By Kenji Kuramitsu, NY/SC representative
I often open the New Year alongside trusted friends, inviting meaningful reflection on things that have passed and what is yet to come. Although it always causes me to grimace, I will often review past writings of mine to aid in this contemplation.
Last year in my column to you all, I wrote: “especially in this age of refugees, borders, mass incarcerations and migrations, we believe the Nikkei story still matters.” I continue to insist that excavating our past can help us to better understand and confront the sinister machinations of this present age.
Our histories as Nikkei have particular salience this year, one year into public life under the exceptionally corrosive Trump administration, some 240 years of time under a uniquely unpalatable national history.
I write this column with a measure of personal tenderness – I have just over half a year remaining in my term as your national youth representative. I must confess, though I have been in this position now for over two years, I feel that I have only begun to scratch the surface of my work in this role.
Rest assured: In 2018 and beyond, the National Youth/Student Council will continue to deliver substantive, quality programming, foster critical conversations and help all generations of membership envision a thoughtful, transformative future for the JACL.
I am deeply thankful for your financial, moral and vocal support of our work, particularly when we mount misunderstood or otherwise contentious campaigns, but also alongside the ordinary, faithful work that we do each and every day.
As always, I am grateful to my dear friend and partner in all things JACL — Kota Mizutani. I would point you to his column for more specific details summarizing our salient activities this year.
The ardent spirit and wisdom of Mr. Mizutani and each of our NY/SC members continues to encourage and uplift me in times when I feel quite despondent. Many of the relationships I’ve made through this work, I hope, will be lifelong, and I will certainly be available for something I wish I had received — intentional mentorship with other young people interested in national engagement.
For those working for liberative social change within the auspices of the JACL, I would encourage you to consider NY/SC membership, chapter and district leadership, running for a National Board position, proposing resolutions, creating local programming, writing for the P.C. and more.
Perhaps you will also or instead engage in the political process, participate in violent or nonviolent protest, turn to community organizing, pastoring, writing, teaching or working from within the business or professional sphere — all of these are valid options as we summon many tools, arts and disciplines to advance and protect civil and human rights for the marginalized.
Many of us live with a certain degree of advantage in a society that continues to eviscerate those who dwell on the margins of power. I don’t need to invoke the litany, yet I shall: We know that black trans women, undocumented people of color, the poor are still murdered, deported and incarcerated at unconscionable rates; we know that public leaders continue to peddle potions of amnesia and rage; that reparations for past wrongs hover just out of reach; that anti-indigeneity and carceral logic run rampant; that the earth groans, the wealthy guzzle more than their fair share and hope feels cold and distant.
I invoke these bodies and stories in a spirit of contemplation in this new year: We are inextricably connected to all other life. We are responsible to one another.
I am thinking now of the confessions many of us made back at the 2016 National Convention, when representatives from Black Lives Matter — Los Angeles led an ornate ballroom filled with hotel workers, JACL youth and elders in what is known as the Assata chant.
If you were there, perhaps your voice joined hundreds of others crawling from a whisper to a piercing shout: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Then, as now, we have nothing to lose but our chains. Let us risk big things as an organization this year. We have nothing to lose but our fears, our apathy, our subjection to participation in forces of death.
The JACL is in need of your financial, ethical and emotional support now more than ever. I know there are many worthy, radical groups that ask for your time, money and energy, including the movement for black lives. Yet, if organizing with Nikkei and working for social change with other Japanese Americans marked or influenced by our wartime saga is important to you, I plead with you to come alongside us in this work.
We must love each other and support each other — uplift young, mixed, female, queer and trans and Shin-Nikkei leadership within your chapters, districts and national representation.
I will close with the words of Assata Shakur. If you feel comfortable, I invite you to meditate on them, speak them out loud to yourself, share them on social media or read them to a friend. May they be for you a balm and a liturgy of hope as you reflect on what has passed and how to shape a more just and merciful 2018.
“Love is contraband in hell because love is an acid that eats away at bars. But you, me and tomorrow hold hands and make vows that struggle will multiply. The hacksaw has two blades. The shotgun has two barrels. We are pregnant with freedom. We are a conspiracy.”