Once upon a time there were 43 Little Tokyos and Japantowns in the U.S. They were proud and bustling communities. They were a center for special family gatherings, a storehouse for childhood memories. A haven for those homesick for home or homeland. They were a benchmark for the health of our community; and our physical imprint on this country.
Today only three standing historic Little Tokyos/Japantowns remain. Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose. A growing number of cultural and civic organizations are fighting to preserve these legacies.
Once there were many Japanese American daily newspapers in the U.S. Today our Rafu Shimpo is the only daily Japanese American newspaper in the U.S. And now, as most of you have heard, L.A.’s own Rafu Shimpo may be facing its mortality.
The fight to protect and preserve both Little Tokyo and The Rafu Shimpo are linked to the future of the JA community. They are indicators of the state of the JA community. They are the storehouses of our history — an unbiased, unapologetic, all-inclusive “museum” of and for the people. They are chroniclers of births and deaths, social and political causes, organizations, institutions.Their survival is personal to all of us in so many ways.
Rafu Shimpo’s Role During the Movement Days
When I was in high school, if someone overdosed on drugs, their family might list the death in the Rafu obituary as “heart attack.” Years later during the community movement of the ’60s and ’70s, one of the first issues Japanese Americans tackled was the drug abuse epidemic. These and other hidden issues were exposed and discussed at churches and community gatherings, and through the pages of The Rafu.
Pioneering organizations like JACS-Asian Involvement, Asian American Hard Core, Pioneer Project, Asian Sisters, the Drug Offensive, Health Committee and many other groups created programs to fight drug abuse, bring services to lonely and neglected Issei, build culturally responsive human service programs – all before grants and federal funding were even imagined.
We fought to build pride and self-esteem in the JA/Asian community through joining with others to fight for justice and equal rights; and to empower youth, women. The Rafu was a key ally, bringing these issues — and the solutions — into thousands of JA homes, providing invaluable support to the movement.
Being in the pages of The Rafu informed, educated and “legitimized” these efforts to our parents and the community at large.
Rafu Shimpo and Redress/Reparations
The Rafu Shimpo was a major and active participant in the decades-long redress and reparations (R/R) campaign.
Today, it’s hard to imagine how controversial R/R was. There were endless dinnertime arguments in support of or in opposition to direct monetary payments and/or presidential apology; or whether to first introduce legislation or to establish a presidential commission to hold hearings.
In NCRR (National Coalition for Redress/Reparations), we knew these critical issues had to go beyond meetings and family dinners. We developed a survey to bring these burning questions directly to the JA community. The Rafu Shimpo, seen as a respected and unbiased entity, ran the survey, tallied the responses, and published the results in July 1981. The verdict was clear.
• 95 percent of the almost 4,000 respondents supported redress for JAs incarcerated during World War II.
• 89 percent favored direct monetary payments.
These survey results were presented to the presidential Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC). They were the voice of the people embodied in NCRR’s program and principles.
The Rafu and other major Nikkei newspapers in California, New York, Chicago, Colorado were the center of communication during the entire campaign for R/R. I recall during the historic 140+ person lobbying campaign in Washington, D.C. in 1987, Congressman Mervyn Dymally opened up his office to us. At least two people were stationed there at all times, calling and faxing reports and updates to all the Nikkei newspapers, who would immediately put it into print.
For L.A., The Rafu was the most effective way to reach the most people to provide updates on the status of the bill, and information on what kind of help was needed; and for putting out calls for rallies to attract legislative and mainstream media attention, and so on. The paper exploded with passionate Vox Populi columns and debates on R/R. People looked forward to receiving their newspaper to read up on the latest. The Rafu was invaluable. I wonder if the subscription rates went up during those years. Hmmm.
Saving The Rafu is personal. It still has a role to play, more work to do. Witness the “Save Keiro” campaign, and the award-deserving, in-depth coverage of all sides to this issue. The breakthrough joint coverage by the English and Japanese sections was exactly what was needed, serving to yet again unify our community.
The Rafu is still the place where most of its subscribers can find out what is happening in the broader community. Reportage on the status of the many efforts to honor our 100th/442nd warriors. Social service programs, resources and informational forums. Cultural holiday celebrations, events, performances. Issues, legislators and legislation impacting our community. Sports coverage, recreational opportunities. Obituaries. Saving The Rafu is literally a matter of life and death.
We are a dispersed community. The Rafu gives us a voice, brings us together. I have been contacted by and connected with old friends and acquaintances through articles in The Rafu. I have read about accomplishments of people, and have learned of the passing of old friends. The survival of Rafu Shimpo is important and it is personal.
Many of us take The Rafu Shimpo for granted. It was always lying on our parents’ dining room tables since childhood. For a long time, I confess that I was part of the Rafu Hand-Me-Down club, getting old copies from parents or neighbors, not thinking about the finances of the newspaper. Now I subscribe for myself and my dad. We’re both old-school — love the feel of paper and turning actual pages.
Saving The Rafu Shimpo is something we can all easily be a part of. For younger or more technologically oriented folks, online subscriptions are a deal at only $50/year. Community organizations can set goals for each member to subscribe and get at least one other friend or family member to subscribe.
One group is discussing setting a goal for each member to get five subscribers. Better yet, every organization that sends press releases to The Rafu should commit to being a part of the Save Rafu campaign by getting each member to subscribe plus-one, or holding innovative fundraisers and subscription drives.
There are many strategies being discussed: making content more attractive to younger folks, linking videos, incorporating podcasts, efforts such as crowd-sourcing, and so on. But the first step is a personal one — subscribe and get one other person to subscribe.
Saving The Rafu Shimpo is personal. Especially to me. My mom and dad met when they worked at The Rafu Shimpo before the war; before she was sent to Manzanar and he joined the 442nd. If there were no Rafu, they might not have dated, married and had a wonderful family (smile). Believe me, it is personal.
Miya Iwataki has been an advocate for communities of color for many years, from the JACS Asian Involvement Office in Little Tokyo in the ’70s, through the JA redress/reparations struggle with NCRR while working for Congressman Mervyn Dymally, to statewide health rights advocacy. She also worked in public media at KCET-TV, then KPFK Pacifica Radio as host for the weekly radio program “East Wind.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.