A weekly magazine-style radio show featuring the voices and stories of Asians and Pacific Islanders from all corners of our community. The show is produced by a collective of media makers, deejays, and activists
Tonight on APEX Express it is A Time for Remembering. We are remembering what it is like to grow up in San Francisco and be connected to this land that is not ours. We are remembering the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese Latin Americans. We Are talking with artists and lawyers and policy makers. People who help us shape our vision of what it means to be American. Host Miko Lee talks with artists Celi Tamayo-Lee and Na Omi Judy Shintani and Lawyer Don Tamaki. Join us.
Muni Raised Me February 24–April 9, 2023 Opening Reception, SOMArts Cultural Center
The Art of Resilience: Tanforan Exhibit Tours, Panel Discussion & Memorial Walk through February 25, 2023 1-4PM PST San Bruno BART Station & AZ Gallery, San Bruno, CA & Online ongoing exhibit on the exterior plaza and inside the San Bruno BART Station.
Day of Remembrance San Francisco, February 19, 2023, 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM PST
Additional information about the Cal Reparations Task Force
It convened in June of 2021, and on June 1, 2022, fulfilled its first charge of publishing a sweeping, nearly 500 page report drawing a through line from the harm of 246 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow and racial terror, and decades more of continuing discrimination. Here is link to the 29 page Executive Summary, https://oag.ca.gov/system/files/media/ab3121-interim-report-executive-summary-2022.pdf
Show Transcripts: A Time for Remembering
[00:00:35] Miko Lee: Tonight on apex express. It is a time for remembering. We are remembering what it is like to grow up in San Francisco and be connected to this land that is not ours. We are remembering the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese Latin Americans. We are talking with artists and lawyers, policymakers, people who help us shape our vision of what it means to be American.
Hi, I’m your host, Miko Lee. And tonight on apex express I speak with artists Celi Tamayo-Lee and Na Omi Judy Shintani and lawyer Don Tamaki join us aboard apex express Welcome to Apex Express, Celi Tamayo-Lee .
[00:01:19] Celi Tamayo-Lee: Thank you for having me, Miko.
[00:01:21] Miko Lee: We’re so happy to have you as an artist, as a community organizer. So my first question for you is, who are your people and what legacy do you carry with you?
[00:01:32] Celi Tamayo-Lee: My people are creatives. people who like to eat a lot. My lineage comes from ELOs Norte in the Philippines, in the province of La Wag and also from Toisan in village, Sega, which is, in the Guandong province in China. My people love to dance. My people are nature lovers, ocean lovers, and those who wanna figure out what it fights to get to liberation. I carry with me legacies. Of deep hope and deep faith and legacies of adventuring. I think a lot about both my grandmothers, my Popo June and my Lola Anisha, who were just both very. Revolutionary in my mind, for their times. My grandmother from the Philippines coming here, from her small village, having I think just a high school degree and making a life for herself and her family in San Francisco.
My other grandmother, June, who was a housewife in Palo Alto, who I think otherwise would have become a doctor, had higher education been m ore accessible for, women in her time. I think both of them were just really loving women , who hosted a lot of open space for their communities through their food, through gatherings and parties and also being a safe place for many of our relatives in the United.
[00:03:09] Miko Lee: Thank you for that. I often think about my Popo who had all this power and imagination and what it would be like if she was living today. Do you feel like you carry an additional, , responsibility to fulfill some of their dreams since they could not during their time.
[00:03:28] Celi Tamayo-Lee: Yeah. I think about that a lot. I think in the moments where I’m like, wow, I have just sat at a table all day on my computer. Is this what my ancestors dreamt for me? But I think especially as I have been exploring more of my gender identity. I think I identify as a non-binary person and I think that might be something that they couldn’t quite, imagine in, in the language and the terms that they knew.
But I think that like real freedom to express one’s within their body and how they express themselves outwardly is definitely something I think they dreamt for me and. I also feel a responsibility to be a part of movement work and be a part of continuing to build community because that is something that I’ve benefited so much from them.
[00:04:22] Miko Lee: Talk a little bit more about your community organizing and how you combine that with your artistry and your imagination.
[00:04:28] Celi Tamayo-Lee: It’s definitely been a journey for myself to identify as an artist and I think, mostly cuz there’s so many messages about the ways in which art will never be a career path because of how dicey it is in terms of making money, in many ways, ironically, shout out my parents, who were both very creative people and also, people who have fought for social justice for most of their lives.
my dad is a civil rights attorney and was a community organizer as a young person, but also, A musician and has always played in bands as a fun side gig. when he was my age, he was in a band called Stand that would perform all over the Bay Area. And my mom herself is also a cook and just a very creative person made all my Halloween costumes growing up and as an avid gardener.
