome everybody, and I mean everybody, has been easily disassembled by whimsy because it was not treasured enough -- a nationally renowned Indian Education Program, a remarkable school, Jefferson Institute of Multicultural and International Education,  an exemplary Human Rights Commission in the city, to name a few; and every time a person of color who has given of themselves from their experience and heart is thrown out as if worthless, or, the person themselves, dismissed through the personnel policy of the revolving door; and every young Black or Brown young person who is sacrificed for  white people in authority to learn anything, and for every sleight I've received as an Asian woman who is tribal because I am Asian, look Asian, am awoman, and follow tribal, You Bet!!  At the same time, do I seize every opportunity to choose differently?  Yes, yes, yes.    If I have to choose my prejudice over this beautiful person, this beautiful ideal, this beautiful project, this beautiful opportunity, this beautiful idea, this beautiful relationship, I will happily drop my prejudice with a grateful heart to all the beauty which crosses my path, and therefore defines my path.

I am reminded of what Margaret Cho said.  It really resonates.
"I wish I could be white for a couple of hours, you know, have a hobby,  go on a vacation, relax, get a manicure."

Which brings me back to young Trayvon, watch a movie, buy some Cheetos, go see a friend to hang out.   Just relax.  Hang out.  I wish he could have.  We are so much less for having lost such Promise.

And in an alternate universe, I envision that.  Just hanging out another summer day rising before him.  Growing, unstunted by racism, into manhood.  Completing college.  Maybe becoming a man who teaches children to become strong young men and women, fashioning his part of history with his own hands, adult hands, elder hands, leaving behind a legacy worthy of following.  That's what I will dream today for Trayvon Martin, a wish for the world that the blessings of such a young man could have blessed a road in front of many more like him. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Don't Underestimate the US Government Teacher, a Dedication to John Goettsche

 Today, the Supreme Court gave Justice two black eyes, gutting the Voting Rights Act and the Indian Child Welfare Act, separating a Native American father from his Native American daughter and giving her to adoptive parents who paid her anglo mother to adopt her the year before.  They judged that every state should be allowed to handle access to polls as they wished.  Soon after the Governor of TX began to take steps to make those changes which I would say follow the Jim Crow south. 

2013 should be a good year to teach high school US government and Poli-Sci 101 outside of the book, interactively, and in DC.

My Government teacher was John Goettsche and I credit him with preparing me, not only for the Sixties but for now. He rescued me from what I was taught by my US history teacher -- that Soviet Subs were spying on us from the Snake River, that Eisenhower was a communist sympathizer, that "Spartacus" was a communist inspired film ( I suppose because it was anti-slavery) kind of like the ridiculous fear provoking stuff the Tea Party/Republcan Party spreads today about women, and workers, and immigrants and the full diversity of this country. For homework she had us listen to Ronald Reagan and Cleon Skowsen on the radio program "Let Freedom Ring" -- pretty much the same climate as now, although it's worse now because it is post Reagan's presidency. The other US History Teacher was from Arkansas and taught that the Confederacy had won the war.   At least I knew that wasn't true, so I wanted to avoid him. I do not lie or exaggerate about any of this.

Don't underestimate the importance of a good US Government teacher. I run into old classmates who still say that John Goettsche gave them a special book to read which changed them and prepared them to survive the turbulent times of our youth, the influence continuing to the present. He didn't assign me a book.   He assigned me a research paper -- Civil Liberties After WWI. There wasn't any. He directed me to the stacks of our public library reading old Nations and learned about the dangers of the Red Scare, antisemitism, Jim Crow, anti-labor and anti-immigrant hatred, KKK, and I kept reading through WWII, and the Senate Un-American Committee Investigations, about the Rosenbergs. For each of us, he inspired an educated idealism about liberties, and the work it took to make them real.

