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National Parks Service Confinement Sites Grant Program - December 2, 2009
Chicago, IL - The National Park Service (NPS) hosted a meeting at the Chicago JACL office on December 1 to solicit comments on the Confinement Sites Grants that will be available in 2010.  The Confinement Sites Grants Program administered by NPS funded 19 projects in 2009 totaling $970,000.  In 2010, NPS will allocate $3 million in grants.   

NPS representative, Rachel Franklin-Weekley, reviewed the grants that were approved in 2009, which included one that was awarded to the Japanese American Service Committee of Chicago to create a multi-media exhibit to tell the story of Japanese Americans who served in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II.  In addition, three JACL chapters received NPS funding, including the Twin Cities chapter that will compile oral histories of Minnesota Japanese American elders who were interned.  Their histories will be video recorded and made available to educational institutions and the public. 

The law authorizes up to $38 million for the entire life of the grant program.  According to NPS, their goal is to “identify, research, evaluate, interpret, protect, restore, repair, and acquire historic confinement sites in order that present and future generations may learn and gain inspiration from these sites and that these sites will demonstrate the nation’s commitment to equal justice under the law.”  So far, $3 million has been appropriated by Congress.  The 2010 NPS applications will be announced in early 2010.  Information on the grants program is available at http://www.nps.gov/history/hsp/hpg/JACS/index.html

Successful Fall 2009 MDC Meeting - October 12, 2009

Milwaukee, WI – The Fall 2009 Midwest District Council meeting was held this past weekend from October 9 – 11.  Eight out of twelve chapters were represented: Chicago, Cincinnati (proxy), Dayton, Hoosier (proxy), Omaha, St. Louis, Twin Cities, Wisconsin.

Discussion continued on revitalizing the Detroit chapter, as well as a more general discussion on increasing membership and encouraging members to become more active.  Ideas included making personal calls to get members involved, mentoring inexperienced participants, and identifying younger people to link up with.  Forgiveness loans were suggested as a way of ensuring the continued engagement of scholarship participants.  Pat Yuzawa-Rubin from the Chicago chapter suggested creating a program to send Japanese American youth to visit internment camps, in a model similar to the Birthright Israel program.  This idea will be brought up at the JACL national staff and board meeting at the end of this month.  It was also proposed to send members of the district board to attend Detroit events to spark interest in the JACL’s national initiatives and youth programs.  Funds were included in the 2010 budget to support this initiative. 

The National Parks Service will continue to distribute grants in 2010 as part of its Japanese American Confinement Sites Grants program.  Midwest Director Bill Yoshino will be writing a grant proposal that will help chapters gather and videotape interviews with former internees and other Japanese Americans who were affected by WWII.   Once all the material had been collected, the Midwest District could establish an online archive that could be used by researchers and other interested parties.  Another possibility would be to compile the interviews into a short 30 minute video, which could be shown and distributed as a supplement to the teacher training workshops conducted by JACL nationally. 

Matthew Farrells, from the Twin Cities chapter, was elected to be the Youth Council Chair.

The next MDC meeting will be held in April 2010 in Twin Cities, MN.

Thank you to the Wisconsin chapter for their hospitality and help in hosting a successful MDC meeting!


PHOTOS courtesy of Dave Suyama (click each image to see larger version)



Humor or Hatred? - September 9, 2009

(Reprinted from the Pacific Citizen Sept. 4-17 issue)

Midwest Office - In mid-August, the JACL launched a successful campaign against a racist scene depicting a hate crime against an Asian American in “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard,” a new comedy from Paramount Pictures.  The campaign and the response it generated calls attention to the unsettling tendency for the label of “satire” or “comedy” to exculpate its creators from accusations of racism or bigotry.  This illusion of innocence is apparent in the half-hearted apologies that are often issued these cases: “I am sorry if I offended anyone.  Can’t you guys take a joke?”

In the case of “The Goods,” Paramount initially defended the scene, calling it an attempt at humor in an “outrageous satirical comedy.”  Admittedly, satire and transgressive humor could not succeed without an awareness of the morals they transgress; their effect stems from the thrill of engaging in behaviors that are socially prohibited, of breaking a taboo.

