Why I’m Attending the JACL National Convention in DC This Week

I joined the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) in November 2014, after the police shooting of Aura Rosser in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her death sparked the Ann Arbor to Ferguson (AA2F) movement, joining hands with the fight for restorative justice in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the larger Black Lives Matter movement.

But what does this have to do with the JACL, or the National Convention in July? After Black Lives Matter Los Angeles was given an award at last year’s convention, the Letters to the Editor section (available only in the printer copies) of the Pacific Citizen made clear that the membership of the JACL is deeply divided as to whether there’s any connection at all. And wouldn’t it make more sense for me to simply join AA2F?

Here’s how I see it.

In 2010, a woman of color hung a noose on UC San Diego’s campus. In confessing the deed, she cited her ignorance: She had not thought through its deeply hateful, racialized connotations. That means it’s possible to be so racially isolated that, in 2010, even a woman of color can be completely unaware of the United States’ long and ever-evolving relationship with violence against black bodies.

In 2011, I organized UC San Diego’s Day of Remembrance in partnership with the Muslim Student Association, because on 9/11 Japanese America stood in solidarity with Muslim Americans en masse. Because on December 7, 1941 and February 19, 1942, no masses stood with us.

In 2013, I moved 2,300 miles to begin my graduate study of Japanese American internment and its intersections with Native land sovereignty and environmental justice. (Gila River and Poston were built on reservation land without tribal consent. Manzanar, to this day, rests on contested Paiute land.) That same academic year, I visited Japan for the first time with the JACL and the Kakehashi Project.

In 2014, Aura Rosser was shot to death.

2,300 miles from the Japanese American community I knew, I turned to the JACL. My parents aren’t members; my grandparents aren’t members. But through Kakehashi I’d learned about the work JACL was doing across its many districts, and in Japan I’d built bridges across America with my Kakehashi peers. I knew JACL was where I wanted to build more.

Now it’s 2017, and the JACL Detroit Chapter and I are collaborating with the Arab American National Museum (closely affiliated with the Japanese American National Museum) in a town hall event that seeks to open discussions about President Trump’s travel restrictions in the context of Executive Order 9066. I’ll be heading to the National Convention this year in the spirit of this coalition-building.

When people think about “Japanese American” their first association likely concerns bridge-building between Japan and the United States–the intersection of East and West. And that’s absolutely true. “West” isn’t synonymous with whiteness, however: Name me a person in this organization whose life exists in a racial binary that does not account for the huge swath of Americans who aren’t white, and aren’t Japanese. (And don’t get me started on how “Japanese” splits, mutates, variegates!)

It’s this simple: To be Japanese American is to live in inextricable connection with all of America, and to be part of the JACL is to stand up for justice for all of America, too. I’m a member of the JACL because I believe intersectional justice is Japanese America’s fight. And I’ll see you at Convention, because every time I walk into that ballroom and see how different we all are–even within the JACL–it only strengthens this belief.

The 2017 JACL National Convention will be held in Washington, DC July 6-9.


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