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Newsletter

“What Can I Do?”

During my time on Portland JACL’s board I have always thought a lot about the question, “what can I do?” I originally joined our board so I could give back to the community. I’d like to say it was a well thought out and deliberate effort, but honestly it was on a bit of a whim. Growing up in Portland, there were tons of events in the Japanese American community that I attended and enjoyed. Events like Day of Remembrance, Obon, the community picnic, Mochitsuki, bazaars at Epworth, and I’m sure many more. As a multiracial Asian American, having events like these gave me a sense of worth and belonging. I could walk around white Portland and every once in a while, take a break to let my guard down, be at ease, and just exist. So for me, joining our board was a first answer to the question, “what can I do?”

Although I knew about JACL’s mission and advocacy, the importance didn’t truly hit until I saw all of the work that our board does. There were lots of people answering this question in their own way and working together to do it. I think what amazed me the most was that more than just our board, there is a whole network of people, organizations and committees all answering this question. Just within JACL, there is our national organization, plus the regional districts and chapters throughout the country that are doing things for their members. Locally, our board has many ties within the Japanese and Japanese American communities as well as with other communities and organizations. It seems like we’ve needed them more than ever these past few years.

Lately, one way Portland JACL has been active is working in response to the July 2nd attack on Dr. Abe and his family at the Eastbank Esplanade. Originally the emphasis was just to get coverage of this event before shifting to prevent or better handle this type of violence in the future. Thanks to a small group that includes John Kodachi, Chisao Hata, Peggy Nagae, Erica Naito Campbell, Duncan Hwang, and our own Jeff Matsumoto and Amanda Shannahan, we have continued to act and object to hate. We have come together and responded.

On August 12th, Portland JACL in solidarity with 15 other Asian American organizations, submitted a letter to the Oregon Chief Justice’s Criminal Justice Advisory Committee urging them to begin discussions on the inclusion of bias crimes in the hold until arraignment category. This has resulted in a new recommendation that Bias Crime in the first degree will be moved into the “hold until arraignment” category and there will be further discussion by the committee on moving bias crime in the second degree to that category as well.

While this may not be large sweeping reform of our country’s justice system, it is a small step in the right direction. As I’ve learned during my time on our board, these small steps are what civil rights and social justice work looks like. As we continue to see an increase in hate crimes and bias incidents in Oregon and Nationwide, I’ll admit that it is easy to feel helpless and lose hope. However, I want to remind you that there are lots of people that continue to answer the question with advocacy for Asian Americans and our communities. We deserve to feel safe.

In addition to the fun things that Portland JACL does, like award scholarships, show film screenings, hold community events like the picnic, there is other work that makes a difference too. Recently that has included helping with the Oregon Nisei Veterans World War II Memorial Highway, supporting Minidoka to preserve the site from a wind farm project, working with Metro and the Expo center to provide input on developing what was once referred to as the Portland Assembly Center. We’ve responded to racist license plates and held a few clean ups too. Not everything we do makes it into the newsletter or gets much coverage, but is equally important and helps our board answer the question, “what can we do?”

Let’s continue to take up space and support community events and organizations. Attending the Tiger Tiger event in July was a great reminder for me of how important it is to get out, connect, and find places to be yourself. Looking ahead to the fall, there will be opportunities to engage and be active related to the mid-term and local elections. Particularly a ballot measure that would make changes to Portland’s form of city government. This could have a big impact on how our city is run. Of course, our newsletter and social are great ways to find events that are happening. I’ll simply close by asking you to join me in taking a moment to reflect and think about “what can I do?”

–Chris Lee


Resources/Links:
If you’re the victim of a hate or bias crime please report it to the Oregon DOJ’s Bias Hotline by calling 1-844-924-2427. It is important to record incidents so that it can be counted and justify more resources.

Contribute to the GoFundMe and support Dr. Abe’s family.

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Newsletter

Board Member Message on Anti-Asian Bias Crime

By the time you read this article you may not remember that a terrible act of hate was perpetrated against a young Japanese family visiting Portland. Either because you did not hear about it as it was nearly a week before there was any substantive information in the major media outlets or the from the numbness from being inundated by the tumultuous onslaught of violent events that seem to happen daily.