Having parents like that gave me just permission to continue to grow myself in a creative way. And I do think throughout so much of history movements have really succeeded because of their artistic aspects. Even within our Asian American history, there are so many important graphic designers and artists who made protest posters.
Made movement graphics that really called into being like the spirit , of what people were fighting for. , I think about all of the songs that were sung throughout the Civil Rights movement and, I think culture just has a really powerful way of opening people’s minds up to things that may feel out. reach when they’re thinking in a more rational way. I just think that any movement that we need, is gonna depend on the way in which culture has been influenced through art.
[00:06:25] Miko Lee: And speaking of that, you’ve been in the studio at Soma all day today, setting up a new exhibit called Muni Raised Me. Can you tell us about your latest project?
[00:06:35] Celi Tamayo-Lee: This project called Muni Raised Me is a exhibit that will be in Soma Arts for six weeks, and it is a part of their curatorial residency programs. So myself and two of my really good friends, Sasha Vu and Mei Mei Lee, we saw the flyer on Instagram that they were calling for proposals and, , applied with this idea of a show called Muni Raised Me.
really what It is, is, a love letter, a gathering, a dance party of so many of our friends, our talented friends who are. Visual artists, painters, collage artists, fashion designers, photographers it’s really a space that we actually wanted to create for a long time, but never really found the platform to do it. And so much of it is trying to. ,I think juxtapose like the beauty and the roots that we come from having grown up in San Francisco while also naming just the struggle it has been to persist and live here. ,most of us artists were born in the early nineties and have just come of age in this tech era within San Francisco.
2011 was when Mayor Ed Lee invited tech companies like Twitter and Google and LinkedIn in with these major tax breaks. From 2009 to 2013, every time that I visited home, There were just more and more beloved businesses that had been replaced by condos and replaced by fancy coffee shops selling $6 lattes. For myself and for many of my friends it’s been a painful and lonely experience to try and maintain a life here and to, make rent, to feel creative, to still work in public service. So many of the artists in our show are organizers themselves, or are teachers and educators in public schools or in afterschool programs. And so to try and live all those different multiple dreams and identities is really a struggle in San Francisco.
[00:08:53] Miko Lee: So when somebody walks into Soma Arts, what will they see with Muni raised me.
[00:08:58] Celi Tamayo-Lee: Ooh. I will say one of the first things they will see is a Muni bus that we were actually gifted from SFMTA. It just so happened that they were retiring a number of their buses and we got connected to the right person. , shout out Nicole Christian who knew somebody and. We have transformed that bus into an altar. You can walk through the bus, and throughout the bus there will be altars, but there will be definitely a focal point at the very back of the bus for people to view, but also for people to interact with. I think that so much of living in the city and having grown up in the city is an experience of grief and we really wanted to make space in the show for people to bring in ancestors and bring in family members who have been lost, , or, even family members who have been pushed out of the Bay Area.
we also wanna commemorate lives lost to police violence. yeah, We hope that altar can be, a realm in which the spirit is felt beyond just , the material setting of a gallery. There’s also gonna be a lot of amazing collage work from Erin Kimora. We have a beautiful installation from Arena Alejo, along with, Alyssa Avilas, who is a painter and multidisciplinary artist. People will just see a lot of kind of iconography from the nineties. We have a couple of painted Muni passes and a lot of, yeah, just different gestures and shout outs to this public transportation system that I know for myself, I spent hours and hours of my life on. It was a little bit of a pocket of freedom, like with my parents not necessarily knowing where I was. It wasn’t home, it wasn’t school. It was a place where I got to just enjoy and see my city.
[00:11:02] Miko Lee: And What would you like folks to feel after they leave the show?
[00:11:06] Celi Tamayo-Lee: I hope that they leave feeling reminded that San Francisco is them and that any kind of beauty or spark or funkiness or weirdness that they feel themselves missing from San Francisco actually can come back through their own creativity, through their own hello to a neighbor through their own small act of kindness.
You know, I think there are deeper relationships also made through this show. I hope that there’s a feeling of oh, my people are still here. I am connected to a sense of justice and community that maybe doesn’t always feel present in the everyday, but is actually there. I hope that it. Reignites some sense of connectedness to other people who call this place home.
[00:11:59] Miko Lee: I wonder if you could just speak a little bit about how art helps us remember the past so that we can learn and move forward in the future.
[00:12:08] Celi Tamayo-Lee: Yeah, I think art is really critical to remembering our history. It’s definitely one thing to read something in a book and another thing to experience it through imagery and sound and color. it was important to us in this exhibit to in our alter space, include really important historical figures of San Francisco. So we’re including people like Victoria Manalo Draves who was a Filipina American olympic swimmer, she was one of the first women swimmers to win in her divisions of diving.
