By David Inoue, JACL Executive Director
With Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in the rear-view mirror, one of the most interesting events was a community leader’s forum sponsored by the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. JACL participated in the forum with approximately 200 individuals from both the Washington, D.C., community and others around the country.
It is no secret that many of the policy positions JACL has taken are quite contrary to those of the White House, as is the case with most of the major Asian American civil rights organizations.
This was also on display earlier this year during the JACL-OCA Leadership Summit, held in Washington, D.C. At that event, we had a spirited discussion about issues such as family immigration, the Muslim travel ban and the census question on citizenship. JACL has submitted an amicus brief on the Muslim travel ban that is especially critical of the government’s position. Again, at the APAHM event, we used the opportunity to challenge the administration on its positions of family immigration and the Muslim travel ban.
Going into both events, it was clear on both sides that there was a disagreement, but we also made it clear that we were respectful of the other for what we each also represent.
I often hear people talk about how President Donald Trump has diminished the Office of the President; however, it is still the president’s office. We cannot ignore that fact. Similarly, WHIAAPI recognizes that JACL still represents the largest number of Asian American individuals in a member organization; that is a powerful position to have as well.
It is within this context that we move toward the 2018 JACL National Convention in Philadelphia next month. It is a delicate balance we find ourselves in today resisting many of the policies of the current administration, but also seeking reconciliation where possible to ensure that we maintain a respectful relationship to continue a dialogue so that we will be heard.
Within JACL, there is even a tension of whether we are a civil rights organization or a social organization. As I talk to membership, there is sometimes a divide over the fun social activities such as picnics, mochitsuki and potlucks, versus can’t we just tell people to get on board with the civil rights agenda or get out?
Ultimately, JACL is a civil rights organization. It is our fundamental role to use the experience of incarceration to educate others how we cannot, as a nation, afford to make that same mistake again. That is what makes us different from any other national member-based organization and will continue to be what gives us the moral authority to speak out on issues of injustice.
However, the social activities are also vitally important in this process. In fact, I see the loss of social interaction to be at the root of much of the dysfunction we now see in our national politics. It’s a lot harder to demonize the other side when your kids play on the same T-ball team. As the parent of two elementary-aged children, I don’t go into their school or sports practices wondering if the other parent is aligned with me politically. JACL chapters can be one of the community organizations at the local level that provides the fundamental social interactions that break down the barriers of politics, gender or race.
Thirty years ago, redress was possible in significant part because of the shared experience of many members of Congress having served together in the military. They had their deep divisions, but they also had certain shared experiences that helped to overcome their differences, or at least see the good in the other side’s positions.
JACL, both nationally and locally through our nearly 100 chapters, must continue the tradition of bringing communities together to find a balance between resistance and reconciliation, but above all, mutual respect.
We must have the space for respectful disagreement within our membership. That does not mean we will stray from our fight for social justice and civil rights, but we can maintain that others may see what that means in policy differently, and allow them to feel comfortable to express those differences.
I hope you will join us in Philadelphia July 18-22 as we celebrate our shared community.