 I remember his heartfelt talk to us during the Cuban Missile Crisis when we came noisily into his classroom, excited about the possibility of war as if it were a football game with Nampa High School. That was a sobering speech about the truth of war which prepared us in a way  WW2 heroism legends did not. Our generation, back in '67 suffered such high losses. Every American knew someone sacrificed -- whether they came home or died, many were broken and many died at their own hands after returning.  He could not have known what that war would be like, but he did not sugar coat war.  War is sobering.  It is serious. I remember his sharing about his German grandparents, and what happened to them during WW1, and it reverberated in me, my Nikkei family's experience during WW2, and in that moment, I realized that our WW2 experience was an American experience in a way which was healing to me. I wish for more teachers like John Goettsche during these hard times in our country when our political leaders at the national level are on the attack against our hard won rights guaranteed by the US Constitution.  It is, after all, these young student's future we are toying with.  John Goettsche put my own destiny regarding this country quite completely in my hands, and I've never let go of it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

My Ancestors Chose a Good Path filled with Ancestors for Me

My friend Marc Dadigan talked about a friend, recently on Facebook, who asked why he had so much on his page about Indians.  I am sure my Facebook friends might have a similar question.  For Asian people "Identity" is something important.  I know a friend who started the DisOrient Film Festival announcing the 5th year that Identity was no longer an issue and chose for Opening Night Justin Lin's Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift.  However, even now, another five years later, "Identity" is still a big thing with Asian people.  There are still new immigrants, and no matter how many generations  Asian families are here in the US,  we still grapples with a country which still does not see us as Descendants.  My grandchildren's generation, if I had grandchildren, still go through being asked "where are you from" or "what are you."  They still get surprised reactions that they speak English with no accent, and Asian women endure pickup lines about geishas, or are regaled with anecdotes about trips to Asia or how these guys know how to tell us apart -- Korean, Chinese or Japanese.  In fact my beautiful single Korean daughter just shared with me yet another bad experience at a night club.  In her words, another guy with "Yellow Fever" came on to her and she whirled on him with "Soooo, how's the 'you look like a geisha line' been working for you?"  then answering sarcastically for him, "NOT SO GOOD? then why don't you just think about dropping it."  That may have not been nice.  But sometimes a girl gets really tired.  So much weirdness out there about who we are, it is no mystery why identity will always be something we grapple with in a land who can't see us for who we are.  In this existential quandary I present this blog about my answer to the perennial question, "Who am I"  with  an experience somewhat unique in the American landscape for a Nikkei born in the USA.

When my Asian friends get on my Facebook, they may have questions.  Although plenty of my posts are about Asian community events, my own experience as an Asian, and plenty of my posts are about the diverse and beautiful reality of my life, since I am a tribal member of the Winnemem my Facebook makes it clear that my identity definitely is Winnemem rather than white American.     I ask myself sometimes, how do I explain this?  I know it seems like a logical effortless flow for me.  Therefore, I can say (since for Asians everything starts with the grandparents), it's a very logical effortless flow  full of the ancestor's blessings.

I recently began to think, if my Grandfather and Grandmother, new from the Mother Country were able to have chosen for me, their eldest grandchild, what would they have chosen.  Would they choose to send me to a school who would strip my Mother Tongue away because it was the enemy's language?  Would they send me to a teacher who put me in a coat closet every time I slipped into Nihongo until I messed my underpants, and sat in that all day, excruciatingly embarrassed playing a nursery rhyme game (The Farmer in the Dell)  and standing in my crusty underwear praying no one could smell it in the middle of a circle my classmates formed around me singing, "The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone.  Hi ho the derry-o, the cheese stands alone."  Alone.

Or would they choose to send me to learn in a circle of children with elders and parents and a community all around them, vigilant without imposing, as I grew into what I would be within the clan.  Would they choose to send me to learn about nature as a human also part of nature, learning from the ancient trees, the water, the earth, the four legged, the insects, the fish, the plants, the medicines.  Would they choose to send me to learn where everyone and their families were part of the school community, everyone belonged?  Would they have chosen for me a school where the curriculum was to learn how to be a good human being and do do their part,  to "tend" in nature? Together.   

