Year in Review 2021: Reparations NOW! Black and Asian Solidarity

2021 marks the 40th anniversary of the Commission on the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians hearings. One of the things that we, as an intergenerational organization, are aware of is that there is still a lot for our community to learn about the Redress Movement and even continued work to do. Getting these stories in front of our  community is incredibly important and helps to enhance the legacy  of Japanese Americans. The passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was significant, but it was not the end of the healing process for Japanese Americans and the work remains unfinished.  As Japanese Americans, there is still more we must do to address the fractures in our community, the racism we have faced, the anti-Blackness we have perpetuated and our intergenerational trauma, that no law alone could have repaired. It is a process of healing, accountability and repair that we must all enter in together. 

At the end of 2020, Tsuru began preliminary internal discussions about expanding our work to support HR 40 and Black reparations by forming a Redress & Reparations working group. Across generations of Japanese Americans, including those who directly received redress, we heard that it’s our privilege and responsibility to fight for Black reparations, “it’s what’s right.” As we envisioned our goals for the working group, a throughline priority was to focus on building relationships – with the many organizations, especially Black led organizations, that have been in a multi-decade fight for HR 40 and Black reparations, and within the Japanese American community to bring our people along and mobilize.

In early 2021 Tsuru leaders Linda Morris and Carl Takei connected TFS to ACLU conversations regarding support of HR40 and reparations.  Although we had yet to start our intentional and long work of building relationships and a plan, when we were formally approached by the ACLU, N’COBRA, and NAARC, who asked us to convene a meeting of Japanese Americans in support of the upcoming HR 40 hearing, we knew we had act fast and gather our community We formed a small steering committee of JA community leaders to help organize  a gathering and strategy for the hearing. Over 50 Japanese American organizations and individuals attended a meeting  where we introduced the ACLU, N’COBRA and NAARC organizers to on-going political conversation regarding the issue of reparations.  

We were fortunate to work with legacy organizations in our community including NCRR and JACL to identify and prepare a Japanese American witness to testify before the House Judiciary Committee in February. Kathy Masaoka, a redress organizer with NCRR, stepped up and wonderfully represented our voices in support of HR 40 before Congress. We also worked together to co-sponsor “Japanese Americans and African Americans Advancing the Movement for Reparations,” a virtual educational program. 

In the spring, we  put out a call for testimony in support of HR 40. Within just a few weeks, we received nearly 300 letters, many written by Japanese American incarceration camp survivors. This was not a form letter or a sign on, but a call for personal statements on the legacy of redress and the importance of reparations for Black Americans to acknowledge the violence of slavery and the ongoing racism today. These letters were powerful, personal testimonials that are now included in the congressional record for the HR 40 hearing.

Through our work on redress and reparations we have  seen the value of working together as a community and continue to learn from the Japanese American organizations who led our redress movement and are powerful advocates for HR 40 and Black reparations. We are  appreciative of the ongoing opportunities to collaborate with and support the work of  NCRR, Nikkei Progressives and JACL. The NCRR and Nikkei Progressives Reparations working group has tirelessly put on events and built deep relationships with Black reparations leaders all year to garner greater Japanese American support for HR 40. The staff at JACL have helped us prepare for and set up visits with members of congress, including with staff of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and continue to leverage their network to mobilize our community in support of HR 40. 

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