If the scene in “The Goods” was meant as satire, it was supposedly satirizing the racists; the racists and their absurd anti-Asian sentiment are supposed to make us laugh – for their anger, for their violence, for their irrationality.  The problem is that this type of “outrageous” comedy only works when the acts depicted are truly outrageous and unthinkable.  Unfortunately, the anti-Asian sentiment portrayed as extreme and silly in this scene is still a reality, and that is when the humor fails to be funny and instead becomes an offensive and hurtful reminder of the racism still present in American society. 

Somehow APAs are one of the last minorities against whom overt racism and bigotry are still accepted as viable forms of humor. While the history of the racism against African Americans is well known among Americans, the myth of the “model minority” masks the discrimination APAs still face to this day.  Racism does not occur in a historical vacuum.  Admitting that you were unaware of the historical implications of the slur “Jap” does not make it less offensive; claiming ignorance is never a legitimate excuse.

What is most insidious about this type of “comedy” is that the guise of humor strips its victims’ ability to protest against it.  So often, objections against this type of humor are met with disdain and scorn: “It’s just a joke – lighten up and don’t take yourself so seriously!”  For Asian Americans, these reactions only perpetuate stereotypes of Asian Americans as serious, stoic, and without a sense of humor. 

Satire is ultimately an attack against human failings and social absurdities; through ridicule and shame, the satirist aims to bring about reform.  In “The Goods,” the only one getting attacked is the APA.  When humor becomes an excuse for anti-Asian sentiment, the joke is clearly on us. 

Notes from the EDC-MDC bi-district convention - July 26, 2008

Covington, KY -- On Saturday, July 26, the JACL Midwest District Council (MDC) held a meeting in Covington, Kentucky, as part the Eastern and Midwest bi-district conference.  The meeting was chaired by outgoing MDC governor Leilani Savitt. The other Midwest chapters in attendance were Chicago, Cincinnati, Dayton, Hoosier, Omaha, Twin Cities and Wisconsin.

National Updates  

  • The JACL is looking to update its logo to a more youthful design, possibly through a competition to identify potential artists.
  • The 2011 convention will be held in Los Angeles; the 2012 convention will be held in Seattle.
  • The JACL is exploring ways to collaborate with the Organization for Chinese Americans (OCA); possibilities include hosting a joint national convention in L.A. in 2011.
  • The Pacific Citizen received a $15,000 grant from the California Civil Liberties Education Program to digitize and preserve its archives.
  • The MDC/EDC Silent Auction raised around $3,000.  Proceeds went to the national board fundraiser, which is aiming to raise $50,000 for the national budget.
  • 24 scholarships, valued at $59,000, were distributed this year.  Three MDC members were among the recipients: Lisa Doi, Brandon Mita and Matthew Teshima.
  • The next national board meeting will be held on Oct. 31 – Nov. 1 at the JACL headquarters in San Francisco.

Regional Activities

  • The JACL received a $25,000 grant from AT&T to fund Project: Community in 4 sites.  Chicago will be piloting the program in MDC.  The goal of the program is to empower high school youth to be involved in the Japanese American community through a greater understanding of their personal and community identity.  Chicago aims to make the program replicable so that other chapters in the Midwest will be able to implement it in following years.
  • After a discussion on Detroit’s issues with recruiting new members who are interested in leadership positions, many chapters said they were facing similar issues.  Thus a new committee was formed to discuss ideas for revitalizing chapters. 

The meeting concluded with elections for the 2010/2011 Midwest District officials.  The results were as follows.

  • Governor: Sharon Ishii-Jordan (Omaha)
  • 1st Vice Governor: Matthew Teshima (Chicago)
  • 2nd Vice Governor and Treasurer: Sherri Fujihara (Wisconsin)
  • Secretary: Steve Mitori (St. Louis)
  • District Youth Representative: Stephanie Nitahara (Chicago)
  • District Youth Chair was left vacant, to be filled at the October MDC Meeting

The next MDC Meeting will be held on October 10 and 11 in Milwaukee.

Activity from the Midwest - April 24, 2009

JACL display at Great Lakes Council for the Social Studies Conference
Lisle, IL - Approximately 160 teachers attended the GreatLakes Council for the Social Studies Conference held at in Lisle, Illinois on April 23.  The conference attracted teachers from throughout the Midwest,including a number of students who are in university education programs.

