By Bob Shimabukuro, Associate Editor of the Retiree Advocate and member of PSARA’s Executive Board
“He is extremely eloquent, therefore extremely dangerous.”
FBI Cointelpro memo about John Trudell, American Indigenous poet, recording artist, activist, spokesperson for the United Indians of All Tribes during their occupation of Alcatraz (1969-71).
It was so glaringly missing. How could such an important piece be left out from the “In Struggle: Asian American Acts of Resistance,” exhibit at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian American Experience? As I sifted through all the information (text and visuals) packed into the small exhibit and wondered how did we (Community Advisory Committee for the exhibit) fail to include the most important (to me, at least) act of resistance: Thinking, putting words together, writing poetry, songs, protest documents. As African American Ishmael Reed says, “Writing is Fighting.”
The Committee changed the focus of the exhibit from civil disobedience to acts of resistance because we felt that the definition was too limiting. To focus strictly on getting arrested misses that sometimes the “cost” of resisting involves a lot more than a few hours/days in jail; costs like deportation, assault, injury and even death.
We also wanted to dispel some of the “model minority” garbage that creeps up from time to time about Asian Pacific Islanders. A major problem within our community is that often those who have been successful are ignorant about our own history. They suggest that all we have to do is “dump our cultural baggage” and we would be better off.
What we wanted to show was that the API community did not mildly acquiesce in the face of injustice and cruelty. We did resist. People in our community put themselves “on the line,” and, when available, did join others in like situations to try to change what was going on. In doing so, the exhibit could also explain what our community felt: anger, sadness, joy and solidarity with others.
The exhibit covers a lot of ground. It covers, as Acts of Resistance: strikes; refusal to comply with discriminatory regulations; protesting public school segregation (in 1884); mass refusal to registration laws; resistance to E.O. 9066, draft resistance, and loyalty oaths; sit-ins (trespassing); refusing orders (while in the military); and, as discussed in earlier issue of The Advocate, a community potluck at the site of the former Puyallup Fair Grounds Detention Center during World War II.
But we missed out on “writing.” And to think, I did know about a group of Issei mothers, the Mothers’ Society of Minidoka, who had collectively written a letter to the President of the United States, asking “as parents of citizens,” not to draft their sons.
Knowing the common attitude we have of Japanese immigrant women, this definitely is a stereotype-breaking story. But suffice it to say that though the letter never did get to the President, it still is important for reasons we may discuss in later articles.
How does all this connect to John Trudell? A lot, but it’s mostly personal. I was in a rented Whidbey Island cabin and the TV in the cabin did not have a regular cable lineup, it just had your regular hotel lineup and not any sports (meaning, at the time, no March Madness basketball). I came across a documentary about John Trudell which I watched, and the Mothers of Minidoka came to my head, because I was thinking at the same time about the “In Struggle” exhibit and wondered then whether “Eloquence” is a crime. I had a lot of things on my mind, and pretty much forgot about the Mothers’ Society of Minidoka at the next meeting of the committee.
(PSARA’s Diversity Committee is planning a tour at the Wing Luke Museum featuring the “In Struggle…” exhibit. After viewing the exhibit, we will discuss the exhibit and API activism. Then we will have a no-host lunch together. The date is not yet set. Stay tuned.)