“…is also a way for us to learn to see clearly.” –bell hooks
WARNING… it’s a long post so I’ve decided to save the reader’s need to scroll forever to get to other people’s lovely posts.
This week we had an open ended check-in and conversations flowed about how we’ve been interacting and conversing with people of different opinions and beliefs. It got me thinking a lot about how and where I choose to express myself and to what extent I express myself fully and freely. I find that there aren’t too many spaces where I can be just me and feel unapologetic for what comes out in my expression. I’ve found that writing is one of those few spaces where I am more free and unapologetic.
I full heartedly believe that any change whether it is good or bad starts with yourself. But I also believe that change cannot just end there. Change within yourself won’t change the power one has to oppress others. There’s a quote by Stokley Carmichael where he states: “If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power.” Any of the –isms and other forms of oppression and exploitation is related to power and this is why I so strongly stand behind the process of decolonizing and uncovering true history.
This week marks the 75th anniversary of E.O No. 9066 which President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed incarcerating and interning all Japanese American citizens and residents. I actually didn’t know this but 120,000 people who look like me were incarcerated back then. I didn’t know this until I sat in a college course about the prison industrial complex… (strangely, it wasn’t even brought up in my Japanese politics class…). Unfortunately, looking back in my education, I probably should have learned about internment in the 5th grade since I distinctly remember that’s when we learned about the attack on Pearl Harbor and someone in the class blamed me for the attack stating, “ooo Chika, Pearl Harbor was all of your fault…” (this obviously didn’t help with the shame I already had about my culture where my “house had a weird smelly odor” or that no one could understand my mom’s English when she volunteered for the class on her off-days from work).
I am not a direct descendent of Japanese families who were incarcerated during WWII but learning and listening to accounts of what happened have made me realize that a.) this could have happened to me and b.) I hold a duty to Japanese Americans and those who resist institutionalized oppression to fight for justice and against discrimination brought forth by institutions such as the government. The constitutional values of justice, liberty, and freedom do not apply to all citizens and frankly never has.
Okay so what does any of this have to do with my internship with Sarvodaya farms and the growing club? In my mind it has everything to do with it because I carry history and the history of resistance. Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese American farmers produced 40% of California’s fruit and vegetable production. Due to the hysteria that the American population had about all people of Japanese ancestry being spies and traitors of America, families were forced to leave their farming operations, businesses, homes, etc and live in isolated internment camps surrounded with barbed wire and watch towers. Inside camp, many were forced to use their farming expertise to grow millions of tons of food for not only camp but also for the open market. They produced food for $12/month for the US government. Many of these relocation centers were barren land- even the closest one to the farm in Manzanar was an abandoned valley in between the Sierra Nevadas and the Inyo Mountains (Indigenous populations like the Owens Valley Paiute tribe had lived there 10,000 years ago but were forced off during the trail of tears as European ranchers built acres of homesteads during the Gold Rush). Post WWII, many of the internment and segregation centers and camps were closed 6 months after the war and the improved and now fertile land was parceled off to veterans returning from the war and turned into homesteads. If you go to the remains of the camps in Arkansas (Jerome and Rowrer) you’ll see a cemetery and a sign in the middle of a private farm. The Japanese American farming population was reduced to less than a quarter after the war as many could not rebuild their operations with land overgrown and stolen equipment. Okay so this happened in the past and so what… right?
I just imagine the kind of shame many survivors of internment felt returning back to their homes or relocating to unfamiliar places as they were told not to congregate with one another. The shame they felt unable to return to farming or to tell their children and grandchildren they are better off finding other occupations other than farming because of how quickly it can all be stripped away. I can imagine it might be similar for other people of color communities; Native American children being forced to enter boarding school so they were unable to learn the ways of the land from their elders; Black communities living with the trauma of slavery, sharecropping, discriminatory farm loans, and currently prison farm labor; Mexican communities surviving the scrutiny of the Bracero program where immigrant families were dispersed like cattle herds from Mexico only to be told they were no longer wanted after the world wars were over. I can understand why many families might look at farming and think, you are much better off doing something else in this society.
This is why I stand with other farmers in particular women farmers, farmers of color, and farmers who acknowledge this wretched past and are here to use farming as a tool of resistance to free the land and fight against systems of power that continue to use dehumanized people labor to stock the grocery stores, restaurants, fast food chains, and school cafeterias with the food we eat. To see clearly means to know and understand that the institutions we give our tax dollars to target and criminalize poor black and brown communities to supply prison labor to work the fields to grow the cotton we wear (Angola Penitentiary) or stock produce at stores even like Wholefoods in Denver*. Through my decolonized mind, I can understand that policy allows for cheap undocumented/migrant labor to be paid cents for the bushels of food they grow and pick for the big farms.
While there are many in this country who live with a terror that inhibits their compassion and empathy to see that the people they want to ban, deport, and target as criminals are also people too, I feel free as my rage and love fuels my passion to know that I am fighting for what is true justice, liberty, and freedom.
I want to end with this James Baldwin quote that was featured in the documentary I am not your Negro. I highly recommend everyone watch it.
“You invented the n—– and you have to ask yourself, why did you need to invent the n—–?“
– James Baldwin
The n-word here can be replaced with almost anything of the terms used to drive one’s dehumanizing agenda.