Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Canada Includes Americans.

Having been born and raised in Canada, I've experienced my fair share of anti-American-ism. We live in the shadow of the elephant, and we resent it. No one pays attention to us. Other countries think we are part of the US. We are mistaken for Americans when we travel.

There are plenty of negative stereotypes of Americans (Americans are fat and obnoxious!), and we help perpetuate them. Yet we know they are false. Canadians express disapproval/dislike/disgust for things American, but when pressed, we usually admit it is the American government we dislike, not the people. Hell - like many Canadians, I have relatives and many friends in the US (even a former boyfriend), and the people we know tend to be far removed from the stereotypes. The more people you meet, the more you realize that stereotypes are bullshit.

Lately, this phenomenon has been reinforced in spades. I've met quite a number of Americans who have chosen to immigrate to Canada. Some have come of necessity - to escape the gay-persecution coming from religious fundamentalists and George Bush (the religious fundamentalist). Others simply don't like where their country is heading, and/or like what they see here (better health care, more than two political choices, more tolerance for diversity, etc.). These people were ostracized for criticizing the US when they were living there: "If you don't like it, then leave". (Oddly, the same people who told them to leave now call them "cowards" and "traitors" for leaving. Tell you what: how about you get your thoughts on the same page and then get back to us.)

The US's loss is Canada's gain. These people are far from cowards; they have packed up all of their belongings and savings, left dear friends and family behind, and moved to a new country, many facing a job hunt and an uncertain future. Because many are moving for reasons of political ideology, they tend to be intelligent, progressive, outside-the-box thinkers. They show a strong commitment to making this move work. As a lifelong resident of Canada, I fear they will learn about all the problems we have, and once the honeymoon is over, pick up and go back. Yet many of them express how happy they are here; one after another, they tell me: "You don't know how bad things are there."

One important subset of this group is the war resisters, who are not only refusing to participate in the illegal and immoral war in Iraq, but in publicizing their cause they are teaching Canadians about the realities of the conflict and about the Bush administration's actions and motives. Too bad more Canadians aren't listening. Although the majority of Canadians support them, as do a majority in the House of Commons, Harper is running our government as a dictatorship and refusing to honour his obligation to let them stay in Canada. You can bet those of us involved in or supporting the campaign will be screaming loudly about this during the upcoming election.

Anyway. I think about my life in Toronto, and how many people of diverse backgrounds and lifestyles I know. Chinese-Canadians, British-Canadians, Pakistani-Canadians. Add to that American-Canadians. We don't tend to think of those from the US as hyphenated Canadians. When they become citizens, we simply think of them as Canadians. Yet they are not the same as us, and their background and history should not be taken for granted or forgotten. Because of my new friendships, I am being forced to re-evaluate my prejudices, and pay more attention to that tenuous Canadian/American relationship that will always be a part of our lives. I continue to learn. And unless things in the US take a quick change for the better, I have a feeling we are going to be meeting many more American immigrants in the months and years to come.

A big welcome to those who are just arriving. Also, happy anniversary to wmtc, celebrating 3 years here!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Visibility of Racism

I was alerted to the picture above by a friend who is currently living in Switzerland. It's an anti-immigration poster. To North American sensibilities, it is shocking how blatant the racism is, even after hearing about anti-immigration sentiment (directed largely at Muslims) all over Europe.

Of course, this is not to say that we don't have racism over here. We often have to look harder to find it, but there are Canadian- and American-based neo-nazi sites and forums. Do a Google search for "stormfront". I sometimes visit them just to see what they are talking about. The smarter racists (an oxymoron?) will claim pride in race/culture, but that façade falls away quickly when you read the comments on these sites, which rarely talk about pride and instead are obsessed with hatred and stereotypes so crude, they make stories about the deep south in the 50s sound progressive. I'm not kidding; you couldn't make this shit up if you tried.

I don't believe we'll see an end to racism in my lifetime. I think we need to accept it and continue to deal with it. I'm not talking about being complacent; I'm talking about continuing the fight against it. The fight is never-ending, which is why I'm an activist.

My fantasy would be that all racists might have, say, blue skin, so that we would be able to identify them easily and know who to avoid. The reality is that racism is something that many people know not to reveal. It slips out now and then, sometimes when and from whom you least expect it.

There is a long-standing argument about whether it is better that racism be open or hidden. I have heard that in many parts of the US, visible minorities (most often blacks) still suffer fairly open discrimination; in these cases, many victims of racism say that at least they prefer to know where the racists stand. I've also heard many reports of racism in Canada against visible minorities, but in many incidents there are no open comments - no "hard" evidence. Racism hits the headlines in Canada when a whistle-blower inside an organization makes a public claim of discrimination (which will be immediately denied), or a private email with incriminating comments is mistakenly misdirected. Yes, we do have systemic racism in Canada. But we like to keep it quiet.