On Saturday, July 2, 2022, a man, Dylan Kesterson, started verbally attacking by yelling racial slurs and then punching in the head (50 times by the victim’s account) a father, Dr. Riyuichi Abe and also hitting in the head his 5-year-old daughter as they were on a tandem bike ride on the East bank Esplanade. Luckily, because they were wearing bicycle helmets neither was severely injured and good people were able to intervene and get help. The man was arrested at the scene but was released later that same day. He did not appear for his court date three days later but was found that day rearrested and jailed and is currently charged with 19 counts of bias crime as it was found that he also committed as hate crime in April 2022.

As horrified and angry as I am that such a racial motivated hate crime happened in my town, I know it is not an isolated incident and that it happens here regularly, and most incidents go unreported and/or unacted on. But this crime is the act that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Not only was this family viciously assaulted, but the criminal justice system failed in that it allowed this man to walk free without consequence that same day. And it has been learned that this same man attacked others for racial reason a few months earlier and was not arrested. It
would appear that racism is not just relegated to deranged individuals but is also present in our justice system where the system underplays bias/ hate crimes.

I am grateful and proud of our community members, Chisao Hata, Mike Irinaga, Rich and Yoko Iwasaki, John Kodachi, Weston Koyama, Joni Kimoto, Jeff Matsumoto, Anne and Erica Naito-Campbell, and Amanda Shanahan who immediately spearheaded actions that have brought attention to and hopefully a way to stop racial hate and violence in our city. This is not over at the time of this writing our leadership is waiting to meet with the district attorney’s office, police bureau and court officials and there is the pending trial of Dylan Kesterson.

And beyond the scope of social justice, we need to extend empathy to the Abe family. As Portlanders it is incumbent on us to help the family heal the emotional and psychological scars they have incurred. Their words haunt me; “I want to get out of the city as soon as possible, I want to leave the United States. I never want to see this city again.” Let us find a way to help them.

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help the family get the support services they need.

–Connie Masuoka

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Newsletter

Healing From Community Trauma

Our community is strong, with deep roots in Japan and America. We have contributed positively to the present and future of this country, despite difficult circumstances. And last month, it was disappointing to hear that racist violence not only continues nationwide, but impacted a Japanese family as they were enjoying the Eastbank Esplanade. This is our community, these are our neighborhoods, these are the streets we walk.

Our minds and bodies remember the pain of the past,
and hearing about this unsettling event in the present can trigger a kind of emotional flinching reaction in which we are flooded with memories of similar events we have experienced. While many of us may have not experienced incarceration in World War II, it is natural to have a resurgence of memories from times when we have been bullied, isolated, or otherwise singled out based on our race. A common response is increased fear, isolation, and avoidance of things that remind us of the past.

An excellent solution for this community trauma is community care, where support is mutual and shared among members of a community. This type of support, in conjunction with policy change efforts, is vital to our healing and the prevention of similar attacks. So what can we do to respond to what happened at the Esplanade?

  • Recognize that it could be beneficial to talk about how you’ve been impacted by news of the attack.
  • Consider checking in with your Japanese American elders, family, and friends. How are they doing? How are you doing?
  • What are the places or events where you might feel some support and shelter in community? You might consider coming to Obonfest at OBT on Sat 8/6, or the Annual JACL Picnic at Oaks Park on Sun 8/21. Community spaces can be powerful reminders of our shared resilience and joy.
  • Mental health therapy might also be beneficial. For more information about how to seek therapy, please see my brief tips below or email me at Spencer@pdxjacl.org.

The recent attack is a frightening reminder of violence, but we are not strangers to coping with trauma. Repeated reminders to “gaman” may have carried our community through the past, but we have the chance to make a new way forward.

May we lean into community in times of pain and fear, both giving and receiving care.

How to start therapy:

  • Helpful NPR article: Things to consider when looking for a therapist, where to start looking. https://bit.ly/NPRstarttherapy
  • Open Path Collective: Listing for therapists who offer lower cost, out-of-pocket options. Can filter based on a number of criteria. https://openpathcollective.org/find-a-clinician
  • Psychology Today: Online therapist listings, searchable based on insurance, therapist identity, therapy approach. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us
  • There may be other opportunities for mental health supports through an employer’s Employee Assistance Program, or other local low-cost options.
  • Other questions? Feel free to contact Spencer@pdxjacl.org.