JACL Midwest Director Bill Yoshino and Lary Schectman, amember of the Chicago JACL Education Committee mingled with teachers at a JACL display tablefeaturing educationalpublications including curriculumguides published by the JACL on the Japanese American internment and Asian American history.  The JACL has displayed at this conference a number of times in an effort to encourage teachers to include units on the Japanese American internment in their American history curriculum.

The conference featured workshops and a number of exhibitors including textbook publishers, storytellers, government entities such as the National Archives and organizations displaying materials on historic events like the Holocaust.

Racial Slurs in a Missouri Workplace
The Midwest Office contacted the Missouri Commission on Human Relations on behalf of a Japanese American who was exposed to racial slurs in the workplace.  The individual is a truck driver whose driving partner repeatedly uttered slurs despite being admonished not to use the words.  The JACL informed the commission about the derivation of Asian racial slurs and the damage that is created when they are used in the workplace.

Alleged Hate Crime at Franklin & Marshall College
The Midwest Office responded to reports of a hate crime on the campus of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA where three Asian students were attacked and verbally abused by another group of students.  Local law enforcement was urged to thoroughly investigate the case and arrest those responsible for the attack.  The JACL also conveyed its concern to the college administration.

In addition, the Midwest Office did an interview with the Intelligencer Journal, the local newspaper in Lancaster on the alleged hate crime incident and on the background and prevalence of hate crimes committed against Asian Americans.

Slur used on NBC’s Heroes

The Midwest Office sent a letter to NBC Television objecting to the use of the term “jap” during an episode of Heroes.  In the letter, Bill Yoshino said, “Heroes has a large viewership, especially among impressionable young people.  The use of the slur is inappropriate because the viewership may come to believe the use of this epithet is acceptable inasmuch as there was nothing in the script to explain or admonish its use.”
JACL Critical of Iowa School District Action Against Lori Phanachone - April 1, 2009

Washington, D.C. -- Lori Phanachone, an honors student at Storm Lake High School in Iowa was suspended for three days earlier this year and threatened with other disciplinary sanctions because she refused to take an English proficiency test despite ranking seventh in her senior class with a 3.98 GPA.  The English Language Development Assessment test is administered annually to students already labeled as English Language Learners (ELL).
Phanachone was labeled an ELL after declaring Lao as her home language, a choice she made to acknowledge pride in her heritage.  In media interviews, Phanachone said, "I'm not going to deny my heritage and I'm not going to disrespect my mother."  Phanachone has further stated, "Storm Lake labeled me an English Language Learner when I enrolled without even bothering to test me.  All I want is to continue my education without the school labeling me unfairly."
Phanachone took the test in previous years despite feeling offended by having to take it and refused this year.  The Storm Lake School District did not assess Phanachone's English proficiency when she enrolled two years ago and has since subjected her to an annual test for ELLs.
The JACL supports efforts to expunge the disciplinary actions taken against Phanachone as well as seeking a clarification of the school district's procedures for classifying students as ELLs on enrollment.  JACL's national director, Floyd Mori stated, "We do not believe the school district acted properly in disciplining Lori Phanachone simply because she designated Lao as her home language out of respect for her heritage.  Lori has a sterling academic record achieved through a clear and proficient understanding of the English language." 

JACL Thanks Congress for Passage of Omnibus Bill - March 26, 2009

Washington, D.C. --  The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the nation's oldest and largest Asian American civil and human rights organization, thanks the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives for the passage of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 (H.R.146), which will help conserve some of the most important historic and natural resources in the country. 
Of special significance to the JACL is that H.R.146 authorizes the National Park Service to conduct a special resource study of the Tule Lake Segregation Center in Northern California, which was the largest and longest running of the ten concentration camps which housed people of Japanese ancestry who were removed from their west coast homes during World War II.  

The bipartisan Tule Lake legislation was sponsored by U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) along with Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Patty Murray (D-WA).  Former Representative John Doolittle (R-CA) introduced companion House legislation in 2007 that was co-sponsored by Representatives Mike Honda (D-CA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Jay Inslee (D-WA), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).  It is expected that H.R.146 will soon be signed by the President.

