Left: Lisa and Sr. Fidelma at the “Stand Up to Hate” vigil, leaving the San Jose Buddhist Church on Feb. 19, 2017. Center: Lisa’s dad, Kintaro Washio (left) and his brother Zentaro (right) at an internment camp. Right: Lisa’s father was incarcerated at both Tule Lake and Gila River. We are not sure which camp this is a picture of.
Dear friends of Casa de Clara,
February 19 marked the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, a little-remembered dark spot in U.S. history. That was the day President Roosevelt, with the stroke of a pen, condemned 120,000 Japanese-Americans to indefinite incarceration simply for being of the “enemy race.” Fred Korematsu, an American citizen of Japanese descent, in collaboration with the ACLU, challenged this order all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where, in the now infamous Korematsu ruling, the high court declared that the incarceration was a “military necessity,” and not caused by racism. Korematsu lost, and this U.S. Supreme Court ruling still stands as a legal precedent.
Perhaps most troubling was the government’s total lack of evidence that these American citizens posed any threat to the nation. In fact, it has since come to light that at the time of the trial, the FBI, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and other intelligence agencies categorically denied that Japanese-Americans had committed any wrongdoing. These official reports were suppressed by government attorneys, and never presented to the Supreme Court. In at least one case, a report was destroyed by intentionally setting it on fire.
In every age there are those who become convenient targets for the fear in our hearts. In Jesus’ day, it was the lepers and Samaritans. In Nazi Germany, it was the Jews. In 1940’s America, it was people of Japanese descent. Today, it is Muslims, refugees, and immigrants.
It is tempting to tell ourselves, “we are good Americans,” or “we are good Catholics,” we would never do that – illegal incarcerations, seizures of property, the denial of human rights. Yet, it is sobering to remember that good Americans, good Catholics, and “good people” the world over have done precisely that, and that in every instance named above, it was perfectly legal to do so.
I share this because it is happening again. The echoes of the Korematsu case in the recent travel ban (thankfully temporarily halted by the courts) are troubling: rule by executive order, the targeting of a particular group, the complete lack of supporting evidence (there is not a single reported incidence of domestic terrorism committed by an immigrant from one of the seven countries on the travel ban).
In response to this atmosphere of fear and hatred towards Muslims, Bishop McGrath of San Jose initiated a “Muslim-Catholic Community Event of Support and Friendship” on January 16. I was happy to attend this beautiful inter-faith event with over one thousand Muslims and Catholics packed into a local mosque. The event was led by the bishop and the imam of the mosque. What is sadly perhaps most pertinent, however, was that after the event, the bishop’s office received 1800 pieces of hate email for his participation in the event. The inclusive love of Jesus, as modeled by our bishop, is a threat to many.
For those of us at the Catholic Worker, standing up to fear and racism is a personal matter. It is personal for Lisa, whose Japanese-American father was incarcerated in 1942. It is personal for those of us who knew the people whose creek-side encampment was recently “swept” by the police and their belongings confiscated. It is personal for all of us who are friends with a former guest who called yesterday to ask for a ride from work – she had heard rumors of immigration check-points on the road, and as an undocumented person, did not want to commute alone. So, we reiterate our simple but fundamental conviction: all are welcome.
As we begin our 40-day journey to the cross, we receive ashes on our foreheads with the words, “Repent, and believe the Good News.” As a people we are called to repent, to change course, to turn away from fear and towards the Good News. This call to conversion is not a partisan issue, but the heart of the Gospel. At Casa de Clara, our small acts of charity – sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked (and offering them showers!) – are meant to embody this turning around of our lives. Moreover, we fully intend our actions to make a political statement, namely, that in the Reign of God the poor and outcast are first.
In the words of Dr. King, “a time comes when silence is betrayal.” Now is such a time. Thank you for standing with us.
Love and Peace,
on behalf of the Catholic Worker community