We also have people like Mary Ellen Pleasant, who was an African-American woman, one of the first African-American millionaires in the country, who is also dubbed as the Harriet Tubman of the West. She helped hundreds of African-American people, basically find and make lives here in San Francisco. And, She challenged the government when they told her that she couldn’t ride actually on a certain part of the public transportation, and it went to the California Supreme Court and she won and that is what stopped discrimination on the trolley routes in San Francisco. Art reaches people who would not normally seek out that history. I think it just gives people a much deeper sense of their own legacies or legacies that they may not even know that they’re connected to.
[00:13:51] Miko Lee: Celi Tamayo-Lee, thank you so much for joining us on Apex Express.
[00:13:56] Celi Tamayo-Lee: Thank you for having me. Miko. For anyone who’s looking for more information, you can follow us on Instagram@MuniRaisedMe and also find us [email protected]/Muniraisedme.
[00:14:10] Miko Lee: That was Sealy to Mio Lee talking about muni raised me. Now take a listen to pistol jazz by Hi no Tori. A taiko solo.
[00:17:41] Miko Lee: Welcome back. You are tuned into apex express, a 94.1 KPFA and 89.3 KPF. Be in Berkeley and [email protected]. That was a Taiko solo. Hi no Tori by pistol jazz.
Welcome artist and narrator of culture, NaOmi Judy Shintani to Apex Express.
[00:18:03] NaOmi Judy Shintani: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to talk with you.
[00:18:06] Miko Lee: We’re excited to talk with you too, and I wanna kick it off by first asking you, who are your people and what legacy do you carry with you?
[00:18:16] NaOmi Judy Shintani: Well, I do quite a bit of my artwork about, the Japanese American history and so those are some of my people, I would say. But I also want my work to be visible to all kinds of people. So I’d say everyone’s my people. The legacy I carry, part of that has to do with the incarceration, that is part of the history of my family. That is something that I carry with me. I think that there is intergenerational trauma. There’s lessons you learn in legacy from your family and your culture.
[00:18:54] Miko Lee: So we are coming along to the Day of Remembrance, which is a day that recognizes the Japanese-American incarceration. Can you tell about your family’s personal connection with the incarceration.
[00:19:07] NaOmi Judy Shintani: My father’s family was up in Washington State in the Puget Sound area, and they lived on a houseboat and were oyster farmers. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, they immediately came and got my grandfather, who was a leader in the community. They were a concerned or worried that he might be a spy or might have information. And so He was taken away and my grandmother and my father’s and his sibling didn’t really know what had happened to him. A few days later they came for my grandmother and my father and his siblings. They eventually ended up at Tule Lake incarceration camp. Then my grandfather was allowed to be with the family there. On my mother’s side, she was actually in Hawaii and the family was not incarcerated per se, though there’s a lot of limitations and curfews that they had to live with. Her father was also a leader in the community and he was taken away for a year. And I think At that time my mother didn’t really, probably up until the time of her death did not believe that they were incarcerated in Hawaii. But of course, we’ve learned later that there were incarceration camps in Hawaii and that my grandfather actually was incarcerated.
[00:20:36] Miko Lee: Yeah, so many of these stories are hidden. Finally the one incarceration camp in Oahu is just getting turned into a, a national park soon. So More people will know about that history. That’s one of the many hidden histories about the internment camps in Hawaii.
[00:20:52] NaOmi Judy Shintani: Exactly. One of my goals is to explore the incarceration history in Hawaii. I’ve mostly been focused on my father’s family cuz there’s been more information.
So I’m very interested in learning more about the legacy of trauma in Hawaii.
[00:21:10] Miko Lee: You’re an amazing artist, have created so many important pieces, and can you talk more about how you combine your sense of family history, your activism with your artistry?
[00:21:22] NaOmi Judy Shintani: I think originally I started wanting to learn more about what happened to my family and also to come to grips with it for my own self. That’s when I really started exploring trying to learn more, trying to Get my father to talk more about his experience and that is what really spurred me to start making art. At one point when we went to the Tule Lake pilgrimage together, he was asked how often do you think about the incarceration? It was a general question out to the elders that were at Tule Lake and they had to raise their hand and so they said every 10 years, every five years, every. Three years and they kept going and my father still had his hand raised for every day. And at that point I thought, this is something that is deep in our family, a deep trauma that’s not been talked about a whole lot, and it has affected me and many families.
