By Tamiko Nimura, for the North American Post
In a heightened wave of anti-Asian racism, including attacks on Asian elders and the murders of eight Asian women in Atlanta, I have felt the need to reach out—to family, to friends, to community.
I wanted to find out more about how we can learn from each other through working together, particularly in cross-racial solidarity. As always, I found inspiration, solace, and comfort in doing so. I asked several Nikkei artists/activists in the Seattle area to respond to this moment, thinking about their own foundations for their current work. Here are three short interviews with inspiring women whom I am proud to know.
Linda Ando: “Community is my family”
Linda Ando is a Sansei arts supporter, educator, activist, and artist. She is originally from Southern California and is now living in Seattle. (These are edited notes from a Zoom conversation.)
Tamiko for DN: Where do you find inspiration or foundation for your work in cross-racial solidarity? Who or what in your experience urged you towards cross-racial solidarity, and how?
Linda: I think the foundation definitely first has to start with my family and my extended family, how I grew up in Southern California—growing up and being raised in a multigenerational community. Community is my family. So, my grandparents with my cousins, with farm workers, with other community people… sharing our home space like a community center. It starts there, with the imprint of my grandmother specifically having the vision to create a village of family compounds and using our space to farm, to host community centers….
And the inspiration has always been bearing witness, be it in person or through story-based or through lives lived, of injustices that people have gone through… And that has always left such an imprint on my life.
I’ve been raised with the consciousness of why we need to be involved…. I really believe in what my job is [serving the community through higher education]. I really take it seriously. So when I “leave the job,” I don’t leave the job behind. It’s part of me, when I go into community or in the market, as an individual, as a person, it’s just who I am. I don’t separate out the two.
It’s not disembodied—I have to believe it. If I didn’t believe in it, I wouldn’t be able to do that work.
When you look at my age, because I am 60… I have enough lived life experiences to draw from. So I think my political awakening has been cross-racial, has been political activism.
It really started early in my college years, came after living [and studying] abroad [in Japan for 3-4 years]… I was actually a commissioner for international students. International Students at that time included Palestinians… Haitians…, countries and peoples and histories I really didn’t know a lot about, which included complicated histories and injustices. When I returned [from Japan] to finish [my undergraduate studies,] I became much more global—I became a global citizen. And my teachers were my friends from the different countries because I didn’t know what was happening. That’s where my activism really started.
[Then in the mid-1980s] I began working for Parks and Recreation supervisor] Dixie Swift and Homeland Cultural Center, right in the middle of Long Beach [California], a corridor where low-income immigrant communities lived: Khmer, Lao… and a lot of gang warfare between them. I worked as one of Dixie’s community-volunteer coordinators. She taught us how to bring peace and community together. She gave space [legal walls] to taggers, to those that were locked up in prison, to the families, space for the Khmer community…. It was extraordinary to be mentored by someone Iike Dixie. Her father was a warden for the prison. So she knew what it was like to see what’s happening in the prison system. [Through the Homeland Cultural Center] I worked with librarians, community arts, history, artists. It was about giving respectfully, honoring communities so they’re not so isolated. There was bilingual storytelling, sharing food.
Then I came to know the nonprofit organization, “Children of War”—[led by] Arn Chorn-Pond. I was a supporter [of his work with youth]. He’s a survivor of the Khmer Rouge, inspirational—his music allowed him to survive.
[Later I met artist/musician] Nobuko Miyamoto with “Great Leap,” when I was at California State Long Beach. Hearing Nob’s story—the power of music, her story of being connected with the Black Panthers, a son who is biracial, her first husband who was murdered… so much richness in her music, her stories, and the lived histories, learning that Asians weren’t all silent. She introduced me to [civil rights activist] Yuri Kochiyama, and I had the good fortune to spend some time with Yuri.
Everybody is sort of like the network—it’s the personal connection, the personal stories.
Coming to Seattle, I’ve been involved with Artists for Japan (for Tohoku), with Tsuru for Solidarity, with healing circles, with Satsuki [Ina], La Resistencia, Tule Lake [Committee]… bearing witness and hearing not just the facts but the emotions and the damages done and the need for healing.
Other critical things—[I’ve been] working at the [University of Washington] with colleagues on intergroup dialogues with a social justice perspective. Right now [at the university], I am doing a lot with Cultivating a Culture of Care initiative—mental and health and awareness for Asian-American and Native-Hawaiian and Pacific-Islander students.
Tamiko: Where would you suggest we direct our current and future efforts in cross-racial solidarity as Nikkei? Where do you hope the Nikkei community can direct its energies?
Linda: I think learning about how other groups in the past have done things. There’s a lot for us to learn, like the Black Panthers, they did teach-ins, Feed the Children…. [We can] build more community dialogues and community dinners [with] peoples of all different ages and races. [We can] work together on local and community projects, like garden centers, health, arts. The more people have a chance to hear each other’s stories, the better.
To be continued