By Cheryl Hirata-Dulas
The Twin Cities JACL co-sponsored “Challenging Islamophobia,” a full-day conference organized by the Minnesota Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) on May 10. Held at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs, more than 200 educators, activists, politicians and concerned community members came together to discuss the current state of Islamophobia, as well as develop strategies for dismantling it.
Twin Cities JACL members presented a breakout session titled, “Challenging Islamophobia Through Japanese American Incarceration History.” John Matsunaga gave a brief historical background on the Japanese American incarceration, Sally Sudo shared her experiences of being imprisoned with her family at Minidoka and Gordon Nakagawa concluded the session with a presentation on the power of storytelling in personalizing and confronting the experiences of Japanese Americans then and American Muslims now.
Conference attendee Todd Tsuchiya, whose mother and father were incarcerated at Gila River and Jerome, respectively, stated that he “previously thought it was widely accepted that the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans was not justified, as exemplified by an official apology from the U.S. government. But, it is frightening to see the parallels in today’s society, especially from the current administration, which leads me to believe that this is not the case. . . . I appreciate these efforts to educate about our community’s experiences so that history does not repeat itself.”
In front of a packed auditorium, Sudo opened the afternoon plenary session by discussing the parallels between the experiences of Japanese Americans and American Muslims. In her remarks, she also recounted recent collaborations between the Twin Cities JACL and CAIR-MN in response to Executive Orders 13769 and 13780.
At the Day of Remembrance program in St. Paul, Minn., on Feb. 19, 2017, Jaylani Hussein, executive director of CAIR-MN, and Amy Dickerson, Twin Cities JACL president, presented a joint statement of solidarity. Since then, the two organizations have worked together on several community programs in a collective effort to speak out against anti-Muslim sentiment and hate crimes in Minnesota.
At a session on “National and International Trends of Islamophobia,” Karen Tanaka Lucas learned about the existence of “tiny groups or individuals who are very highly agitated and effective and who, through organizing, are able to dominate public discourse and sway public opinion.” An example Lucas cited was the opposition to the proposed Muslim Community Center near the site of the 9/11 tragedy.
“We need equally effective, vocal and organized small groups on the opposite side to reframe this debate,” Lucas stated. “I left wondering if this is what failed to happen during the WWII mass incarceration of Japanese Americans.”