My family came from Japan to the United States in March 1953. My mother was isolated as a foreigner, a legal status that was to change when she became an American citizen a few years later. But the treatment she endured as an Asian continued. She was insistent that her children not be treated the same and instilled in us the confidence that we belonged in the U.S. as much as anyone else. Still, we felt great confusion and isolation when others treated us as if we were not welcome in what they thought was “their” country.
Today we face another situation in which some people are telling others that they do not belong. We have seen these hidden antipathies erupt before. Hatred and fear are being fueled by authorities who believe that they can maintain power by dividing citizens and uniting “us” against “them.” People are being emboldened to scapegoat and commit cowardly acts of violence towards an imagined enemy.
My family faced this situation alone but there are ways of lending support to those confronting micro and macro aggressions. When I faced racial violence as a child, there were friends who stayed to fight by my side, like Manny Fazino, who is forever in my heart. But others abandoned me. It’s easy to look away, but if you don’t stand up to bigotry, they will come for you next.
While so much in America infuriates and alienates us, we need to believe and affirm that in the words of poet Langston Hughes, “I too, am America.”