In December of 2008, President Bush designated Tule Lake as part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.  The JACL worked with the White House and the Department of Interior to conserve the Tule Lake site as part of the National Monument.
National JACL President, Larry Oda, stated, "The American Concentration Camps, such as Tule Lake, are part of the mosaic that tells the story of America - and now, thanks to Congress, we have legislation that will help to conserve these important historic resources."
Floyd Mori, National Executive Director of the JACL, added:  "The JACL has worked closely with several congressional offices regarding legislation on the camps and is particularly grateful to Senator Feinstein, Senator Inouye, and others for their commitment to this specific project.  This will be the first step in planning for a permanent educational facility at the Tule Lake Camp Site."
The JACL has worked in close partnership with the California-based Tule Lake Committee and The Conservation Fund of Arlington, Virginia, on this and other camp preservation projects. 
Support S.22 For Tule Lake Internment Camp- February 4, 2009

From the National Director, Floyd Mori

Please call or write to your member of Congress to ask for his/her support for S.22 which contains modest funding for a Special Resources Study for Tule Lake Internment Camp, which is now part of the new National Monument, World War II Valor in the Pacific.  The bill should come up next week, and we would like these people to vote for it as they may be undecided.  Please follow up on it also. 

If any of the following are your Representative, it would be especially helpful if you would contact them and ask your chapter members and other friends to also contact them.  These are mainly people where we have chapters, and they may be undecided about support.  If your Representative supports the bill, it would still be helpful to contact them to express thanks.


Arizona – Boozman, Flake, Franks, Giffords, Kirkpatrick, Mitchell, Perlmutter.

California – Baca, Becerra, Bilbray, Campbell, Costa, Susan Davis, Dreier, Galleglin, Harman, Herger, Hunter, Issa, Lewis, Lundgren, McCarthy, Nunes, McClintock, Gary Miller, Radanovich, Richardson, Royce, Spier, Waters

Colorado – Markey

Florida – Wexler

Idaho – Simpson

Louisiana – Cao

Minnesota – Peterson

Nebraska – Fortenburg

Nevada – Heller

Ohio – Austia, Boehner, Jordan, LaTourette, Latta, Ryan, Schmidt, Sutton, Tiberi

Texas – Edwards

Utah – Bishop, Chaffetz

Washington – Hastings, Rich Larsen, Adam Smith

Thanks for your help.


2009 JACL/OCA Leadership Conference Participants Selected - January 29, 2009

Washington D.C.The 2009 JACL/OCA Leadership Conference participants representing JACL have been selected and announced. Representing the Midwest District are MDC Youth Representative Stephanie Nitahara, MDC Membership Chair Matthew Teshima, and Ford Fellow Jacqueline Mac. Stephanie, Matthew, and Jacqueline are all members of the Chicago Chapter. The Conference schedule has not yet been finalized, but confirmations have been received from the Honorable Norman Y. Mineta to be the speaker for the Monday night dinner, and for Bruce Yamashita and Vice Admiral Harry Harris to be separate luncheon speakers. The following is a complete list of all the applicants selected to participate in the 2009 JACL/OCA Leadership Conference.

Jason Chang (Fresno Chapter)
Erin Hashimoto Martell (New England Chapter)
Drake Nakaishi (Philadelphia Chapter)
Suzanne Yoshimura (Wasatch Front North Chapter)
Suzy Shimasaki (Mile Hi Chapter)
Stephanie Nitahara (Chicago Chapter)
Matthew K. Teshima (Chicago Chapter)
Jacqueline Mac (Chicago Chapter)
Tomoko Roudebush (Diablo Valley Chapter)
Jessica Miyeko Kawamura (Berkeley Chapter)
Dawn Rego (Seattle Chapter)
Kayomi Wada (Puyallup Valley Chapter)
Lisa Miyake (SELANOCO Chapter)
Scott Chan (Venice-Culver Chapter)
Megumi J. Kaminaga (Watsonville-Santa Cruz Chapter)

For more information about the JACL/OCA Leadership Conference, please visit the National Website here.

Asian American National Leaders Confer with Transition Team - December 18, 2008

Washington D.C.—Obama Transition Team members met with national Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) leaders to discuss the process of appointments and to hear of policy issues that the AAPI community would be pressing with the new Administration.  Transition chair, Chris Lu, and other key team members briefed the group on the desire of the Administration to reflect the diverse nature of the nation while simultaneously bringing the most talented people together to run the various agencies of the Federal government.

Floyd Mori, National Executive Director of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and Chair of National Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), thanked the Transition Team for its efforts to diversify the new Administration and urged them to  tap the deep pool of talent in the AAPI community to fill out key White House posts as well as sub-cabinet level managers in each of the agencies.

