From February 16-19, 2017, Rolling Counterpoint took up residence at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj). Its visit was timed to coincide with San Jose's 37th Annual Day of Remembrance, commemorating the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, issued on February 19th, 1942; and JAMsj’s temporary exhibit, Sharing Stories: an Oral History Project, which paired portrait photographs of individuals who had been interned in camps with excerpts from oral histories documenting their experiences.
Teahouse visitors were invited to explore shared histories of scapegoating and social exclusion. Dialogue was encouraged between Japanese Americans and Muslim Americans as well as others from the South Bay’s diverse communities concerned with creating safe spaces and building new alliances in light of heightened attacks on immigrant communities, as well as threats of mass deportation and registries for Muslim Americans. Please see below to view documentation from this event.
These edited quotes from transcripts of conversations that took place in Taro Hattori’s teahouse in February touch on a variety of themes. They include the voices of Japanese elders and later generations of Japanese American as they reflect on a shared history of forced relocation and incarceration in camps after World War II. Iranian Americans describe their experiences of immigrating to US and the impact the Travel Ban has had on their sense of belonging and home. Other voices articulate the complex immigrant experience of displacement, community-building, and a sense of feeling in between worlds.
Will Kaku, February 2017 "There was a Japanese-American girl in my class and we were always paired together and forced to sing a Japanese song in front of everyone–when we didn’t even know Japanese! That type of singling out was true for many non-Caucasian people growing up in Santa Clara at that time. When another Japanese-American friend of mine was in the hospital all of her classmates sent her cards saying, “Get well soon!” or “I hope you feel better!” or “Hope you come back to school soon!”–except for one card from a Japanese-American boy. His card said “I hope you die!” Why? Because again, this fear that if your connected to other Asian-American people you will be singled out, separated from everybody else, and you won’t feel as if you belong."
"In the nineteen-seventies and eighties many Japanese American people did not want to speak about what had happened to them when they were moved to interment camps. They did not want to stick their necks out. There’s a Japanese proverb that says, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” It took the younger generation–the Sansei (a term used to describe grandchildren of Japanese-born immigrants) like myself, and some of the Nisei (a term used to describe children of Japanese-born immigrants) to create the redress movement (The Redress Movement refers to efforts to obtain the restitution of civil rights, an apology, and/or monetary compensation from the U.S. government during the six decades that followed the World War II mass removal and confinement of Japanese Americans). But once people started talking about their experiences–when they had never discussed these experiences before–it was a really freeing and liberating moment for many Japanese-Americans. Today, we can have an open discussion and more people are engaged in the conversation. We have a museum where we can share our experiences and not feel ashamed or afraid that there will be repercussions."
"It is really important, especially for the younger generation, to make the connections. It’s seventy-five years ago that people were put into prison camps and so one of the challenges is keeping that consciousness alive. But for people who do have that awareness and for people who have experienced that sort of discrimination, I think we need to use that hurt and pain, use that knowledge to make a pledge to ourselves and to our communities to never let it happen again. If you see your neighbors, your friends, your classmates, your colleagues, even people you don’t know being discriminated against, I believe we need to use our experiences as a jumping off point to defend those people. That’s why I’ve been active not only in terms of Japanese-American issues but also LGBTQ rights and immigrant rights. I see it as a much bigger issue. This is especially important during these uncertain times when we need to try to build bridges not walls. Someone wants to build walls, we want to build bridges of trust, respect and friendship among all our communities. I guess all these past experiences brought me to this particular point. I look at the terrible experience of internment and what my parents suffered in the past. I want to consider how we use that experience as a vehicle to make positive change. That’s why I remain optimistic. How can we mobilize, be active, and protect one another against hatred, animosity and divisiveness?"
Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik, February 2017 "I’ve been thinking about the question “are human’s evil?” […] and I’ve been considering how trauma cycles through generations, and how trauma experienced by one generation is expressed by the next generation, and the next. I think that my father’s relationship with his sister, for example, was very much related to his relationship with his father, and, who knows what happened before then. So it’s not as simple as saying people are simply bad […] I think about immigrant communities, and the experience of people who have been displaced and our collective need to find family again as a kind of survival mechanism. I am a first generation daughter of two immigrants. My mother’s Japanese-Colombian. My father is from West Bengal. Here in the Bay Area, I have friends from many different continents, and we rely on each other and need each other in a way that my kinsmen in India or Colombia don’t because they are surrounded by family. I think a lot about how that displacement plays out. […] And then the related question about building community and love–radical love and how that actually manifests in the decisions we make."
Shaghayegh Cyrous and Gordon T. Yamate, February 2017 SC: When I came to the US a lot of people were really intrigued when they found out I was Iranian. They would say things like 'What? Are you Iranian?' and 'Why do you practice Ramadan?' People said a lot of very weird things (both positive and negative). They asked me about nuclear bombs. Some people started reading Rumi poems to me, or talking about philosophy and Persian patterns. The thing that people don’t understand is that there are lots of Irans–lots of different cultures. South Iran is very different from North Iran for example. SC: Something that was very shocking point to me when I arrived to the US were all the documents where you had to list your race. I had never experienced that. I used to get confused about what to write down. […] GY: Yes, you think, do I really need to answer this? The categories seems dated. […] It could be useful if the information they are gathering helps break down misconceptions about who lives in this country. But we know that it has also been used for negative and divisive purposes - as with the census and gerrymandering. SC: I never thought I would leave Iran. It just happened. I had to leave because of the political situation because of the Green Movement in 2009 when artists were especially targeted. I didn’t see my family for five years. When I arrived, I immediately thought - “I’m going back!”’ It took me two or three years to finally feel that this is my home. […] There is something about habits and routines that also defines where you feel you belong. When I came here, I lost everything. I lost my ability to write in Farsi. I began questioning everything. TH: So you call here ‘home’ now? SC: Actually, now I don’t. Ever since the travel ban happened I started to feel like I don’t belong anywhere. I feel like I belong in an in-between space, in a window.
Please click on the images below to view them at a larger size. Photography by Tina Case and Lizzy Myers.
Please click on the images below to view them at a larger size.
Rolling Counterpoint: A Community Conversation Project by Taro Hattori