I know where they would send me.  I know what they would choose for me.  All Grandparents from all the waves and waves of immigration to the Americas would have done that for their grandchildren out of love for all of us . . .  if they could have.   No grandparent would say, "I choose the other because my grand kid's gotta' toughen up."  They would not have thrown their grandchildren into the giant vat of racism, violence, alienation, addiction, depression and just hoped they would survive and succeed.  They would, if they could,  found us a place we can grow and give and find happiness.     I know my Ojichan and Obachan are happy, as the words in an old Shaker Song Simple Gifts says,  that their granddaughter, was able to, in "turning, turning, come down right."

But my ancestors like all other waves of immigrants to this country bore violent discrimination and persevered.  My grandparents were finally given the ability to get citizenship after they had grey hair, after their sons came back from WW2, (for many Nikkei, in caskets) and was finally allowed the right to vote after their hair got more grey, 20 years later.  Yet they raised their grandchildren to love the Bill of Rights and serve this country.  I did as a public school teacher.  I taught love of the Bill of Rights and serve the community by making it safe and inclusive and respectful.    This brings us to 2013.  This millennium would have broken their hearts -- to see the ugly legacy of mining for gold and mining for uranium, digging for oil.  The new gold is food and water.  It would have broken my grandfather's heart that the target for making it rich quick is now as fundamental as food and water.  He believed food and water should be precious and abundant.  My grandfather and grandmother had a beautiful abundant garden all the years of their lives.  We ate from the garden.  We weren't wealthy.  We did not go to restaurants and our food did not come from the grocery stores when I was growing up.  We grew strong on simple nourishing food from our labor, and from gathering along the ditches.  Each harvest, my grandfather would carefully gather seeds.  He dried them, and wrapped them in newspaper, patterned with Japanese characters.  I still have a box of his last small packages of tomato, cantalope and squash.  My grandfather and grandmother always missed living right next to a river.  Our outings would invariably be to rivers.  He was a fisherman.  My grandfather was a fisherman and a gardener, and with grandma they were fieldworkers and farmers after the Alien Land Law was lifted.  His heart would have broken with agribusiness, with Monsanto, with dam-builders who dam up rivers and divert river systems for fracking.  My grandmother would have called it crazy.  They were not political people.  They saw too much violence.  It would have broken their hearts to see what their grandchildren and her children had to do to say No to the craziness.  It took enough for them to say No to their home country by leaving it. This millennium would have asked too much of them, because No was not in their vocabulary even though this is not the turn of events they would have chosen for America.

So following my Grandfather and Grandmother, from the Mountainous Region of Honshu, along the Gifu River to California, Montana/Wyoming short-line railroad construction, Idaho fields brought to life by the Snake River, I find myself along another river, the Winnemem, and another mountain, Bohem Pyuk, with people who are still defending the life of their tribe, their salmon, their sacred lands.  And here I find myself during what all cultures in the world refer to as the Changing Time.  For us Humans, it is an important time, when all the world and Nature comes to the point of no return.   My ancestors' blessings, if I were to see their hand on my life from the day I breathed my first breath of air, brought me to this important point, prepared to make a definite choice, prepared to make a stand, and be able to tell false from true leadership, prepared to be a strong follower rather than a straggler, and able to feel the goodness of this life rather than be filled with fear and doubt.  To be able to say Yes rather than live only a No to the destruction of the Changing Time is a gift.  Yes to Winnemem is a No to the death of this planet.  Yes to all indigenous sovereign people of the world is the one Yes we can say which is No to the death of this planet.  The option has always been there, to be tend-ers in Nature, to be part of nature, to give our hands to the work of nature rather than destroy it.  We only need to live with less rather than waste, and do more with our voices and hands to tend, to pray, to speak for Life, not live like addicts off of dead things -- as Winona LaDuke calls our addiction to unrenewable  resources.

