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Resistance

Welcome back to this month’s edition of Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column. As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the signing of E.O. 9066 and the 50th anniversary of the official Manzanar Pilgrimage, we look to the virtues of and stories behind resistance with pieces from Los Angeles Sansei writer and activist, Miya Iwataki, and Yonsei JA/second generation Okinawan American educator and writer, Ryan Masaaki Yokota (based in Chicago)—from a song stoked by struggle in Heart Mountain to the reasons we marched then and now and again and again…enjoy.

—traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Miya Iwataki’s life experiences as a poet, writer, host/producer of East Wind Radio series; designer of diversity and cultural competency programs for LA County; NCRR fighter for Japanese American reparations; one of 30 women sponsored by United Nations NGO to UN Decade for Women Convention in Nairobi, Kenya; and co-author of first study on cultural barriers to reproductive health care in 8 API communities have shaped a lifelong understanding, awareness, and commitment to justice and equity. It has breathed life into the importance of valuing cultural beliefs, practices and traditions in health, and in our daily lives; and an appreciation for how deeply language is tied into, and reflects our culture.

Issei

(a series in progress inspired by our CWRIC heroes)

He came back from camp
A changed man.

This once proud farmer
Who left a scent of ripe tomatoes in his wake
As he weighed and measured
These rich red treasures into
Packed and stacked crates
For the pleasure of the market

This ordinarily remarkable man of the land
Who carried the soil of succulent strawberries
Beneath cracked fingernails
All the way to Manzanar
Until it was washed away
By his wife’s tears.

Precious tears from the strong woman
Who shared his love and his harvests
But would not share her tears in front of
Wartime Vultures who circled his farm
And stole his land
And his ideal of America

And still each night he is visited by
Memories filled with the sumptuous scents
Of luscious fleshy tomatoes
And the fertile farmland
He had generously gifted with his
Grit and Gaman

This man of the land
This Issei

* This poem is copyrighted by Miya Iwataki (2017)


AND WE MARCH

            1

They shot Malcolm X
But his teachings live on
And we marched

They shot Martin Luther King
But his words ring on
And we marched

They shot Fred Hampton
His Serve the People program lives on
And we marched

They shot George Jackson
And we marched
But his birthright of struggle lived on
In his brother Jonathan
And they killed him
And we marched again

They shot these leaders
But couldn’t kill their legacy of resistance
And Power to the People

They took our leaders
But couldn’t silence them
Their cause lives on
And we march in their spirit

            2

Then they ran out of leaders to kill
Now they shoot Black men in Ferguson
Now they shoot Black men in Atlanta
And in Los Angeles
And Madison
And Dallas
And…
We are still marching

* This poem is copyrighted by Miya Iwataki (2015)

 

* * * * *

Ryan Masaaki Yokota is a fourth/second generation Japanese/Okinawan American gardener who enjoys digging up old roots. Currently he works as the Legacy Center Manager at the Japanese American Service Committee in Chicago, IL, and is also teaching as an instructor at DePaul University. He received his Ph.D. in East Asian-Japanese History at the University of Chicago, and had previously received his M.A. in Asian American Studies at UCLA. He is a co-founder of the Nikkei Chicago website, which highlights untold stories of the Japanese American community in Chicago.

Song of the Heart Mountain Resistance

Though the darkness licked the ceilings,
though the hatred forced unfeeling,
single lights came on revealing
a second demarcation line.

Faced with coldness and the spite
of those who sought to use their plight
(the line of soldiers suited green
did catch the red that marked their bones).

And so within the courtroom faced
against the heat and lies displaced,
seventy youth all stood and fought;
the scales of justice swayed and broke.

Sentenced to the prison gates
all branded traitors by the state,
and even those within their camps
had turned their backs upon these men.

Now their stories can be told,
about their struggles fought so bold
and all can see the honored signs
of those who stood before their time.

* This poem is copyrighted by Ryan Yokota (1997)

 

© 2015, 2017 Miya Iwataki; 1997 Ryan Masaaki Yokota

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About this series

Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column is a space for the Nikkei community to share stories through diverse writings on culture, history, and personal experience. The column will feature a wide variety of poetic form and subject matter with themes that include history, roots, identity; history—past into the present; food as ritual, celebration, and legacy; ritual and assumptions of tradition; place, location, and community; and love.

We’ve invited author, performer, and poet traci kato-kiriyama to curate this monthly poetry column, where we will publish one to two poets on the third Thursday of each month—from senior or young writers new to poetry, to published authors from around the country. We hope to uncover a web of voices linked through myriad differences and connected experience.

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About the Authors

Miya Iwataki’s life experience as an AAPI woman activist, Japanese American warrior for Justice and Reparations; KPFK-FM East Wind Radio host; architect of diversity and cultural competency programs for LA County Health; have Inspired a lifelong respect for cultures, community and commitment to justice and equity.  Her poetry, writings and columns are shaped by an appreciation for the profound effect of words and language on our culture and our times.  She is a member of Nikkei Progressives, NCRR and Nat’l Nikkei Reparations Coalition fighting to win Black Reparations today. As Vice President of Little Tokyo Historical Society, she’s working to preserve the history, legacy and cultural soul of Little Tokyo in the face of gentrification. (Profile photo: Ai Nomura)

Updated July 2023


Ryan Masaaki Yokota is a Yonsei/Shin-Nisei Nikkei of Japanese and Okinawan. Currently he works as the Development and Legacy Center Director at the Japanese American Service Committee in Chicago, IL, and also teaches as an adjunct instructor at DePaul University. He received his Ph.D. in East Asian-Japanese History at the University of Chicago, and his M.A. in Asian American Studies at UCLA. He is directly descended of a great-grandfather who was incarcerated in the Japanese American Concentration Camp at Rohwer, Arkansas during World War II. Additionally, his grandparents and father survived the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.

His academic publications include a recently published book chapter on Okinawan autonomy movements, an article on Okinawan indigenousness, a book chapter on Okinawan Peruvians in Los Angeles, an article on Japanese and Okinawans in Cuba, and an interview with Asian American Movement activist Pat Sumi. He is a founder of the Nikkei Chicago website, which highlights untold stories of the Japanese American community in Chicago.

Updated February 2018

 


traci kato-kiriyama is a performer, actor, writer, author, educator, and art+community organizer who splits the time and space in her body feeling grounded in gratitude, inspired by audacity, and thoroughly insane—oft times all at once. She’s passionately invested in a number of projects that include Pull Project (PULL: Tales of Obsession); Generations Of War; The (title-ever-evolving) Nikkei Network for Gender and Sexual Positivity; Kizuna; Budokan of LA; and is the Director/Co-Founder of Tuesday Night Project and Co-Curator of its flagship “Tuesday Night Cafe.” She’s working on a second book of writing/poetry attuned to survival, slated for publication next year by Writ Large Press.

Updated August 2013

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