That’s when I really decided, Spend more time exploring that and exploring also meant doing research. It meant talking to other people. It meant gathering information. I did a lot of outreach to hear other people’s stories written or oral. I also did surveys for descendants of people that were incarcerated cuz I hadn’t heard that much from them. All of these thoughts and stories became part of my art and I think of my art as a way of educating people as well as honoring them honoring the people that were incarcerated and as a healing.
[00:23:16] Miko Lee: In the byline next to your name, it says that you are a “narrator of culture, the unspoken compels me to create.” Can you share a little bit more about what that means to you?
[00:23:27] NaOmi Judy Shintani: Well, I was thinking about what is it that I’m actually doing in my work and I was working with someone to come up with some sort of naming of myself, and I finally came up with the idea that I tell other people’s stories, I tell stories of culture so that’s why I became a narrator of culture. The unspoken compels me to create, that’s because I am very Adamant about bringing these stories out to the public. I think that is through the personal stories about what people experienced. That is how we really know the history. A lot of this kind of history, these personal stories are not in history books in high school or middle school. It’s about, Individuals and families. It’s not just about, 120,000 people. I mean, that’s a big number, but to hear the actual stories of parents and children and grandparents I think that puts a whole different light on it.
[00:24:36] Miko Lee: Can you talk a little bit about your piece that’s at the San Bruno BART station.
[00:24:41] NaOmi Judy Shintani: I was hired by bay Area Rapid Transit Bart to create a art exhibit or historical exhibit about the Tanforan detention center that was on the land of where the BART station and the mall is now and was originally a racetrack. I came in as a curator, so I thought about what is important for people to know about Tanforan and how am I going to express that through writing and through art and through historical photographs. I actually thought that there’s a lot of discrimination and hardships that Japanese immigrants, the Issei experience before. Pearl Harbor was bombed that I think had an influence on how the Japanese people were treated during that war time. So I really started talking about the history way earlier. About coming over, not being able to become citizens, not being able to own land and yet persevering and becoming successful. So that all rolled into the incarceration. There was a lot of discrimination because, the successfulness of the Japanese even though they had so many hardships.
That was just an example of what things I thought were important for people to know about the incarceration, the history of Tanforan. I also spent a lot of time Expressing and telling the history of the artists that were at Tanforan art was a very important part of the incarceration. So I talked about people that were incarcerated, artists that were incarcerated, the art school they had there, and showed some of the art that was created there. and then I also included Art of Descendants. To express, you know, what’s happened? How are people expressing the incarceration in art now.
[00:26:48] Miko Lee: I love that you curated this kind of trauma informed practice that has been lasted for generations. Can you talk more about the art school that was at the Tanforan concentration camp? I hadn’t heard that story before.
[00:27:02] NaOmi Judy Shintani: Obata, who was a professor at uc, Berkeley was incarcerated. And so When he got there, he thought we have to have something that will give people some hope or some something to do while they’re in prison. He had an art school that was for children as well as for adults. to Teach and encourage people to use their creativity to survive this difficult time. They had hundreds of students and a lot of different subjects as well as drawing and painting.
[00:27:36] Miko Lee: So anybody can go and see this public exhibit that opened in September, right?
[00:27:42] NaOmi Judy Shintani: Yes. If you want to go see it, you can of course you can ride on Bart and get off at the San Bruno BART station is, it’s right on the main street level floor. If you’re going by car, if you come to the Bart parking lot or the Tanforan Shopping Center, you can let the station agent know that you’re there to see the exhibit. Then you’ll be able to come in without having to buy a ticket. They’re also encouraging classrooms and groups to come in. So you have a large group. You can call or email Bart and they will arrange that. There’s also a memorial which is outside of the BART station, and that was put together by a group of Japanese Americans, some of which had connections with the incarceration there at Tanforan. They just opened a beautiful outdoor memorial, which has a statue of two of the young mochita girls that were in incarcerated photographed by Dorthea Lang. And also they have the names of the people that were . Incarcerated engraved, and they have a horse stable structure that can give you the size and the space that you would’ve been in if you were incarcerated there. BART and AAWAA, which is the Asian American Women’s Arts Association are putting on a curatorial tour, as well as a memorial walkthrough and a multicultural artist panel on February 25th. People that wanna get more information can come have a special experience on that day.
[00:29:26] Miko Lee: You’re tuned into APEX express., a 94.1 K PFA and 89.3 KPFB in Berkeley and [email protected].
Can you talk to me about your project that you’re working on right now?
