In the News: From Internment to Advocacy, One Family's Journey
I remember my 94-year-old grandmother, Mary Masako Kanase, standing with tears in her eyes, reading the inscription on the stone memorial at the Japanese-American internment camp in Jerome, Arkansas this past October. She held my hand and said to me, "I'm so glad people remember.
My grandmother, mother – Joyce Kuniko Hasegawa, and I made this pilgrimage together. Three generations of women looked across the empty stretch of field where hundreds of barracks once stood. Here, my family lived behind barbed wire. Here, they fought to stay together. And here, their lives – like hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans at the time – were forever changed.
The pilgrimage to Jerome gave me new perspective and purpose for the work I do today as an advocate for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. From 1999 to 2001, I had the privilege of serving as the Community Liaison at the White House Initiative on AAPIs, working with federal agencies to improve quality of life where they are underserved. It was deeply meaningful to me that this Initiative and my role were created by Executive Order 13125, the first executive order pertaining to Asian Americans since the infamous 1942 order that resulted in the internment camps.
Today, in my job with the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development, I advocate for programs and policies that promote economic vitality. We are tackling the dramatic growth in the number of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders living in poverty since the recession. We lift up the needs of low-income Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and work in solidarity with African American, Latino and Native American organizations on issues of common cause.