Friday, February 27, 2015

When Do We Take Responsibility?

This month under "The Big Read" project that is under Florida Center for the Literary Arts or FCLA (a program that started from the umbrella of Miami Dade College's Wolfson Campus' Community Education but now its own entity), I was invited by a professor friend to travel with several English classes to the Morikami Museum in Delray Beach last week Friday.
The Big Read is a Florida-program that endorses and encourages reading and activities through FCLA to promote a particular book. 

This year's book is Julie Otsuka's (pronounced: Oat-ska) "When the Emperor Was Divine". In it, a mother, her elementary school-age children and a host of other characters are Japanese-American and in a point in U.S. history when it was dangerous to be so. During World War II, after the Japanese bombed our military base Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the United States government changed the statuses of Japanese-Americans from 'Citizen' to 'Enemy Alien'.

Propaganda ensued by the North American press to demonize and villianize a segment of our population as not American and worse, not human. Thousands of Japanese-Americans were then forced from their homes, businesses and shops at the point of American military firearms. In a horrific modernization that nearly recalls Native Americans' Trail of Tears and Nazi Germany's deportation of European Jews, Americans were marched and loaded onto trains and taken to internment camps out in the Midwest.

Surrounded by barbwire (which historically was invented to keep in cattle and other livestock, never human beings) and guards, countless Japanese-Americans pined and suffered, many wondering how their country could have done this to them.

Otsuka's tale is told in a slim and minimal prose style, as I've seen in other Japanese-American and Japanese writing. The novel's language is simple, but it delivers its promise of pain, agony, suffering and loss. Told in a voice that neither judges nor preaches.

We have seen such stories before.

Star Trek's 'Mr. Sulu', played by the adorable and incorrigible George Takei, is taking his experience of this point of shame in North American history with his play "Alliance". Weisel's "Night" speaks on the horrors of the Jewish people behind the Third Reich's bloody curtain.

We have countless first-person to third-person diaries and accounts on the Trail of Tears and the heavy toll it took on this continent's indigenous peoples. 
The news speaks every day (especially if you watch the right news and foreign news and not just celebrity news) about atrocities committed towards segments of populations around the world. Either through wars, civil wars, religious battles, diseases and famine, new holocausts happen everyday.

We once dehumanized the 'other' through propaganda and rumors. Now I hear Ebola jokes... When will we humans learn from history so we won't repeat it? 
When will we learn that Dr. King's quote "Injustice somewhere is injustice everywhere"? When DO we all begin taking responsibility instead of waiting for the next person to do it?

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