[00:29:40] NaOmi Judy Shintani: Dream Refuge for Children imprisoned was originally introduced at the Triton Art Museum in Santa Clara. And it has since been traveling. It not only is about the Japanese incarceration, but I’ve also included children that were incarcerated in the United States, including native American children in boarding school situations that were removed from their communities and also the Central American refugee children which are the most recent group that has been incarcerated and a t the beginning were removed from their parents, and I just thought that was traumatic and horrible. It’s reminded me so much of what our families went through in the incarceration of the Japanese Americans.
[00:30:34] Miko Lee: Can you describe for listeners what this work looks like?
[00:30:39] NaOmi Judy Shintani: I did life size drawings of children on mattresses are put onto cots. I also sewed talismans on each of the children. That represents a form of protection, a symbol of protection for the different children. So the Japanese Americans had little embroidery symbols as in Japan they would sew them on the back of children’s kimonos to watch their back. I carried on that tradition of adding those kinds of symbols in red thread. For the native American children, I made little belt pouches of cedar and sage herbs that were given to me by a elder who knew I was working on this project. And so I sewed those into little red pouches that had the symbol of the four directions. For the Central American children I sewed purple crosses cuz they would often be carrying these crosses, with them when they came across the border.
So those are all arranged in a circle. I just felt that the circle was such a healing shape and I wanted people to come into the space and see these sleeping children in this safe space and to relate to their experiences. And I had recordings of stories that were told by elders now about their experience when they were children. I had a woman that was in Native American boarding schools that told her stories and then also collected the stories. Belinda Arianga, a woman in Half Moon Bay that went to the border, and she told me the stories of those children. These voices were all recorded so that you can hear their stories in the room.
[00:32:33] Miko Lee: So why for you as an artist, did you want to have both something that you could look at and then also listen to what was the impact of having those dual experiences for audience? What’s your intention behind that?
[00:32:46] NaOmi Judy Shintani: I really wanted people to experience the incarceration with different modalities. So I felt that by them seeing the children sleeping, they had one experience also walking in a circle. That was another experience. So they, there was a movement involved. To hear the stories I think gave another level and also to hear elders telling the stories that they remembered when they were children, along with hearing children speaking in Spanish and in English. And to have different ages and different genders. Telling the stories that they experienced. I think that just gave a whole nother. Way of the history entering the viewers.
[00:33:32] Miko Lee: To me, there’s also something quite powerful about the fact that they’re sleeping children , because there’s this whole innocence and kind of beauty that comes within that sleeping space, and yet they’re held in detention. So it’s this very intense juxtaposition.
[00:33:51] NaOmi Judy Shintani: Yes. That was something that I really thought about and wanted to express that sort of vulnerability, but yet when they’re sleeping, they have this time to dream of being in a different place or being in their own space. That was one of the things I really wanted people to come away with. The other thing I didn’t talk about is that the Central American children I placed on the floor and they’re sleeping among the Mylar blankets as well as textiles from Central America. And that really came to me when I spoke to a woman who was from Honduras who been released from those detention centers and she said whatever you do, don’t put our children on beds, because they had to sleep on the cement floor. So I really took that to heart and wanted to show them in their correct plight of being imprisoned in such horrible conditions and the circle of the children around them. From the earlier generations of incarceration, I felt they were almost like guardians for the Central American children.
[00:35:06] Miko Lee: And you went down to Crystal City to be part of the pilgrimage and protest, is that right?
[00:35:12] NaOmi Judy Shintani: Yes. I was invited by Satsuki. Ina I wanted to talk to her about her story and about her experience. She said why don’t you come along? We are going to go to Crystal City. It was the first time they were going. We’re also gonna do a protest at the detention center. You can talk to a lot of people there. You can see what’s happening I did talk to some families and children at the bus station that had been released when we were giving them some food and backpacks and things like that, and that was really moving and I think that actually that experience of going on that trip that sort of cemented the dream refuge for me.
[00:35:56] Miko Lee: You mentioned your dad and how he kept his hand raised the whole time that he thought about the incarceration every day. Has he had the opportunity to see your work?.
[00:36:05] NaOmi Judy Shintani: Yes, he has seen my work. He was very proud of it. He would often go to my art exhibits and be photographed with my work and Attend shows and I was always very happy to have him there and I think it was emotional for him. He didn’t necessarily speak a lot, but he was present and I think it meant a lot to him that I was making work about his experience.
[00:36:33] Miko Lee: Since we’re coming up upon the day of Remembrance, how does art impact remembering and specifically about remembering about the Japanese incarceration?
