(Published May 28, 2016)
“If you want happiness for an hour — take a nap. If you want happiness for a day — go fishing. If you want happiness for a month — get married. If you want happiness for a year — inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime — help someone else.” — Chinese proverb
We live in a Blu-Ray, drive-thru, Instagram, sound-bite world. With that in mind, here are a few snack-sized topics that crossed my desk recently:
Obama Travels to Meet the Past
For most Americans, President Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima later this month is little more than a goodwill gesture meant to further solidify America’s inter-meshed economic and political relationship with Japan.
However, for many Japanese Americans the trip means much more. It is the embodiment of the contradictions that most of us have held our entire lives. Like most immigrants and the descendants of immigrants, we represent two cultures and sometimes more than two. Our heritage is complex and wonderful and contradictory all at the same time. What greater contradiction exists than the image of America’s president standing with the Japanese prime minister on the once scorched soil of Hiroshima? I am struggling with how I should feel.
Then there is the predictable, exasperating backlash. If there’s one thing Donald Trump has taught us it’s that there is a sleeping dragon of bigotry in this country, and he is their dark evangelist. Some veterans groups have urged Obama not to visit Hiroshima, for fear that any comments he makes might be interpreted as an apology for the 120,000 Japanese lives lost, mostly civilian men, women, and children, during the atomic bomb blast on Aug. 6, 1945. Another 74,000 were killed three days later at Nagasaki.
Speaking at a New Hampshire rally five months ago, Trump indicated that he didn’t think America’s trade agreement with Japan was necessary. “(Japan) doesn’t have to do anything for us. These are the deals we have, folks, it’s crazy.” When a reporter questioned Trump further, the candidate defended the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombing with one of his characteristic schoolyard comebacks:
“Who did it first? Didn’t we have a thing called Pearl Harbor?” Trump went on, “You know what?! You know what?! We bombed the hell out of them because they came at us first. They did a number on us that was the greatest sneak attack of all time…and Japan would have never stopped except we were tougher and stronger and meaner, and smarter…and we knocked the hell out of them.” Even more frightening was the boisterous cheering that erupted after Trump’s remarks.
Still, some feel that Obama should not visit Hiroshima until the Japanese apologize for the wartime treatment of American prisoners of war, thousands of whom died of abuse and starvation in Japanese prison camps.
According to the White House, Obama’s message to the Japanese will center on the futility of war and not on fixing blame for the tragedies of the past. There is no apology planned per se, but perhaps Obama should apologize to the rest of the world for the travesty that is Trump.
The View from Texas
Journalist Mike Hashimoto of The Dallas Morning News considers Japan his native land although he reveals it’s a place that “I have yet to see myself.”
“(Obama’s) visit to Hiroshima, part of a week-long swing through Asia this month, is historic in that he’s the first (sitting) U.S. president to go where the big bomb fell on Aug. 6, 1945,” he wrote.
Hashimoto puts the president’s visit in perspective. “As historical events go, I’ve always felt more strongly about Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 that sent 120,000 people to prison camps solely because of their ancestry, the great majority Japanese. Or the ‘Go for Broke’ heroics of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II. Or Ronald Reagan signing into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and his apology for interning U.S. citizens back then.
“Perhaps that’s just a consequence of growing up Japanese American, with an emphasis on the latter,” Hashimoto concluded.
Do Asian Americans Count?
As I watch coverage of the presidential primaries, I noticed that while exit poll results break out numbers for white men by age group, white women by age group, black voters young and old, blue-collar voters, Hispanic (Latino) voters, Asian Americans are never mentioned.
Pew Research Center spokesperson George Gao, who happens to be of Asian descent, gave what I consider an anemic answer. He blamed the fact that there are a relatively small number of Asians in the U.S. — 5.4 percent — compared with other races and ethnicities, according to the U.S. Census.
“It’s worth noting,” said Gao, “that Asians are indeed included in our U.S. surveys. While we often do not break out their stand-alone views, Asians’ responses are still incorporated into the general population figures that we report.
“Nonetheless, it’s a good question, and one we hear frequently,” explains Gao. (Note: When someone prefaces their answer with “That’s a good question,” it often means they are stalling while they think of an answer. Just sayin’.)
According to Gao, “The most obvious hurdle is the relatively small number of Asians in the U.S. compared with other races and ethnicities. According to 2014 Census Bureau estimates, 5.4 percent of U.S. adults are Asian, compared with 11.7 percent who are black, 15.2 percent who are Hispanic and 65.1 percent who are white. . . .”
Gao trips himself up as the corporate apologist when he notes that just 62 percent of U.S. Asian adults speak English proficiently, while 38 percent said that they speak English “less than very well.” “Because of Asians’ linguistic diversity, pollsters may need to translate their questionnaires into several other languages to obtain a sample representative of all Asians in the U.S.”
The only thing wrong with Gao’s rationale is that 38 percent is exactly the same number of Latinos who reported that they speak English “less than very well.” The real reason may be that translating into five or more languages — Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, Japanese and Vietnamese — is more costly than translating into one.
Bottom line: Let’s start including Asian Americans in the exit poll results. If anyone still thinks we don’t count, just wait until the California primary.
“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb deciding what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” — Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), author, political theorist, politician
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