Organizational members of the NCAPA, including the JACL, articulated key issues that are of concern to the AAPI community.  Renewing the White House Initiative on Asian and Pacific Americans, language access, comprehensive immigration reform, dis-aggregation of ethnic data, post-9/11 eroding of civil rights, limited English proficiency and the lack of access to health insurance were among the issues that were emphasized by the coalition.

Mori stated, "We were extremely happy with the transparency in the transition process and the willingness of the Team to hear our priorities as the new Administration and congress begins their work.  The fact that the chair of the Transition and other key members of the Team have their roots in the AAPI community and have shown a great sensitivity to our needs, causes us to be optimistic about shedding the veil of invisibility that we have experienced in the past.  The AAPI community intends to be a positive and productive participant in the new Administration."

NCAPA is a national coalition of AAPI organizations that work to enhance the equality and opportunity of that community and to assure that human and civil rights are maintained as outlined in the Constitution.  NCAPA platform publication, Call to Action: 2008, provided the foundation for the Obama-Biden Blueprint for the Change We Need for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.  NCAPA has worked with the Transition Team's liaison, Parag Mehta, who chaired the meeting.

Car Dealer Apologizes for Racist Ad - December 17, 2008

Washington, D.C.--   The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) took issue with a South Carolina car dealer’s advertising campaign which ran a radio ad entitled “Wake Up America” in which he characterized Japanese-made cars as “rice ready” rather than “road ready.”  The car dealer, O. C. Welch, criticized people who buy Japanese cars and asked why vehicles made by Toyota don’t have that new car smell.

Floyd Mori, National Executive Director for the JACL, responded to various press inquiries on the issue.  Mori was quoted as saying that Welch’s remarks evoke the same anti-Asian sentiments often aimed at Japanese and Chinese immigrants to the United States from the 1930’s through World War II.  He noted that many Japanese automakers’ cars are manufactured in America.  He further stated:  “It’s a blatant, ignorant, racist remark from somebody who should know better.”

Mr. Welch issued a press release and sent the apology for his comments in the recent advertisements to the JACL.  He stated:  “I would like to apologize for my comments in recent radio advertisements.  I am passionate about my love for Ford, and I mistakenly and wrongly conveyed this passion. I do not and will not condone discrimination and am sorry for any hurt I have caused.”  The JACL acknowledged the apology and noted that car dealers are one of many businesses suffering as a result of the economic downturn.     

The JACL issued a letter to Mr. Welch in which it stated that the remarks were hurtful and potentially harmful to all Asian Americans because they were reminiscent of racist sentiment during the recession in the 1980’s that acutely affected the auto industry in Detroit.  During that period, Japanese automakers were often scapegoated as the sole source of the economic hardships.  It was in this environment that Vincent Chin, a young Chinese American, was beaten to death on the streets of a Detroit suburb by two autoworkers who blamed Chin for their problems, saying, “It’s because of you that we’re out of work.”  Chin was not Japanese, nor was he or Japan responsible for all the unemployment caused by the recession.  Instead, Chin was the tragic victim of a climate of economic fear abetted by racism.  He was victimized by racism in the same manner as Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in concentration camps in remote areas of the United States during World War II.  It is for this reason that the JACL abhorred the remarks of the radio ad for the racism it invoked and for any misplaced anger it may have inflamed.

The JACL has worked with American automobile companies on various programs in the past and partners with Ford Motor Company on a youth leadership and empowerment program which includes anti-hate issues.
NCAPA Commends Obama Team for Selection of Steven Chu - December 11, 2008

Washington, D.C. -- The National Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), a coalition of Asian Pacific American organizations, commends the Obama Team for their selection of Steven Chu, a distinguished physicist, as the nominee to become the next Energy Secretary.

Born in Missouri of immigrant parents from China, Mr. Chu, currently on leave from Stanford University, is the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory where he has been on a mission to have the Laboratory become the world leader in alternative and renewable energy research.  He was the recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics. 
Dr. Chu received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester and his doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley.  He is from a family of high achievers where his siblings and cousins hold advanced degrees.  His parents came to the United States in the 1940s during a time of turmoil in China.

Floyd Mori, National Executive Director of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and current Chair of NCAPA, stated:  “Dr. Chu is an excellent choice for the Secretary of Energy.  We are enthused at this nomination and offer wholehearted support for the confirmation of Dr. Chu.”


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