[00:36:44] NaOmi Judy Shintani: Well, I think it impacts it in a lot of ways. One way is that there were not a lot of cameras allowed into camp. A lot of the art that was created in camps are the only documentation, true documentation by the prisoners of what it was. To be there and how they were feeling and how they were experiencing camp. Mine Okubo’s work, who I use in the Tanforan exhibition is really important because her drawings were almost the only thing I could find that showed just the. Experience of being in a horse stable, the experience of having to go to public bathrooms where people had no privacy. I mean, Those kinds of things weren’t photographed by Dorothea Lang or any of the other photographers that were sent by the W R A because they were not trying to show the traumatic side of the incarceration. The fact that these artists were able to document and express themselves, that, that is, historically important and also important as a way of people understanding the emotional impact of what was going on in the camps. There’s just something about a painting or a sculpture or drawing that shows such a deeper level of history it doesn’t even have to be history, just the colors or the brush strokes. These are all things that you can’t read about in a history book. You can’t experience it in the same way. I also feel that with the descendants creating art for example, the Sansei Granddaughters is a collective I’m part of. We’ve all expressed our family’s experience. in different ways some people are sewing, Rako Fuji, she uses glass to create kimonos with photographs. There’s just different ways, that people use whatever media they think is right to express their history.
[00:38:53] Miko Lee: Na Omi Shintani thank you so much for speaking with me. We’re looking forward to seeing more of your artwork and your voice in the world.
[00:39:01] NaOmi Judy Shintani: I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about the art and how important it is for our history in our education of this traumatic experience. I wanted to also make sure that people come to the carrying the light for Justice Bay area Day of Remembrance. Sunday, February 19th from two to four Pacific Standard Time, it’s going to be at the Christ United Presbyterian Church on Sutter Street in San Francisco. In person or online. The keynote speakers can be Don Tamaki. There’s gonna be spoken word performance by Lauren Ito the MCs Ryan Yamamoto, the anchor for C B s News Bay Area. And there’ll be a candle candle lighting ceremony. It’s always a very moving experience. It’s a time for remembering and honoring those who’ve been incarcerated. It’s a time of community and I hope people will attend.
[00:40:05] Miko Lee: Welcome Don Tamaki, amazing esteemed lawyer and activist. Welcome to Apex Express.
[00:40:11] Don Tamaki: Thank you.
[00:40:11] Miko Lee: So first I wanna just start with the big question. Who are your people and what legacy do you carry with?
[00:40:18] Don Tamaki: I’m part of the Japanese American community, I’m most known for serving on the legal team, which reopened Korematsu versus the United States. The 1944 US Supreme Court decision, widely regarded as one of the worst decisions in US Supreme Court history, our legal team reopened it some 37 years later. Newly discovered secret, intelligence reports and Justice Department memos admitting. There was no reason to lock up Japanese Americans. They were not a dangerous population. They were not engaging in espionage or sabotage , and arguments and memos between Justice Department lawyers about their legal duty and the fact that they were about to tell lies to the US Supreme Court in order to manipulate the outcome of that decision. That decision ended up in 1944 upholding the constitutionality of uprooting some 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry, including my parents and their extended families into 10 concentration camps, stretching from California to Arkansas.
[00:41:26] Miko Lee: Wow. You’ve just given us a whole history lesson. Thank you so much. And you have been a part of so many critical moments in the Asian American Pacific Islander movement. You described part of that in the overturning of the Fred Korematsu 40 year conviction, but you’re also the founder of Asian Law Alliance. And were the ED at Asian Law Caucus and you’re the co-founder of Stop Repeating History all of your work is just so powerful and important. I wonder with the rise and attention on anti-Asian hate right now, where do you see the Asian-American movement going forward?
[00:42:02] Don Tamaki: Well, I’m glad that all light is being shined on they hate incidents against Asian Americans. It has been happening for some time, but it’s never really has gotten national attention let alone regional and local attention as it is now. So I think it’s on balance. It’s a good thing. On the other hand, I think we as Asian Americans knowing our history need to understand where the hate comes from in the first place. And by that I mean what is the cultural strain, the historical tradition, the norm of policies and laws that led to prejudice being so systemic in the first place.
If you connect the dots, I think it does go back to 1619 in the very beginnings of enslavement in America, which laid the foundations propped up the institution of slavery for 246 years. 90 years of Jim Crow to follow, and decades more of exclusion and discrimination targeted first at black people. But while those policies and laws put a target on the backs of African-Americans it also Ended up targeting on occasion Asian Americans, Latinos other disfavored groups. And so this bias has really recycled over and over through our entire history. And from time to time resurfaces to impact us as Asian Americans. The Trump administration’s a pretty good example where even though we have our model minority status Asian Americans became the spreaders of the Chinese virus. Mexicans were labeled as drug dealers and rapists. White supremacists declared that Jews and immigrants were poised to replace them.
