Letter from the Berkeley Japanese American Citizens League – “The Jap Box” at the Marsh

2019 11-11 Letter to the Marsh

 

Stephanie Weisman, Executive Director and board member, The Marsh

David Hirata, Artist

 

Dear Stephanie Weisman and David Hirata,

The Berkeley Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (Berkeley JACL) is deeply offended by the title of your show, “The Jap Box.” It revives a hateful racist slur that causes deep pain for us and recalls a tragic period within the living memory of our community, when 120,000 Japanese Americans were torn from their homes during WWII because of racial hatred, war hysteria and greed. We were put behind barbed wire and guarded by armed sentries for years. Some 1,300 Berkeley citizens and immigrants, including members of our chapter and the parents and grandparents of board members, were rounded up and moved by the military to the Tanforan racetrack from the First Congregational Church, one half mile from your theater. There, they were placed in horse stalls before being moved 800 miles to the Topaz concentration camp in Utah. These Berkeleyans lost their businesses, homes, life savings, their basic human dignity. Their education was interrupted, their friendships and community relationships were halted.

The word “Jap” is at the epicenter of this experience because it was used not only as a racist epithet by strangers, but in newspapers and by the government itself during this horrific time.

By marketing this performance, printing programs, selling tickets online, and posting a sandwich board sign in front of the Marsh theater with this slur, you normalize it. In an age when swastikas and nooses are revived among white nationalists, it now joins the permanent digital traces on the Internet along with “Japs Keep Moving — This is a White Man’s Neighborhood” (1923), “A Jap’s a Jap,” (Gen. John L. DeWitt, 1943) and the “Jap hunting license” (WWII). The normalization of this vicious term signals a disturbing lack of regard for our history and our community.

Three members of the board saw the show Saturday night. We met with David Hirata afterward and had a discussion with him about the title. He explained his intent in using what he considers a historical term — the racist renaming of what was originally called the “bottomless box” (soko nashi bako) by its originator, the accomplished late-19th century Japanese magician Namigoro Sumidagawa, who toured the U.S. in the late 1800s. A white magician later appropriated the signature magic box and tricks, changed its name to “The Jap Box” and performed the show in yellow face.

We appreciate Mr. Hirata’s sincerity and willingness to listen. We suggested that his mesmerizing performance, his lifelong interest in magic and the story of how his identity as a Japanese American became intertwined with a Japanese magician’s object represents an opportunity to further interrogate his family and community history. We also suggested he take this opportunity to better understand why the title he chose is painful and a dangerous revival of a deadly term. His family history includes his grandfather being held in the notorious military stockade at the Tule Lake Segregation Center and an uncle who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

David Hirata also spoke about this issue with the Executive Director of the JACL, David Inoue, last week. We are aware of other outraged Japanese Americans who have contacted the theater to protest this title, some of whom received no response. We are heartened by Mr. Hirata’s statement that he plans to change the name of his show.

We fully understand and appreciate that art can and should raise difficult issues and make us uncomfortable — that is not what this is. The cavalier use of the word “Jap” in the title of this production, without historical context, signals a disturbing lack of concern for the trauma of a group of people and normalizes a tragedy that, now of all times, should be highlighted as a serious cautionary tale.

As Japanese Americans, residents of Berkeley, defenders of civil rights and supporters of the arts, we look forward to prompt action by The Marsh to begin to repair this harm.

Sincerely,

 

Board of Directors

Berkeley Japanese American Citizens League

Berkeley JACL Statement on El Paso Shooting

The Berkeley JACL Chapter mourns for the 20 people killed and more than two dozen injured in the shooting at the Walmart in El Paso, Texas.  Our organization strongly condemns the racist and hateful beliefs that led to this tragic event. There have been too many lives lost in recent times. Just a few days before the shooting in El Paso, four many others lost their lives in a shootings in Gilroy and then more also in Dayton. Together we support the victims and their families in El Paso, Gilroy, and Dayton and  reiterate our commitment to continue to resist discrimination, hatred, and violence everywhere.

BJACL Civil Rights Committee Statement on Central American Migrant Crisis

Recently, the plight of several thousand migrants from Central America seeking asylum in the United States has become a national story. The response to restrict the asylum from the current administration, which has been blocked by the US judicial system, and the current political movement based on xenophobia and entitlement, does not represent our values or our will as people. The recent attempt to restrict asylum applications contradicts both US law and the “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” ethos that is long held dear. As the current administration strays away from these fundamental American ideals, the Berkeley JACL Civil Rights Committee remains firm in its position in support of civil rights and the principles this great country was founded on.
 
-Berkeley JACL Civil Rights Committee

2018 Berkeley JACL Pioneer Award Recipient Lee “Cubby” Nakamura

Lee Nakamura, a native son of Berkeley who is better known by those close to him as “Cubby”, is the Berkeley Chapter’s recipient of its 2018 Pioneer Award. The Chapter is proud to recognize Cubby for his long time service to the East Bay community and to the JACL. Cubby is the co owner of the Tokyo Fish Market, 1220 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley. Tokyo Fish is an East Bay institution with a large number of loyal customers who shop there for fresh sushi grade fish, rice, soy sauce, and many other Japanese food staples.

