May W.

By May W.

In order to understand the anti-Asian attitudes and attacks, we can see by looking back at the history of anti-Asian prejudice in the United States. The Chinese built the railroads across the nation and were treated inhumanely as well as were the experience of Filipino farmworkers. All Asian immigrants have been subject to prejudicial attitudes and treatment. In l882 there was the U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act  and not until 1952 were Asian immigrants permitted to apply for citizenship.

Human fears and resentment can be rooted in racial prejudice and are triggered by differences in appearance, color, language, dress, religion, customs, etc. The reason for these negative feelings are often framed in unfair competition or a scarcity of resources.

I am an American citizen because this is the country of my birth, although my ancestry is Japanese. But on the basis of race my family and I experienced anti-Asian hate first hand on a massive scale during World War ll. Despite my being a second-generation Japanese American born in the United States, my father, mother, brother and I along with 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry  who  lived along the coast in Washington, Oregon, and California were sent to  concentration camps. We were considered a threat to national security. Research later showed that there was no evidence of a single act of espionage or sabotage. This experience of the violation of our civil rights has impacted and reverberated in my parents and my brother’s lives, my life and my children and grandchildren ‘s lives.

Our country’s history is littered with acts of hate against many other people based on race and color. My experience made my immediate reaction the fear of a repeat of history after 9/11. I was concerned that hate and fear would be directed at innocent Muslims as the enemy, just as we had been unjustly seen. There were even rumors of incarceration as security measures. Sadly a Sihk wearing  a turban, who is not Muslim, was shot . This is a tragedy fueled by ignorance, hate, and fear.

I see that what is unknown, strange, different and unfamiliar feeds ignorance and is the prompt for mistrust, fear and even harmful actions. I would like to cultivate an openness to  sharing, listening and learning, which can lead to positive relationships.

When my parents, brother, and I were incarcerated in the Tule Lake camp, I was released to continue my education at Syracuse University to be a nurse. One day a patient on the ward where I was working asked me, “What are you?” I paused to reply, wondering what he was thinking as he looked at someone who looks Asian and  when we are at war with  Japan. I asked him. What do you think I am? He asked  Chinese? Hawaiian? Native Indian? avoiding Japanese. So finally I said “I am an American, just like you.” I wanted to think for a moment. I avoided being confrontational. I wanted to be able to have a conversation and make this a positive learning process.

Looking back I see how much of my time has been given to International students and International families to create a feeling  of welcome. In my years as a nurse in the  Student Health Service of the University of Pittsburgh I created a program called “International Eat and Meet Lunch”, an opportunity for International students, faculty, staff or anyone working in or near the University could bring their own bag lunch and  meet, get acquainted, share information and develop friendships while sharing  the lunch hour. I hoped that this would be helpful for new students to adjust to the new environment. We celebrated those relationships with a huge potluck supper at my church, expanding the network to include family members, children, faculty, community members. Out of this grew small tea groups and friendships deepened. I hoped that the good will and warm memories would stay with them and be seeds for more acceptance in the world. Incidentally I still hear from some people from different parts of the world that I met at the lunches.

For the same reason I am so happy that International Neighbors has developed such an extensive program and that there are smaller groups where friendships can grow. This is exactly what our world needs today. Each good relationship we develop is a good beginning.

May W. and Mary M., friends and hosts of the Angell Tea Group

All photos courtesy of Sharon H.