And the continuation of black people being killed at the hands of law enforcement, and it barely would ev evoke any reaction at all because it was deemed so normal until the May 25th, 2020 murder of George Floyd, which was captured on videotape. So this kind of thing where, you know, of course the Japanese Americans ended up in concentration camps. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first ban against a country. But it gets recycled in different forms, whether it’s the 2017 Muslim ban that Trump put out or other things that ultimately in fact, the thinking I think, of the entire country including our own communities. While I’m very hardened that we’re focusing on the hate incidents against Asian Americans, I think that’s been a ignored area. I’m concerned about each group sticking up for its own tribe only and not connecting the dots I did to identify where this pathology comes from in the first.
So speaking of cross solidarity work, I know your work led to the groundwork reparations for incarcerated Japanese Americans during World War ii, and last year you were appointed by Governor Newsom to a reparations task force for African Americans. Can you tell where that reparations committee is at right now?
Following the murder of George Floyd triggering the largest protests in American. By September of the same year, 2020 the legislature had passed secretary Shirley will Webber’s bill creating a task force to study reparations proposals for African Americans and make recommendations to the legislature. I’m one of nine members appointed by the governor in the legislature, and we have three charges. One is to document the harm of the legacy of slavery, covering two and a half centuries and another century of Jim Crow in decades, more of exclusion and discrimination, and connect those dots.
To the current outcomes today, and we’ve done that in a very sweeping, scholarly, comprehensive report. It’s been called the Interim report because it’s not the final ones coming out this June. The second goal is to study reparations proposals and make recommendations to the legislature. The final report, which is due 2023 in just a few months. The third requirement is to educate the public about what’s happened. Because as this is really, the subject is so buried and erased. The product of a willful amnesia call it. The fact that we’re. The American public, the New York Times, Washington Post is just now publishing articles on Tulsa and Greenwood in which 300 African Americans were murdered in what was called a race riot, even though that happened over 100 years ago. People are just learning about that now. And what the I interim report that we issued last June reveals is that this is not an isolated incident. That the history is littered with Greenwood. Part about educating the public, creating curriculum to provide information to students and so on. That’s really our charge going forward. And in June of 2023, we’ll be issuing our final report.
I know that both Tsuru for solidarity and the Japanese American Citizen League worked last year to get reparations for African Americans in the Chicago area utilizing marijuana tax. I’m wondering if there’s other reparations models that have been happening in the US.
There’s discussion for the first time. The reparation idea is as old as the Civil War when 40 acres in a mule was promised with a period of 12 years of reconstruction that happened only to have all of that rescinded. Thereafter, and again, I think because of at least it was triggered, I think by the Floyd murder local municipalities and counties, about maybe two dozen or TA have taken this up in California so far as the only state and each of those areas are coming up with different kinds of proposals.
I have to say that this is largely because of the unwillingness of Congress even to study reparations, let alone do anything about it. And so local jurisdictions have taken up the lead on this. As far as the state task force on reparations is concerned, I think all of the forms are on the table. None have been decided on yet or voted on. That will come in the run up to June of 2023.
[00:48:54] Miko Lee: I believe you’re the only non-African-American member of that commission. Is that right?
[00:48:58] Don Tamaki: That is right.
[00:49:00] Miko Lee: So how can the Japanese-American reparations and apology be utilized as a model for reparations for African-American and indigenous folks?
[00:49:09] Don Tamaki: They’re big differences, of course between the Japanese American experience and. The experience of black people in America. First off, as the listeners know, there’s simply no equivalence between four to five years in the concentration camp, losing all of your property and your businesses. Some folks even lost their lives as compared to 400 years of two and a half centuries of enslavement followed by Jim Crow and. Legalized and customarily enforced segregation, the results of which we’re seeing e every day in our communities. But there are some things that are useful.
The Japanese American redress and reparations movement is maybe one of the very few examples where the government acknowledged a great, wrong, apologized for. and put meaningful compensation behind that to create a meaningful atonement and how we got there. Some of the, there are some lessons that are maybe of some use. I think the other thing in my role as the only non-black person on the task force is to demonstrate. We can and should, and we’re obligated to be allies in this effort. And although Japanese Americans don’t have the history of black Americans in America we do know something about racial profiling.
We know something about being removed and vilified and organizing to get back our dignity and some measure of atonement and. that lesson is really an American story of the meaning of the Constitution and what it means to be an American. When democracy and institutions are being challenged and in our case failed.
I think with respect to other groups, whether they’re. Native people or Latinos or L G B T Q, populations, disabled and so on. We all ought to be taking a look at reparations because it shines a light on so much of where the sense of separation and inequality comes from in the first place.