Call it Political Correctness if you want, but I prefer it our way. In this day and age, I am comfortable with the idea that racists feel they have to keep their thoughts behind closed doors, that they have to fear being "found out", that they know their attitudes are not acceptable in the mainstream. Keep them on their toes. If they want to teach hatred to their children, they'll also have to teach that these attitudes are not tolerated by the majority.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

New: A Shameful Period in our History, Now with Even More Shame!

The WWII internment of Canadians and Americans of Japanese descent was deplorable. In 1988, the governments of Canada and the US both apologized (albeit belatedly, long after many of the victims had died) and provided monetary compensation - although nothing comparable to the value of the victims' material losses (especially in adjusted dollars), to say nothing of the emotional suffering.

Wartime racism is understandable. It still does not justify actions which violate civil liberties. But the wartime logic of the interment has always made some sense to me. In anticipation of a Japanese attack on the west coast of North America, the governments wanted to move those of Japanese descent away from the coast. (* See bottom of this post for an explanation of why this logic was so flawed.)

So imagine my surprise in learning about wartime interference by the US government in other countries' affairs. This completely invalidates the aforementioned "logic". This is not news; it's just the first I am hearing about it. Another sorry example of imperialism...

U.S. went after Japanese in Peru in WWII

Country deported thousands who had never been to States

Leslie Josephs, Associated Press
Sunday, August 10, 2008
(08-10) 04:00 PDT Lima, Peru

Augusto Kague was only 12 when the U.S. government reached far south to his Peruvian farming town and tore his family apart.

It was January 1942 - a month after Japan attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, killing 2,400 and drawing the United States into World War II. The roundup of 110,000 Japanese Americans had begun.

But internment efforts went far beyond U.S. borders.

Kague's father, a Japanese immigrant in Peru, was whisked away by security agents, one of 2,264 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry arrested in Latin America and shipped off to U.S. camps. They were interned under the guise of securing Western Hemisphere interests, including the Panama Canal. About 800 were used in prisoner swaps with Japan, turned over to a country that some - as Latin American-born descendants of Japanese immigrants - had never seen.

Now, 20 years after Japanese Americans won redress for their imprisonment, a small community of Peruvians continues to seek justice with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and a grassroots activist effort based in Northern California.

The group thought it had a breakthrough when a U.S. House Judiciary subcommittee set a July 31 hearing on a bill that would mandate an investigation into the internment of Japanese Latin Americans and propose remedies.

But the hearing has been canceled, and a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, the bill's sponsor, said it's unclear when it would be rescheduled.

"This was a big violation of human rights and they don't want to recognize that," said Kague, now 78. "We just have to keep waiting. I've been waiting a long time already."

The hearing would have been just one step in a decades-long battle. The U.S. government didn't include Japanese Latin Americans when agreeing in 1988 to apologize and pay $20,000 to interned Japanese Americans. The government offered $5,000 and an apology 10 years ago as part of a settlement agreement for a lawsuit filed on behalf of Japanese Latin Americans.

While some took the settlement, Kague was one of hundreds who refused it as unfair. His youngest brother, who was born in a Texas internment camp, got $20,000 as an American citizen.

Three more lawsuits were filed and thrown out, according to the Campaign for Justice, a Bay Area coalition seeking redress. The campaign in 2003 also filed a redress petition with the human rights arm of the Organization of American States that is still pending.

Like their counterparts in the United States, imprisoned Japanese Latin Americans had little ties or allegiance to Japan. Kague's father cooked Peruvian food in his own restaurant. His mother was the daughter of a hacienda owner in northern Peru. The children spoke Spanish and only a few words of Japanese.

Brazil, Panama, Bolivia and other Latin American countries deported people of Japanese ancestry and allowed the United States to strip them of their citizenship.

But the prejudice was particularly virulent in Peru, where many Japanese arrived in the late 1800s mostly to farm and by the 1940s ran thriving businesses.

"Some of the wealthy families of Peruvian society were always jealous of the progress of the Japanese," said German Yaki, 76, who spent a year in the Crystal City, Texas, internment camp.

Yaki's father was a car salesman for General Motors in Lima when the police hauled him away Jan. 12, 1943. Months passed with no word before the family received a letter.

"He said: 'I don't know where I'm being taken. But one thing's for sure: I'm no longer in Peru,' " Yaki said.

Women and children joined the men in prison camps after losing their breadwinners.

Kague's mother fell behind on payments and lost the restaurant. She sold her jewelry and her furniture and, before long, they were homeless.

It took almost three years before she was able to board a U.S. Navy ship with her six children to New Orleans and reunite the family in Crystal City. A seventh child was born in camp.

When they arrived, internees were stripped of their passports and sprayed with DDT, a now-banned pesticide.

"We were sprayed down like we were animals," Kague recalled.