Born and raised in the Berkeley area, Cubby participated in many sports programs as a youth and enjoyed his time with the Berkeley Bears local basketball and baseball teams. He graduated from Berkeley High School and SF City College where he earned his degree in Culinary Arts.

Cubby’s culinary interests began at the early age of 14 where he was a dishwasher at Toraya Restaurant in Albany. He became a manager at the Toraya. He moved on to co-manage the seafood department at Berkeley Bowl Market for over 8 years. He was also the co-owner of Osumo Restaurant in Oakland. In 1988 Cubby joined forces with his current business partner, Larry Fujita, at Tokyo Fish Market. Established in 1963 by his partner’s parents, Isamu and Tazuye Fujita, Tokyo Fish is a fixture in the East Bay and is a popular place to shop for both Asian and nonAsian customers who enjoy Japanese food. Cubby’s specialty is in the buying and stocking of seafood where the store merchandises more than 100 kinds of fish including bluefin tuna from Japan, farmed salmon from Scotland, and halibut. The store also stocks a wide variety of Asian condiments, noodles, rice, Japanese snacks and candies, sake, bento boxes, and sushi.

From the time he started working, Cubby has had a passion to work with youth. He functions as a mentor to the youth and supports the local community. Indeed, many local organizations have benefited from Cubby’s generous contributions and support of local community activities. Cubby is married to Cathy, and they have two sons, Andrew and Ryan, both of whom have played team sports and work in the family business.

CJACLC Awarded a $1,000 Berkeley JACL Grant

The Berkley JACL chapter recently approved and funded a grant in the sum of $1,000 to the California Japanese American Community Leadership Council (“CJACLC”) from the Chapter’s Endowment Fund.

The Berkeley Endowment Fund is administered by the Board of Directors to support community-oriented projects or programs that further the aims of the JACL.

With these objectives, the Chapter funded this grant to CJACLC to further its internship program aimed at developing leadership in young Nikkei students.

Berkeley JACL Response to Charlottesville

The Berkeley JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) deplores the actions of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville. Their message of hate and racial prejudice has no place in today’s discourse and we, as an organization, will not stay silent and allow this message to go unchallenged. We also denounce the president’s statements on Tuesday, August 15, which suggest moral equivalency between the white supremacist protestors and the counter protestors. We join all those who support America’s steadfast values of justice, equality, and democracy.

With the upcoming protests in San Francisco’s Crissy Field and at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in Berkeley, we hope these demonstrations will be peaceful and there will be no more tragic loss of life. Our thoughts go out to the family of Heather Heyer and all the victims of the terrible attack that took place in Charlottesville over the weekend. We must all unite to condemn this senseless tragedy and stand up for our community and our values.

Berkeley JACL Attends JACL’s National 2017 Convention

This year, Berkeley JACL sent 5 members to the national convention in Washington, D.C.  Attending this year are the Berkeley chapter co-presidents Jim Duff and Beth Uno, civil rights chair Tiffany Ikeda, and youth delegate Amelia Huster.

Photo of Berkeley JACL members in our chapter t-shirts
From left to right: Val Yasukochi, Amelia Huster, Tiffany Ikeda, Jim Duff, Beth Uno

 

photo of Berkeley JACL members at the Smithsonian Museum of National History
From left to right: Tiffany Ikeda, Jim Duff, Amelia Huster, Val Yasukochi, Beth Uno

Endowment Fund Grant Applications

The Berkeley JACL is currently seeking and accepting Endowment Fund Grant applications. The purpose of the Endowment Fund is to support Japanese American community-oriented projects or programs that further the aims or purposes of the Chapter.

The Chapter goals encompass and embrace upholding human and civil rights of Japanese Americans and all other people, promoting understanding, respect, and appreciation of all cultures, and include strengthening community ties and fostering coalitions with other groups with similar interest as the Chapter.

Applications should be submitted by April 15, 2017. Grants up to $2,000 may be awarded

Berkeley Post-Election Statement

In the wake of a divisive election season, many members of the community are filled with fear and apprehension of the uncertain times ahead.  The rhetoric of this past election has empowered certain individuals to act in accordance with their racist, homophobic, and Islamophobic beliefs. Since the November election, police and advocacy groups reported an increase in violent attacks based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. The Berkeley JACL will not stand idly by or remain silent while members of our community are targeted as victims of violence based on the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, their gender identity, or who they love.  We will not allow these types of racist, anti-immigrant, misogynistic, sentiments to be normalized and refuse to accept policies or political rhetoric promoting an agenda of hate and exclusion.

The mission of the Berkeley JACL includes upholding the human and civil rights of all people by strengthening community ties, fostering coalitions, and promoting understanding, respect and appreciation of the rich diversity and contributions of all cultures.  As a chapter of the nation’s oldest and largest Asian-American civil rights organization, the Berkeley JACL stands in a unique position to speak out for the rights of others.  The Japanese American experience is one stained by bigotry and fear when over 120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly imprisoned in government-operated concentration camps during World War II solely because of their Japanese ancestry.  In present times, this same bigotry and fear has found a new target in the Muslim American community.  While the target has shifted, we recognize the same sentiments calling for the derogation and segregation of those seen by a wider American audience as the other—groups such as Muslim Americans, immigrants, and the LGBTQ communities.

The Berkeley JACL stands in solidarity with all groups seeking to build a stronger, more inclusive America built on the belief that diversity of experience is what makes America truly great.