When I was a child, my dad would tell us stories of our family’s struggle to rebuild after losing everything during World War II. He was born in a Japanese American incarceration camp, and I learned at a young age that what is legal and what is right are not always the same. I learned that fear of the other, fear of the different, can drive us to do terrible things.
My dad taught me that many imprisoned Japanese Americans sought to prove their loyalty to the U.S. by serving in the Army’s most decorated World War II unit, the 442nd. But a smaller number of others, given the moniker “No-No Boys,” said no to fighting for a country that was denying them basic civil liberties. At the time, the No-No Boys faced prison as well as shame and ostracization from the larger public as well as their own communities for their decision. But history has redeemed them, from apologies and reparations from the U.S. government to a Broadway musical recognizing their sacrifices.
I’m the daughter of a Japanese American father and a white mother, raised in the spirit of the No-No Boys. My parents were married two years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Loving vs. Virginia decision made interracial marriages like theirs legal nationwide.
As a new Seattle Times columnist, focusing on current events through a social-justice lens, I carry with me the legacy of that resistance.
My family’s experience taught me that injustice and abuse of power can happen in front of our eyes and that we have a responsibility to ask questions of our leaders and government. We can hold the powerful to account, especially when the most vulnerable are impacted. Journalists play a critical role in that accountability. Through clarity of judgment, integrity and rigorous information gathering, the best of journalism “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”
It is hopefully auspicious that this column begins on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the day we remember one of our country’s original sins — the genocide of indigenous people — as well as honor the stories of Native peoples’ cultural survival, resilience and self determination.
In the indigenous principle of the Seventh Generation, we are asked to consider the legacy of our actions on seven generations in the future. This concept, credited to the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy, argues that we are only the caretakers of our communities and our Earth, and that while the past should inform our decisions, our vision and leadership must be guided by the impact on generations beyond our own.
I will approach this column with this principle in mind. What choices could we make differently for our communities, country and planet if our decisions were guided by long-term thinking vs. short-term gain? How could we treat each other if we thought of each other as part of the same human family? These are some of the questions I will be thinking about through this conversation with you.
There is no shortage of pressing social-justice issues to explore in our region and beyond. From family separation of immigrants, attacks on the humanity of transgender people or the human cost of mass incarceration, it is a fraught time for marginalized communities. But there is also hope. I want to explore not just the problems but also solutions.
I am not so naive as to believe that through the power of my words, hearts will be moved and minds will be changed. Ideological divisions are deeper than ever, and the tone of debate shrill and vitriolic. I have been told “don’t read the comments” as a way to preserve my mental health. But in the spirit of the No-No Boys, I can’t be afraid to speak truth to power and confront injustice.
I believe in the role of the newspaper as a public square. As we get further and further entrenched in our own social media echo chambers, the only way we can come to a common understanding of problems and solutions is to be brave enough to talk to one another, with respect, humility and honesty.
I know many will disagree with me — maybe today, maybe in the future. I see the world through a lens colored by my life experience and my identities as a lifelong Seattleite, as a queer woman of color and as an Asian American. But I know one thing we agree on is that I want our next seven generations and beyond to flourish and thrive and I know you do too. Let’s start talking.