Close to Home: Anti-Asian violence has no place in Sonoma County or in America
It is noteworthy that three of the largest educational institutions in Sonoma County, Santa Rosa City Schools, Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College, are led by Asian Americans. We often point to this as a source of pride and as evidence that Sonoma County is open to hiring people of color into these critical leadership roles. Yet in the wake of the most recent explosion of anti-Asian violence across our country and our state, it compels us to speak out and take action.
Each of us came to Sonoma County with a history of our own life experiences dealing with racism and bias.
Frank Chong: I am an “ABC from NYC,” American-born Chinese from New York City. Growing up on the lower east side was a daily struggle to navigate the joys and tensions of a youth spent in a multicultural neighborhood. We had Italian, Jewish, Puerto Rican and Black kids growing up alongside Chinese kids like myself, and until I entered UC Berkeley, the only time I saw white people was on television. We all yearned to be more like the “Brady Bunch” and the “Partridge Family,” but we looked nothing like them, and most of us didn’t live in single-family homes. We had friends of all ethnicities, but when night fell, we congregated back with our own, revealing the unresolved conflicts of a multi-racial America and the limits of informal integration.
Diann Kitamura: I am a fourth-generation Japanese immigrant (Yonsei), born and raised in rural California on a Bracero labor camp. When I started school, I actually didn’t know the difference between English, Spanish or Japanese. The few teachers who recognized the culture and languages I brought to the classroom as assets were my allies. My educational experiences, along with the dehumanizing treatment of my California-born mother incarcerated at the Amache internment center in Colorado, have been the foundation of my career and the pursuit of social justice and equity for all children. Yet here we are in 2021 and I cannot protect my own 88-year-old mother from racial slurs and threat of violence as she goes to the grocery store. She is traumatized by the recent attacks on the Asian elderly and shared, “I am already so isolated because of the pandemic, and now I still can’t go out because I am afraid.”
Judy Sakaki: I was born and grew up in Oakland. My grandparents immigrated to California from Japan. My parents were native Californians, yet they were sent to internment camps during World War II because of their race. They and I have experienced racism throughout our lives. I had to explain racism to my oldest son at the age of 6, when a white adult male angrily yelled at him to “go back to where you came from.” I will never forget how scared and helpless I felt. My young son, with tears in his eyes, turned to me and said, “Mommy, what did I do to make that man hate me?” Then, after being appointed president at Sonoma State University, I received a hate-filled message and was told by an angry alum that he will “never give a penny to a J— from an internment camp. You will never be my president.”
Each of us have different backgrounds and experiences, yet we all face the world as Asian Americans. We generally silently carry on, in hopes that our actions and interactions will help dispel the negative Asian American stereotypes and reduce the racism that we experience. But we can no longer remain silent.
When we come together, we can catalyze change. We must promote education, through which we can better understand one another’s stories and journeys. And we must decry racism and violence through changes in our social and political infrastructure at every opportunity. We are deeply committed to social justice and call on all of Sonoma County to stand together, alongside us, to denounce racism and violence against Asian Americans or any of our neighbors regardless of race, gender, income, ZIP code or religion. As Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
Frank Chong is president of Santa Rosa Junior College. Diann Kitamura is superintendent of Santa Rosa City Schools. Judy Sakaki is president of Sonoma State University.
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