After the war, their home countries didn't want them back. Many went to work in labor camps for New Jersey's Seabrook Farms and were eventually granted work permits.

Alicia Nishimoto, 73, whose father was a cotton plantation owner from Peru's central coast, spent 18 months in Crystal City with her family. Her parents did not have Peruvian citizenship and had one option: to return to her father's hometown of Hiroshima, where the United States had just dropped an atomic bomb.

"There were some people who still had not recovered," she said in a telephone interview from California, where she now lives. "You'd see them on the street. There was no medication. They had maggots on their bodies."

Kague was one of very few able to return to Peru because his mother was a native. His parents in financial ruin, Kague helped support them by taking a job 900 miles from his family in a small bodega in Lima. He's now a successful restaurant owner in the port of Callao.

Many in the community worry that time is running out for the redress fight.

Grace Shimizu, whose father was taken from Peru and interned in Texas, has campaigned vigorously, appearing before Congress several times.

A Bay Area resident and one of the founding members of the Campaign for Justice, Shimizu notes her father died in 2004 without receiving compensation.

"For us, time is of the essence," she said. "Our people are dying."

This article appeared on page A - 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle

• Japanese immigrants (like all of my grandparents) came to North America to find a better life. Why would they be loyal to Japan, to the point of acts of sabotage against their adopted countries?
• The majority were (like my parents) born in Canada and the US. They were citizens, not immigrants.
• In most cultures, the term "first generation" refers to the first generation to be born in a country, not the first to arrive. Japanese culture is one of the few to regard the immigrating generation as the first; this is built into the language. It is an indication of loyalty for one's country. This is a minor point, but seems ironic in light of the suspicion and accusations levelled against the community.
• After the fact: no Japanese-Canadian or -American was ever charged with sabotage or treason. Right-wing nutcase Michelle Malkin's relatively recent claims to the contrary are based on long-refuted "evidence".

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A letter to Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, Diane Finley

Dear Ms Finley:

I just watched the video on YouTube in which a man walks into a meeting to confront you about the IRB decision to deport Iraq war resister Jeremy Hinzman. First of all, it is regrettable that any Canadian citizen should have to interrupt you in a meeting in order to get a response. You have continually refused to meet with war resisters and their supporters on this important issue, which affects hundreds of people currently in Canada.

Secondly, the man in the video points out that a strong majority of Canadians support the war resisters and feel that they should be allowed to stay in Canada (repeated polling confirms this). As you know, a majority in parliament also voted to allow the war resisters to stay. Your response refers to a "system" and a "process" for these cases, and that you expect people to "obey the rules" and "respect all of our laws". What you fail to address is that you yourself and the Conservative government are not respecting the system and process in place in parliament, nor are you respecting the will of the Canadian people. On April 13, 2005, Stephen Harper himself said, "The Prime Minister has the moral responsibility to respect the will of the House". In refusing to honour the majority vote to allow the war resisters to stay in Canada, you and Stephen Harper are showing a lack of respect for democracy itself.

The war resisters have not made the decision to come to Canada lightly. They are disrupting their lives, and in some cases alienating family and friends. Yet they are committed to their refusal to fight in an illegal and immoral war. As a result of their strong commitment to their morals and their desire to do the right thing, they have also shown a commitment to contribute to Canadian society, finding jobs, paying taxes, and helping to publicize this issue - which is not always easy as many of them suffer PTSD as a result of the things they have seen or were forced to do while in Iraq. They are the kind of immigrants this country needs, not the kind we should be turning away.

I would be very interested to hear you address this issue.

Jeremy Hinzman was the first Iraq war resister to go public with his fight to be allowed to live in Canada. He and his family have been ordered to leave Canada by September 23, or be deported. Robin Long has already been deported and is now in jail in the US. Our fight to get Harper to do the right thing continues. In Toronto, there will be an emergency public meeting of the War Resisters Support Campaign on Wednesday, August 20, at 7:00 pm at the Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil Street. September 13 will be a pan-Canadian day of action. In the meantime, call the conservative scumbags or send an email:

Stephen Harper

Diane Finley
905.701.1881 / /

It's stuff like this that makes me resent the "honourable" title that gets used for MPs.

As always, thanks to Laura at wmtc for the information, and for keeping us updated.

PS: here's the video, for those who haven't seen it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hiding Racism behind the Banner of Political Correctness

The photo above of the Spanish Olympic men's basketball team, taken for Spanish courier company Seur, shows the entire team stretching their eyes in an attempt to look more Asian. The ad is running only in Spain. The action was the idea of the photographer. Another photo shows Spain's women's team doing the same thing; last week, a photo appeared of four members Argentina's women's football team doing the same.

Of course, the action was done in jest and was not intended to offend. The Spanish team has apologized; the sponsor has not, and does not intend to withdraw the ad. The IOC is satisfied with this.

