To Kurt Suzuki: About That Hat and "Having Some Fun"

Guest Post by Joseph Shoji Lachman

Kurt Suzuki, a yonsei (4th gen. Japanese American) wore one of those disgusting white supremacist hats when visiting the White House. It was horrifying, and symbolic of larger issues of Asian Americans and adjacency to white privilege.

The question I always want to pose to these garbage Japanese Americans is, how can you support a guy whose campaign and supporters have voiced support for the incarceration of Japanese Americans and have used it as a justification for oppressing other minority groups?

Suzuki couldn't even muster an apology. He said he was just trying to "have some fun." I wonder if he could go to a migrant concentration camp, look a mother and child in the eyes while wearing that hat, and claim it's just about having some fun.

I wonder if he could look me in the eye as a fellow yonsei and say it's just about having some fun.

I wonder if he has living Nisei relatives or just other Nisei that he knows who remember the camps, and if he could wear that hat, look them in the eyes and claim that it's just about having some fun.

I want to be able to have pride in my Japanese American heritage, but when folks like Kurt Suzuki, Jennifer Nakamoto (part of Nakamoto Group working with ICE), or any other person from the community I identify with does this kind of trash, I feel this deep sense of shame, even though I know I shouldn't. Every day I have this deep anxiety that members of my own community are exploiting the Model Minority Myth (MMM) at the expense of other communities of color and upholding white supremacy. I know that I shouldn't feel this, and I've also realized that this is part of the multi-generational trauma that Japanese Americans experience to this day. it stems from a time when we feared that any misstep would be used to justify racism and oppression against our community.

But I also think of Japanese Americans who are actively engaged in the work of anti-racism and collective liberation. Most importantly for myself, I know that my own work I do professionally and in community would and has made my Nikkei family proud.

My Bachan's Nisei sisters are still alive (in their 80s, 90s), and I teared up a little when they told me how proud they were of me for the work that I do, and this was after we'd sat and talked for a while about what it was like for them during their imprisonment at Tule Lake and Heart Mountain.

I'm not linking to that awful story about Kurt Suzuki with that awful photo. Instead I'm sharing a picture of the Shojis, my mom's father's family members who were forced to leave their home and endure imprisonment for years in the desert at Minidoka. They inspire me every day to do the work I do, and help give me my moral center and my principles. I'm not perfect, and I make mistakes, but being grounded by knowing my family history helps me strive to be a better person each day and stay rooted in community.

My Great Aunt Florence (sitting next to my Great Grandmother Kane) died because of the concentration camp conditions which exacerbated the health problems she experienced because of her disabilities. She died at 3 AM after an hour long seizure separated from her family in a state institution for folks with disabilities, and was labeled an 'inmate' on her death certificate. But she was a beautiful child and my great grandparents loved her dearly, and she continues to inspire me.

My Great Uncle Sam Shoji (4th from the left) said it so eloquently to the Seattle Times back in 1988 when Redress passed:

Hopefully, this will teach a lesson so the country can't do this again. "If something like this could happen to us, it could happen to anybody."

Uncle Sam taught me to speak up.

That's what helps me keep going each day.

Joseph Shoji Lachman is a fourth/fifth generation Japanese American born and raised in Seattle. His community activism focuses on organizing in Asian American/Pacific Islander communities, as well as immigrant/refugee communities broadly. He works full time as the Civic Engagement Program Manager for Asian Counseling and Referral Service in Seattle, Washington.

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