Reporting incidents of bias and hate: https://bit.ly/ORBiasHotline.

Survivors or witnesses of hate crimes can use the hotline to talk to trained staff, receive a referral to law enforcement, or be put in touch with a social service agency. Interpreters available in 240 languages. Can report online or over the phone (1-844-924-2427).

–Spencer Uemura

Categories
Blog Newsletter

Reflections on what it means to be an American

By Amanda Shannahan

With the Fourth of July right around the corner, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be an American. In the more recent years, I’ve felt conflicted about celebrating the 4th and I know I’m not alone. For many, the Fourth of July symbolizes some of the very ugly truths about the foundation of our country and the ongoing legacy of white supremacy in the United States.

Many Black people were still enslaved when the Declaration of Independence was signed. How can we celebrate our freedom as a nation on a day when we were not all truly free?

Who Gets to Be an American Like many other practices and policies in the United States, the Fourth of July reinforces who gets to be an ‘American’. It suggests to us who is worthy of and who is excluded from the freedoms and justices that are, supposedly, a birthright in this country. It is part of the marginalization that takes place on a daily basis in the United States that tells us who fits in and who is an ‘Other’.

I remember being a participant in an equity training several years back. The facilitator asked us to close our eyes and imagine an ‘American’. When we opened our eyes, many of us described a similar person: a white, cisgender, straight and able-bodied man. The facilitator encouraged us to explore the messages we’d received- through movies and television, representation in leadership, whose stories were told in classrooms, etc.- that had shaped how we viewed ourselves and others. The same messages that had constructed my idea of who is an ‘American’, also painted Asian Americans as ‘perpetual foreigners’, suggested the inferiority of Black and Brown people, and made invisible Native Americans.

These messages can impact our sense of self, how we relate with other people, and further cause harm by normalizing the inequities that are produced by racist and oppressive policies.

How We Resist
Messages that other and dehumanize are all around us, but we also get a say in our own narratives. We get to choose what and how we celebrate. While long overdue, Juneteenth is now a recognized federal holiday thanks to decades of organizing and advocacy by Black leaders and activists in the Juneteenth movement. Even before it was established as a federal holiday, though, people honored the day through local celebrations.

This summer, there will be more opportunities to celebrate our community and culture, like Obon and the annual Nikkei community picnic. When we build community and honor our traditions, we are claiming our space and our right to exist and to thrive. It is through these small acts of resistance that we can help create a United States in which we are all included and belong. And that, to me, is something worth celebrating.

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Newsletter

A Perspective on Resilience

By Spencer Uemura

Hello and Happy May!

The month of May has quickly become one of my favorite times of the year. It’s around now that the weather has usually started to get warmer, especially after the surprise snow that we got in mid-April.

But aside from the climate, each May brings two important celebrations: Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Heritage Month and Mental Health
Awareness Month. Through Asian American and mental health related events, it is a time when Asian Americans of various backgrounds and experiences can be seen, uplifted, and celebrated.

Since January, you may have noticed a request for feedback in our newsletters, with a link to a survey about your experiences with wellness and mental health as members of the Japanese American community. Your responses have been invaluable and I extend my continued gratitude to those who have replied. One theme that arose is the strength of our ancestors that brought them through immigration, incarceration, and/or other pressures, but also the continued need for healing spaces in our community in the present. If you’d still like to share your experiences in the survey, I would love to hear from you! Please fill out the survey linked later in this newsletter, or reach out to me to arrange a time to talk.

As a Japanese American mental health therapist, I know that there are significant barriers for us to receive care, whether from the Western mental health system or different approaches. There can be an intense feeling of stigma against seeking help or acknowledging where we feel hurt or vulnerable.

These feelings can run deep, passed down generationally from those who did what they needed to do to get by. Inspired by those who have shared their stories about mental health, struggle, and resilience in the survey, I thought it was appropriate for me to share my own. I was a young boy when I started to have nightmares about what would happen to me after I passed away. Oddly enough, what kept coming to mind was a scene in Star Wars: A New Hope in which the protagonists get caught in a trash compactor and the walls begin to close in, threatening to crush them. In my mind’s eye, the walls would close until they finally met in the middle, and all that was left was darkness.