Who am I?    I am a Nature-ized Naturalized Nikkei Tribal Member of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe.  There are Nikkei everywhere as I learned in Cuba among my Cuban Nikkei family there.   My experience is more like theirs than my experience with my own blood relatives who are Japanese American.  My Identity is integrated with the Winnemem Tribe as is the identity of Cuban Nikkei who were puzzled by the question, "do you identify Cuban or Japanese."  They could not answer that question.  After all, when they suffered under Batista during WW2 when the Cuban Dictator imprisoned all Japanese men 15 years old and over and left the Nikkei women and children to fend for themselves with their subsistence gardens.  American Nikkei are so moved that in Cuba, the Nikkei women's  Cuban neighbors plowed their own garden and then came over to help plow the Nikkei gardens.  Friendships and neighborly relationships persisted through the war.  The Nikkei were part of the revolution which formed their country.  Other Cubans  refer to them as Descendants, and the Nikkei history in Cuba is part of the whole.  That is not the Nikkei experience in the US when the WW2 concentration camp and curfew laws over Japanese immigrant families were so complete on the West Coast that even those of us who lived outside of the wartime boundary of relocation and removal and did not go into camps still felt the hatred of our neighbors and country toward us as Jap aliens and non-aliens.

My experience allows for an integrated identity in this country.  I don't live on a Winnemem Island in the United States.   In becoming a tribal member I have joined a very American struggle of an indigenous nation's struggle to continue, to assert the precious Bill of Rights, to regain their sovereign treaty rights with the US Government.  I also am part of building the US.  As a school teacher in the public school system, and as a person who persistently stood for the Bill of Rights for all peoples, who was inspired by the justice movements of my youth to struggle and speak up for the ideals of a democratic nation, I was not passive or silent about America.  Being a Winnemem Nikkei  at the point of US history makes all the difference in the world to me.   Today, this country's leaders would choose to support a few corporations rather than what is good for the American people or the Earth. And in allowing these few corporations to manipulate environmental protection laws, to hurdle over regulations which protect our health and safety, and to conspire with these corporations to pay very little for the public good and social services with taxes, threatening the American public school system,  and the social services  putting more and more American elders, veterans and families in harms way -- creating a new middle class, the working poor.   I stand "outside the belly" with the Winnemem, a California Tribe, one of 90 percent of the California tribes left off the Federal Recognition List.  Yes, the tribe suffers greatly from the policies of greed and hate.  At the same time, they have intact their old way of life which would include their traditional education, medicines, government structure, a complete way of life.    That is now my way of life, the medicines, the traditional education, my leaders, my way of life.   Which would my Nikkei ancestors have  chosen for me of they could?  They would have chosen the place where I would be safe and where I could contribute positively.  They would have chosen the place where I would not have had to deny them and could bring them with me.  They would have chosen for me the place where I would have walked further with many many more ancestors.  They would have chosen, I believe with all my heart, to be outside the belly of this beast, in 2013, and be on the side Life not destruction of  our precious  Food and Water.

So today, I am saying a prayer of thank you to my ancestors.  They are Shichiro Kawai and Misao Ota of Kami no Mura in Gifuken Nihon on the island of Honshu.  They lived along the Gifu River.  Our background is samurai, living a simple bushido way of life of service before Japan transformed itself into an Empire and bully in Asia during WW2.    My mother is Meriko Kawai Joo, her name signifying the new country of her birth.   I was raised by them and George Shobei Kawai (still living), William Jiro Kawai, Ruby Tamako Aoyama and Grace Hideko Yamamoto (still living).  I was also raised, walking side by side and often right behind while they lit my way by Wilma Crowe (Lakota, Hunkapapa band, still living), Dwight Souers and his beloved wife, still living, Twila Souers (Lakota, Brule band)  Helen Castillo (Dine, still living).   Anamethot (Kickapoo) Marvin Stevens, Kenny Moses (Snoqualme) Edison Chiloquin (Klamath), Harriet Amerman (Choctaw, still living), Robert Tom (Siletz, still living), Marie Brown (Umatilla),  Paul Whitehead (Kootnia), and mostly for the past 30 years, Puilolimit, Dawinkai and Kows (all, Winnemem Wintu).  Sawal maemus baeles bom.
"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

from Outside the Monster's Belly
. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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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.