[00:51:17] Miko Lee: Can you talk to us about the Day of Remembrance? I know you’re gonna be the keynote speaker this year. Can you talk about the importance of the day? of remembrance?
[00:51:25] Don Tamaki: Well, It’s certainly important from a personal standpoint for our own community. It’s time to reflect on our families who were taken away and incarcerated for no good reason but for the country, it’s important to memorialize, and we do this annually about the perils to democracy. When racism shouts louder than the Constitution and our community endured a time where, The facts didn’t matter. The law didn’t matter and the constitution didn’t matter. And why is that important?
Because we’re seeing that play out in real time today. The January 6th Capitol insurrection the Capitol was defied, five people died. 25,000 troops were deployed to protect the peaceful transfer of power. and millions today believe the election was stolen despite the utter lack of any evidence of fraud that would’ve made any difference in the outcome. This kind of collapse is something our own community experienced. literally the three branches of government failed. The presidency, legislative branch, Congress, and in our case, the courts they all bowed to the will of a racist notion knowing, and the government knew it at the time that that was.
A, a completely false premise and yet no one had the courage to stand up, at least within the Department of Justice and within the courts. It was so normal that it was allowed to happen. We’re seeing this playbook play out. It’s not peculiar to the United States. This demagoguery is something that’s happening worldwide and the elements are the same, which is, number one, appeal to prejudice.
Number two, engage in fear mount mongering and scapegoating and three traffic in conspiracy theories and fake news. There’s certainly a parallel there And that also led to the formation of stop repeating history. To be an alert, to be a point of reflection that we’ve seen this before and unless we become active and intervene, it’s gonna happen over and over again. So that’s certainly. A big reason why the day of remember it is such an important annual event.
[00:53:41] Miko Lee: How does it feel to be the keynote speaker this year?
[00:53:44] Don Tamaki: Well, I’ve gotten more than my share of recognition. There are many other people that have done really important work, but it gives me a platform at least to talk about the importance of reparations for African Americans and why it is not just a black issue, but an issue of long overdue justice. And that by shining a light on the origins of systems of exclusion, discrimination, that it helps all of us. It gives me an opportunity to connect some of the dots between our community struggle and that which been a constant for black people in America.
[00:54:20] Miko Lee: We’re gonna put a link to stop repeating history onto the show notes so people can take a deeper dive into some of your work. Don, you make change happen through policy and laws, and we’re also talking with artists in this episode. How do you think art can help shape and change social issues?
[00:54:38] Don Tamaki: As a lawyer, I used to think that laws and cases and legal action are the most important thing. And don’t get me wrong it’s, important. We reopened this ancient case of Korematsu versus United States, and we made a legal point as well as a public policy point. But I think the driving force For both good and bad in America, which is an amalgamation of both is culture and what I mean to say that is to say, if the culture says you will be locked up, the laws don’t matter. The constitution doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. You will be locked up because the culture is saying that is the norm. and I think we’re again seeing this over and over again. And so how is culture created these belief systems? A lot of it has to do with artists authors those who create. that reflect and help shape the public’s values. I think Artists and writers and others play a huge role in determining or helping to determine the values of a society. In the reparations movement, as well as to happen in the Japanese American redressing, reparations. the Art was really important when we went to announce our reopening of the filing of the petition in behalf of Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayshi and Minori Yasui, I called up news desks and these are educated journalists who had no idea that this had even happened in America. When I talked about American style concentration camps, they said you’re talking about Japanese prisoners of war, aren’t you? And they said, no, these are the removal and incarceration of an entire American population. They had not heard about that.
Since that time, there’ve been so many books and movies and creative works and art. After how many years later Now it’s in the public consciousness. People generally on both sides of the aisle, now regard this roundup is really bad idea of real travesty and an injustice. I’m glad that we played a legal role in all that. But how did the script get flipped? That was because of education. So the impact of documentary films, of books, of magazine articles, played a huge role in moving the needle of public opinion. and I think that’s been true of every movement especially in the modern era. I think the artists are crucial.
[00:57:07] Miko Lee: Don Tamaki, thank you so much for speaking with us. We look forward to hearing your keynote speech at the San Francisco Day of Remembrance.
[00:57:15] Don Tamaki: Thank you, Miko.
[00:57:16] Miko Lee: Thank you so much for joining us. Please check out our website, kpfa.org backslash program, backslash apex express to find out more about the show tonight and to find out how you can take direct action. We thank all of you listeners out there. Keep resisting, keep organizing, keep creating and sharing your visions with the world. Your voices are important. Apex express is produced by Miko Lee Jalena Keane-Lee and Paige Chung and special editing by Swati Rayasam. Thank you so much to the KPFA staff for their support have a great night.