From Revolution Club Chicago:

Then They Came For Me.

November 27, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


Whole families packed liked sardines into the trains to be shipped off to the camps, with only what they could carry. Not knowing where they were going. Not knowing when or if they would ever come back. Their property taken or sold off for next to nothing. Humiliated, demonized, and ordered to report for “relocation.” No, I’m not talking about Jewish People in Nazi Germany.

Twice in the course of a week about 10 people with the Revolution Club went to the Alphawood Gallery exhibit in Chicago about the internment of Japanese Americans titled “Then They Came For Me,” drawing from (and featuring in large letters at the entry way) the poem from Pastor Niemöller.

In the center space of the gallery there are suitcases piled up with photographs along the walls of people having to leave their homes, taking only what they could carry. “Only what we could carry was the rule, so we carried Strength, Dignity, and Soul (Lawson Fusao Inada)” appears along the top of some of these photos. A Black artist in our crew broke into tears. Seeing all these people, who had built their whole lives, they had homes and neighbors and they were just picked up, uprooted and sent off. “The photographs brought you there,” another person with us said, “and you were in it, you could smell it, you could feel it.”

A young Black man in our crew did not know anything about what had happened to Japanese Americans. He said that while he was there he texted four of his friends about what he was learning with pictures from the gallery and none of his friends knew anything about it either. He talked about looking at the mock hunting license that was made for hunting Japanese people, “it reminded me of how they did with Black slaves, and I’m just thinking this is being done to these people all by the same imperialist system. And it’s not just in Chicago, it’s not just in the U.S., it’s all over the world.” He talked about how this made him “want to learn what else has this system done, what other groups of people have had things done against them that we never learn about.”

One thing some of us were talking about is how little you hear of the resistance. On the one hand, you don’t hear about some of the heroic resistance that did take place, mainly among Japanese Americans, like the “No-nos” which captured a lot of our imaginations. These were people who answered “No” to two questions on a loyalty questionnaire which had to do with pledging allegiance and going to war for the same country that had just done all this to you. But one of the hard things is you don’t hear about big and broad sections of people throughout society who stood up to this. Because they didn’t.

As usual, relying on the white supremacy of this country, many white people were mobilized to support a lot of these horrors. In addition to the hunting license, there were an array of racist postcards and posters that encouraged the most vile racism. There were articles with familiar language of these immigrants coming with no money and to do no good. Articles about the “legitimate grievances” of white workers and farmers angry about Japanese Americans owning land and businesses. Articles talked about the brown terror in the schools (It seems the racist imagery of Japanese people was still being worked on, as articles went back and forth on calling them Brown or Yellow.) “There was this big picture of white people lined up... watching people taken away.” As is explained in a video interview with legendary freedom fighter Yuri Kochiyama, some would come with racist signs: “Japs Get Out!” But some would line up with signs saying, “I’m so sorry to see you leave,” while just gathering to watch as people are shipped off.

It was very important that one thread of the exhibit was tying it to today. They explicitly tie this to the current Trump administration, and call out where this leads. And they rightfully uphold that Japanese Americans were one of the first groups to step out to oppose the Muslim ban. And our crew also discussed the parallels and what it means for today. One person noted that there has been important resistance today to the moves of the Trump/Pence regime, and that’s good, but it is still moving forward and they ARE going after people every day, and this confronts people with the questions of whether they will be like those people who lined up to watch people go, not with the racist signs but the “I’m sorry to see you go” signs. One person said, “This made you get into how in one sense what Trump/Pence are tapping into is not new but they’re taking it to another level and pacing.” One person reflected on a point made by Bob Avakian in his recent talk, THE TRUMP/PENCE REGIME MUST GO! In The Name of Humanity, We REFUSE to Accept a Fascist America: A Better World IS Possible when he says that when you look at the actual history of this country, does it really make any sense for people to say “Fascism, oh that can’t happen here.”

A number of people summarized how this exhibit made them look at America, “For me, you really do see the whole system, the white supremacy welded into its very core and on every level from the culture up to the Supreme Court legitimizing this. Those white people lining the streets really didn’t see these people as human.” Another person said “I knew I didn’t really like the gov of this country or its history very much...that deepened a lot, but now I just definitely know for sure I just hate it.” And another person said, “I went back to what I thought I knew about the internment and it was kind of ‘just another one of those things’. It happened, then they let people go. Wasn’t as bad as Slavery or as bad as a lot of the other crimes of the U.S. But really... this really is another crime that makes you hate this country, goddamn.”




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