Lil Tokyo's Call for Peace
by Jenni "Emiko" Kuida

In early December, I was asked to be one of the presenters at the "Speakin’ in the Machi IV." Organized by Mo Nishida and folks from Lil Tokyo for Peace, it was an intimate gathering of about 20-25 people who came together to dialogue about peace and our observations since 9/11.

I was a little hesitant to speak on this topic but Mo said it was only five minutes, and that we would be breaking up into group discussions, so I agreed. These are some of the thoughts I shared:

Early in the morning on September 11th, Nobuko, who I work for at Great Leap, called and woke me up. She said, "Turn on the TV, they’re flying planes into the World Trade Center." As I flipped on the TV, she said ominously, "there’s going to be a lot more oppression going on."

For two days I watched the images on my TV over and over. In the days following 9/11, I saw all of this ultra-patriotism. On TV and on the freeway, the flag waving frenzy kicked in. I heard stories of Arabs, Muslims and South Asians being taken off planes, beaten and murdered. I saw people on the news commentating about how they would gladly give up a little of our civil liberties in order to feel safe.

On the phone, one of my family members called and told me how proud she was of Bush and what a good job he was doing. I felt nauseous. I got into an argument with a friend who angrily wanted to get a gun and go find Osama Bin Laden herself.

People wanted to know "what did we ever do to "them"? I knew what the newscasters were not saying, that the American government has been doing things to people in places all around the globe for hundreds of years.

As an individual, I felt powerless and a little isolated.

Then support started to come. My email box was flooded with opinions by activists, poetry, articles and statements from civil rights and grassroots organizations, petitions calling for peace, and a "Stop All the Violence" rally organized by a youth organization.

NCRR, aka Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, Little Tokyo Service Center’s Community Development Corporation and the Japanese American Citizens League organized a Candlelight Vigil in Little Tokyo, which over 150 people attended. People came to the vigil for many reasons, some to mourn the tragic deaths, some to bond with others, some to express solidarity for Arab and Muslim Americans, and some to call for peace.

From there, NCRR formed a 9/11 Committee, which has hosted several exchanges and forums between the Japanese American, Arab American, Buddhist and Muslim communities, including two "Breaking of the Fast" events during Ramadan.

I started feeling a little less isolated. I started thinking about what I could do as an individual. As a member of the Manzanar Committee which hosts the Manzanar Pilgrimage every April, I thought it was important to have a speaker from the Muslim or Arab community to speak at the pilgrimage under the theme of "no more Manzanars."

Sue Embrey, the chair of the Manzanar Committee said, "what is happening to Arabs and Muslims today, is exactly what happened to the Issei." I think the Nisei in the committee immediately made the connection to their wartime incarceration, how their families were targeted and their fathers were taken away on December 7th.

We ended up having Sam Hakim from the Muslim Public Affairs Council. His speech detailed stories that have happened in the Muslim and Arab communities since 9/11. For me, he was one of the best speakers we have ever had. His speech is on the website: www.ManzanarCommittee.org.

But this question about giving up our civil liberties really bothers me. As a community activist, this is as frightening to me as the coming war against Iraq. A few weeks ago on NPR I heard about the Information Awareness Office (IAO), which is part of the Defense Department.

I went to the IAO website which says, "the most serious threat facing the US is terrorism, a threat characterized by collections of people loosely organized in shadowy networks that are difficult to identify and define. IAO plans to develop technology that will eliminate these threats." By whose definition? Would my work with the Manzanar Committee, NCRR and Great Leap be considered a "threat"?

I then went to the ACLU website. It gave me even more to be alarmed about. It said that the Total Information Awareness system will give the government immediate access to all of our information including phone calls, emails, web searches, financial records, medical records, purchases, prescriptions, school records and travel history.

I think we all feel a little isolated and powerless until we can see what work needs to be done. For me, that means learning more about things like our civil liberties, continuing with the Manzanar Committee, NCRR and participating in the march to "Stop the War on Iraq" on January 11 in downtown Los Angeles. The march is being organized by the Coalition for World Peace, the Interfaith Communities United for Peace & Justice, ANSWER, Not in Our Name, as well as many other community, peace and justice groups.

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I hope Japanese Americans will join Lil’ Tokyo for Peace in 2003.


Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida is a Sansei who works at Great Leap and writes from Los Angeles. She and her husband Tony wrote the original "101 Ways to Tell You’re Japanese American." Opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo. For more info about peace efforts around the country, see www.coalitionforworldpeace.org, www.unitedforpeace.org, www.notinourname.net and www.globalexchange.org. c. 2003


Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, January 8, 2003.

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Updated: 1/31/03