This sense of doom led to more feelings of depression and anxiety, and I didn’t know how to talk about what I was feeling, or who I could talk to. My parents were as supportive and loving as they knew how to be – I was fortunate to have their support to access mental health therapy – but they hadn’t learned how to talk about big emotions from their parents and their surrounding community. My parents did the best they could, and because this kind of intergenerational healing is incremental, they put me in a position where I can continue this work for myself.

The isolation I felt in those days led me to the field of mental health therapy. I wanted the tools to understand myself, the ability to support others who might be feeling as alone as I did, and I wanted to be able to help my people heal. I am still prone to depression and anxiety. Even as a therapist myself, it often takes me an embarrassingly long time to acknowledge I need extra support when life gets more challenging. Our feelings of stigma are deeply ingrained. But ultimately, there are many more ways to engage and invest in our own growth than just working with a therapist. Among many things, healing could mean attending cultural events, eating Japanese foods, speaking or learning the language, or spending time with friends and family.

May we continue the healing that our ancestors began for us.


Some things for your consideration during this APIDA Heritage and Mental Health Awareness Month:

  • We carry the pain of our ancestors, as well as the resilience that brought them through incredible difficulty.
  • Who are the people, past or present, who taught you strength and resilience?
  • What is something that you can do to foster that strength and resilience in yourself?
  • Our areas of vulnerability create opportunities for supportive connection.
  • Who are the people, past or present, who taught you the value of softness and openness?
  • What is something that you can do to foster that softness and openness in yourself?

Help guide our work!

Your very own PDX JACL Advocacy Committee has a goal to address Asian American Safety and Visibility as one of its priorities for the new year. Under this topic are the important mental health needs of the Japanese American community. We know that we cannot do this work for our community without receiving feedback from the community, so we would love to hear from you!

Sample questions:

  • How have your JA family/friends engaged with topics like wellbeing and mental health?
  • What are some phrases you have heard in the JA community response to hardship? (i.e. “Shikata ga nai”, “It can’t be helped”, “It’ll be fine”)
  • What has your overall wellness and mental health been like during the COVID pandemic?
  • What are the needs that you see around you, related to mental health?

You may complete this anonymous Google Form or contact Spencer@pdxjacl.org to arrange a one-to-one conversation. Thank you in advance for your collaboration!

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Annual Event Newsletter

Remembering and Repairing

Portland JACL’s Day of Remembrance Event 2022

Board Member Message by Jenny Yamada

Portland JACL hosted Day of Remembrance 2022 in-person at Kennedy School on February 26. The focus of the event was around a screening of Jon Osaki’s documentary film Reparations, which explores the present-day struggle for redress for Black Americans and the role that solidarity between communities has in breaking down systemic racism.

After the screening, Jon joined us as a panelist along with artist, organizer and member of Nikkei Progressives, traci kato-kiriyama (tkk). Nathan Soltz, Sen. Frederick’s Chief of Staff, joined in place of the senator. Ed Washington moderated the discussion. 

Our panelists stressed the importance of studying the past, paying attention to state and city politics, and keeping pressure on our representatives. The topic of reparations has been part of JACL National’s focus for several years. As the push to pass H.R. 40 continues, it’s important to recognize what is happening locally too. 

One of my takeaways from our DOR is that I need to pay more attention to and “study, study, study!” (as tkk put it during the panel) history. Part of this is educating myself more on racialized displacement in Portland and the history of Central Albina in particular. Portland prides itself in being progressive and equitable, but it doesn’t take much studying to see the cracks in that perception. 

One of the efforts in Portland around restitution for its Black residents involves a newly released report by students from Portland State University’s Urban and Regional Planning program. The report titled Reclamation Towards the Futurity of Central Albina: Dreamworld Urbanism was written in collaboration with the Emanuel Displaced Persons Association 2 (EDPA2), a group of residents and their descendents forcibly displaced from the Albina neighborhood with the expansion of Emanuel Hospital in the 1970s. It reinforces the decades-long effort from Portland’s Black community to get restitution for these families whose homes were demolished for the expansion project that was never built. We were fortunate to have Byrd from EDPA2 join us for DOR to give an overview of the history and the findings.

