2.19.2017

On the 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066

My dad turned 86 this past January. He was 11 when FDR signed Executive Order 9066 ordering all Japanese living on the west coast inland. Today is the 75th anniversary of that Executive Order.

1936: Azusa, California.
Back row: George, Henry, Minoru, Saburo, Yoshinao, Yoshio
front row: John, James, Kagi (my grandmother), with Stephen and Hannah, Ginzo (my grandfather), and Grace. 
This is his family in 1936, before Pearl Harbor, before the older boys went off to war, before the rest of the family packed what they could carry, before they left behind their Azusa farm, before they made their way to the Pomona Assembly Center.

1942: A train stop on the way to Heart Mountain.
Dad, Uncle Jimmy, and Auntie Grace are on the right, looking out the window. 
In August of 1942, they arrived at Heart Mountain in Wyoming. My father's older sister, Grace, happened upon this photograph in a World War II commemorative calendar. That's my dad, the little arms of either my Auntie Hannah or Uncle Steve, Uncle Jimmy, and Auntie Grace looking out the train window. Dad remembers this as a long ride. Trains carrying goods for the war took priority on the rails, so their train made many stops, waiting for other trains to pass. My dad decided to take his marbles with him. I wonder if those glass spheres survived the journey or were lost and rolled away.

1942: Heart Mountain, Wyoming.
back row: Hannah, Yoshio, Yurikichi Ikehara (cousin), James
front row: Stephen, Ginzo, Kagi, John (hiding), Grace.
This is a family shot taken at Heart Mountain. The family is older and smaller. Yoshinau, Sab, Min, Henry, and George were all in the service. James got permission to attend the University of Illinois. As you can see, my grandmother is in a wheelchair. She had MS and, as you can imagine, the camps were not ADA compliant. The winter was particularly hard on her with lows below zero on many days. They requested to relocate to a camp at a warmer location. The authorities approved the move, but said the family was responsible for transportation and the costs incurred. So, Uncle George took a leave from the army, acquired a truck, and moved the family to Gila Rivers, Arizona.

1943: Gila Rivers, Arizona.
Yoshio, John, Hannah, Kagi, Ginzo, Stephen, Grace. 
While the family was in internment camp, the Department of Agriculture confiscated and sold the family's farm equipment. Their trucks were left behind because the family had sealed the tires in a basement. Uncle Sab and Uncle Henry took leave and went to the farm to drive the trucks to a friend in Colorado, but they were stopped by local police. Although they were released a couple of days later, they weren't able to deliver the trucks. So, Yoshinao asked for a leave to settle this business and visit the family at Gila Rivers. There, he was reunited with an old girlfriend. They married a year later. That is one silver lining Uncle Yosh talked about from this era. 

The caption on the Online Archive of California reads:
"Mr. G. Nakada of Azusa, California states he has had no difficulty
selling his products. He is the father of 11 children,
7 of them serving in the U.S. Army." photo by H. Iwasaki.  
photo by H. Iwasaki.
Dad is in the hat and striped shirt.
photo by H. Iwasaki.
Dad rarely smiled for the camera, but here you see his charming grin. 

In 1945, the family returned to their farm in Azusa. These photographs, part of the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library, show how well this Japanese American family adjusted once they were back home. My dad, however, doesn't really remember it that way. He got into fights whenever someone called him a Jap, and he fought quite a bit.

There is much being written right now about FDR's Executive Order 9066 and comparing these injustices to our country's current shifting immigration policy. In the Japanese American community we like to say, "Never forget" and "Never again." This is just one family's story, and I hope we will do all we can to hold up the promise of "Never again."

2.17.2017

Black History Month: If You Build It...

Last year I gained so very much from helping organize our school's Black History Month assembly. You can read about my experience in these three posts. But I was a little hesitant to try it again. It was a lot of work and stress, and without a parent really pushing me, February would have come and gone without an assembly for Black History.

But then there was the inauguration of Donald Trump, and his relentless attacks on people of color and immigrants reminded me that it is easy to do nothing. The challenge is to stand up. So, our Charter Board calendared another Black History Month assembly and preparations began.

This year a colleague worked alongside me which made things so much easier, and students who had attended last year's assembly knew the possibilities of what they could perform, so getting kids to participate wasn't nearly as challenging.

And then, there is our Speech and Debate program. A colleague started a team several years ago, and now, we have students who compete and win in a very competitive local league. We have even had students place at the National tournament. So when these students signed up to participate, it elevated our performance level and brought a new diversity of voice to the program.

Our students are so very talented. Musical performances of "The Drinking Gourd" on clarinet by a recent immigrant from China, a duo's original rap, "Summertime," Parliament Funkadelic's "We Got the Funk" by the Emerson Super Band, and Michael Jackson's "Man In the Mirror" got feet tapping. But the words of Fredrick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Lucille Clifton, and Lupita Nyong'o brought to life by a talented group of orators brought down the house.

We still pushed our students to think. We urged students to think about why we need Black History, viewed clips from Ava Duvernay's 13th documentary about the persistent effects of racism, and teachable moments based on the request: "Don't Touch My Hair."

The talent and hard work of our school community and high expectations of our students really stood out to me this year. I'm so thankful to be part of a school where celebrating diversity is about not only celebrating culture, but demanding more from our students. Acknowledging places of privilege and identifying opportunities to stand up as an ally: this is what it means to resist.

2.07.2017

Supporting Public Education in the Era of DeVos

Today, while I was proctoring the interim assessment I'm required to give by the district, the US Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. I heard this news during nutrition, my 10 minute break between third and fourth periods, while students were coming in and out of the room, finishing up homework and studying for tests. I wasn't particularly surprised and went on with my day.
Woah, Betsy. 

I wrote postcards against this nominee. I called Republican senators who might be swayed. I am highly invested in this fight for our public schools. But the vote came down to 50-nays, 51-ayes and the confirmation carried.

To be honest, I was surprised by the unity of the Democrats. DeVos's reform agenda is aligned with many DFERs. These Democrats For Education Reform, like Senator Booker who sat on the Alliance for School Choice board with DeVos, are pro school choice, private charters, testing, accountability, and vouchers, and also anti-union and anti-teacher. President Obama's two prior picks championed many of the same causes DeVos favors. She takes things a bit further with vouchers and lacks experience in public education, but, to be honest, she isn't very different than Sec. Arne Duncan or Sec. John King.

So, guess what I will do tomorrow? Well, after this interim assessment is over, I will go back to my public school, my classroom, my students, and I will teach. For now, things will carry on as before, and I will continue to believe in my job, my students, their families, and our schools. That is the true narrative of our public schools. There are amazing things happening inside our schools if you take the time to look beyond test scores or aging facilities. I see them every day. The "fake news" of our failing schools is a story that has run its course. If you want to know how to fight back against DeVos and for our schools, invest some time and/or money in a public school, and then, send your kid to one.