Issue 33: Tribes

Issue 33 - Tribes
Cover image by Chris Rohrer.

“Stories build bridges.” —Nicole Maileen Woo

Editor’s Letter: In July 2017, Andres Magaña Ortiz was deported to Mexico after living nearly 30 years in Hawai‘i. Ortiz was one of Kona’s most respected coffee farmers, working his way from a coffee picker as a teenager to owning his own farm and helping others run their farms as an adult. He even aided the U.S. Department of Agriculture in combating the spread of the coffee berry borer, which threatened to wipe out Hawai‘i Island crops in 2010. But Ortiz was also in the country illegally, having been smuggled across the border in 1989 at age 15 to join his mother, who was living in California. When President Trump took office in November 2016, he vowed to make immigration a landmark part of his agenda, and Ortiz became one of the first in Hawai‘i to feel the effects of Trump’s immigration crackdown. When he left for Morelia, Mexico, a place he has not known for most of his life, he left behind his wife and three children, who are all American citizens.

It was during this time that the idea for the Tribes-themed issue was born, when the country was roiled—and still is—in a debate over immigration. Though Hawai‘i can often feel removed from the effects of what’s happening around the country, Ortiz’s case brought the reality of these new immigration policies into stark focus.

It’s hard not to compare the country’s new immigration tactics with the orders that swept up people groups and shoved them into internment camps on the basis of race during World War II. During that time, citizens who were at least 1/16 Japanese were given just six days notice before they were taken with only what they could carry to isolated relocation centers around the country—upwards of 120,000 people in total, including 17,000 children under 10 and thousands of elderly.

Seven decades later, in June, the Supreme Court upheld Trump’s Muslim travel ban on the grounds of national security, while simultaneously overturning Korematsu v. United States, the 1944 ruling that upheld the forcible detainment of Japanese-American citizens. In response, UCLA law professor Hiroshi Motomura, who has written extensively on immigration and citizenship, stated in The New York Times, “Overruling Korematsu the way the court did in this case … is deeply troubling, given the parts of the reasoning behind Korematsu that live on in today’s decision: a willingness to paint with a broad brush by nationality, race or religion by claiming national security grounds.”

When we ignore the nuances of any given situation, we run the risk of decaying into what Utah senator Orrin Hatch described as “a divided country of ideological ghettos.” But we may already be there. According to the Pew Research Center, Republicans and Democrats are more ideologically divided than they have been in the last two decades, and both parties increasingly view the other as a threat to the nation’s wellbeing.

During World War II, my grandfather served along with other men from the Hawai‘i National Guard in the 100th Infantry Battalion (nicknamed the “Purple Heart Battalion” for the high number of men injured in combat), which later joined forces with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Composed primarily of Japanese-American soldiers, this regiment would become the most decorated unit in American military history, while the country sanctioned what many today view as one of the most heinous violations of civil rights in 20th century America. In one of the most famous acts of valor, soldiers from the 100th/442nd charged through enemy fire in the Vosges Mountains in France to rescue men from the 141st Texas Infantry Regiment, who had been surrounded by German forces. Over six days of fierce combat, my grandfather, a medic, braved enemy fire to drag wounded soldiers out of the forest. Eventually, the 100th/442nd combat team would save 211 of the 275 Texans, but not before losing hundreds of men in the rescue.

My grandfather died of cancer before I got the chance to meet him, but I know that he risked his life in service of others because he refused to let the government’s assumptions about his loyalty, his identity, define who he was or what he believed in. Like the men in my grandfather’s unit, who banded together in solidarity amid discrimination that tore lives apart, the people featured in this issue show us that tribes can bind us to one another, helping us to inch forward in unity amid a divided society.

We see this on vibrant display in the formation of the Pōpolo Project, whose members, part of a group that makes up less than 4 percent of Hawai‘i’s population, reappropriated a term of derogation into one of power; in the community of Pu‘uhonua o Wai‘anae, whose formerly homeless inhabitants strode down a path to a place of purpose and belonging; in the legacy of Ed Greevy, whose images documented the people and purpose of social movements from a few decades past that still have the power to unite us again today. And while it would be all too easy to hunker down and indulge the tribes of people that look, sound, and think like we do, it is only when we venture out from beyond the barriers that separate us that battle lines can truly be broken.

With aloha,
Lisa Yamada-Son

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