The report goes through demographic data from Central Albina over decades uncovering how urban renewal projects prevented Black residents from building wealth there. It includes a detailed impact analysis of quantifiable losses of about 300 homes and businesses demolished and makes a recommendation for payment using public data.

The report also describes what it calls “incurable loss,” acknowledging that there are spiritual and cultural impacts from the displacement that are harder to quantify. As Japanese Americans, we know this type of loss is difficult to account for and easy for those responsible to disregard. It also recognizes the community-enriching spaces lost forever to demolition like a public garden and a free health clinic, which sat on land that has been an empty lot for 50 years. 

Holding up Japanese American redress as an example, the report stresses that restitution for racialized harm is feasible. It calls on the city of Portland, Prosper Portland and Legacy Emanuel to acknowledge their role and answer for what was lost. Other cities have done it and it can be done here too. It’s more than possible and long overdue. 

The report concludes, “the hard work––the critical work––is not in saying we won’t do it again, it is in looking earnestly into the eyes of those harmed, acknowledging, apologizing, and doing what it takes to make it right.”

As a local chapter, we hosted this event as a way to not only continue the conversations around reparations for Black Americans, but to bring people together in the community to make important face-to-face connections. It inspired me to recommit to learning more, listening more and showing up in support and solidarity.


Related Links

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Blog Newsletter

Sato School in Bethany

Sato Elementary School opened in September 2017. The Bethany community was asked to submit names for the new Beaverton school and the overwhelming choice was to recognize the Japanese American family who began farming in the area in 1926.

Sato School Memorial
Marleen Wallingford, Karen Sato and Ron Iwasaki at the Sato School dedication of the history of the Sato Family placed at the front of the school.

During World War II, the Sato Family was sent to Minidoka. Two sons, Shin and Roy, enlisted. Roy was wounded twice and received the Purple Heart. Shin was also a member of the Japanese American 442 Regimental Combat Team that took part in the heroic battle to save the Texas Battalion that was trapped in the treacherous Vosges Mountains. Nisei soldiers were able to overcome the German defenses. Shin posthumously received the Purple Heart as a result of that battle.

Karen Sato continues to remember her family. Her sister, Lois who passed away in 2013 was the last family member to live on the farm.

When Col. Mike Howard who lives in the area heard the story of the Sato Family, he wanted to make sure the community understood the historical significance of the heroism of Shin and the sacrifice the family suffered. He worked with the school’s principal, Annie Pleau to obtain Beaverton School District’s permission to place the plaque.

I was saddened when I first visited Sato School and there was no memorial. History is a fragile thing and I wanted the kids to know the truth … good and bad, so they can learn from it.

Col. Howard

It was a labor of love for Col. Howard. He grew up living next to the Shimotani Family in Ventura, California. This is where he first heard of the 442 and saw the film, “Go For Broke”. “I was saddened when I first visited Sato School and there was no memorial. History is a fragile thing and I wanted the kids to know the truth … good and bad, so they can learn from it.”

The bronze plaque was produced at a costof $6200. Skanska Construction donated the concrete base and backing at a value of$6200. Bethany Presbyterian Church had donated $3000 but funding still needs to be raised to cover the rest of the cost. The Portland JACL is helping with that effort.

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Newsletter

Black Lives Matter

Board Member Message
by Sachi Kaneko

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

This is a call to action. In an article for the Washington Post, Dr. Obasogie recently characterized the death of George Floyd as the spread of the “police violence pandemic.”  This combined with the effects of the novel Coronavirus are two massive problems within our country that disproportionately affect Black people.  

Black men in America are 3.5 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than their White counterparts (Obasogie, 2020).  Available data about the Coronavirus show that counties that are primarily Black have “three times the rate of infections and almost six times the rate of deaths as counties where white residents are the majority” (Thebault, Tran, and Williams, 2020).  This is the current climate of being Black in America- it is not chance or happenstance or a series of isolated incidents, it’s systemic.

Systemic racism is a pivotal piece to the founding of our country. Our economy was built on the cheap or free labor of non Whites- a system that continues to persist today. The implicit biases that were fostered by that system to enforce racial hierarchies are long standing and deep.

“The very serious function of racism… is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is….” -Toni Morrison, Writer and Speaker

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Newsletter

The Wishes of Small Children

Ft-Sill-IntCamp_Sachi Kaneko