Not surprisingly, response has been quick: international media have condemned the photos as racist; the defense of the photo claims that critics are only being "Politically Correct".

A quick history: when I was a child, and someone made a remark that offended someone else, it was appropriate to apologize, and hopefully learn from the mistake. We took other people's feelings into account. If something was likely to offend someone else - especially on the basis of race, sex, etc. - you simply avoided making the offending remark. As an example, we used the term "eskimo", but later replaced it with "Inuit" when the people who the term refers to pointed out that "eskimo" is inappropriate. (There are some issues with the use of "Inuit", but the point is that we opened a dialogue and addressed the issue.) Somewhere along the way, however, the concept of Political Correctness was invented. And the problem was that the issue became one of language, policed by self-appointed "experts" - never Linguists - who had no business making decisions about language, let alone imposing them on the general public. Today, everyone who cries "racism" gets slapped with the "PC" label. At best, incidents of racism get muddied; at worst, true racists hide behind PC as an excuse to use slurs with impunity.

What is important here is not what the photographer, team, or sponsor intended, but rather whether anyone is hurt or victimized by the action. Do Asians feel slighted by it? Not all will, of course (which means that the anti-PC crowd will find a non-offended Asian to hold up as a champion of their cause). But if some are, then there is a problem.

I remember when Rosie O'Donnell got in trouble for her "ching chong" remark. I remember first reading about the incident. It took my breath away. I was instantly transported back to childhood, to re-live every racist slur I've ever had directed at me. This basketball photo is no different. It represents the behaviour of 5 year-olds, who don't know any better. But 5 year-olds don't come up with this shit on their own; someone teaches it to them - someone who is ignorant of the damage such actions do, or worse, intends to do the damage. It is the ignorant who pass on racism by teaching it to the next generation. If this ad is allowed to pass without criticism, apology, or - most importantly - the realization that this is a mistake to be learned from, then we risk passing on racism to the next generation.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mosque helping Khadr accused of terror links

So says the title of today's article in the Toronto Star. Once again, and as with all of the accusations of terrorism against Muslims, I wanted to see the evidence. Here is the only elaboration of "evidence" in the article:

Lead prosecutor Howard Piafsky told the court that the Khadr patriarch Ahmed Said Khadr, who was believed to have close ties to Osama bin Laden and many of those charged in the so-called Toronto 18 terrorist plot, often visited the centre and used its facilities.

Note "believed to have close ties". Note also "and many of those charged in the so-called Toronto 18 terrorist plot" (need I point out that none of these men have been convicted?). And this constitutes "terror links"?

It's no wonder that so many people remain ignorant, and that Muslims continue to be targeted by racists.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Particularly offensive advertising

I've long been puzzled by a particular advertising strategy: the one in which the advertiser purports to know about someone's life and/or history - specifically, your Dad's. Buick used this strategy, claiming to have been "your father's car", thus appealing to a sense of tradition and brand loyalty. Great: I should ignore consumer reports and recall records, and blindly buy a car just because my Dad supposedly did. Actually, he did own a few Buicks. He also owned some Pontiacs, an endless stream of Fords, and later, Toyotas and Hondas. The Buick years are not remembered fondly for reliability and maintenance-free driving.

Another advertising offender was Canadian Club, which was supposedly my Dad's drink of choice. That annoying ad strategy is back today, appearing on Facebook. The ad says:
"Your Dad Rocked.
He did what he wanted, when he wanted. Follow his lead."

I'm then urged to become a fan of Canadian Club.

Who comes up with this shit? Hey, "idea people": you don't know dick-all about my Dad. My Dad is a great guy, but he never struck me as "doing what he wanted, when he wanted". He was much too busy working and helping my Mom raise six kids. How are we not supposed to feel excluded when advertisers create this Dad-stereotype which doesn't fit the image that probably the majority of the population have of their Dads? And how are we supposed to feel about being excluded?

Stereotype-Dad played football in high school, graduated university, probably married his high-school sweetheart, and lives in a big house with a white picket fence. If there is a photo of stereotype-Dad, he is white. (I could never shake the feeling that stereotype-Dad was part of a university fraternity that didn't admit blacks or Jews, and if that's the image I have, the advertising idea people can blame themselves - it's their own contrived image.) My own Dad, on the other hand, had his Mother die when he was a baby, was on his own and out working for a living before his mid-teens, was put in a prison camp during WWII, joined the army to fight for Canada when he was permitted, and met my Mother when his army buddy brought him home during the war. So excuse me if I have trouble picturing my Dad when I see these stupid ads.

You know what? My Dad does rock: for loving me unconditionally, for raising me with a sense of security, for making all the sacrifices he did for family, and for teaching me to always persevere. These are the things I will always remember about my Dad. Fuck the whiskey and luxury cars.