With Eye To The Past, Japanese-Ohioan Unnerved By Immigration Rhetoric

Akisa Fukuzawa, head of the Japan-America Society of Central Ohio (Tony Ganzer / WCPN)
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Sometimes when reporters go out for one story, another story might be close by.  Ideastream's Tony Ganzer recently travelled to Columbus for a story on Japanese culture in Ohio, and ended up talking about immigration and presidential politics with Akisa Fukuzawa.  She’s the executive director of the Japan-America Society of Central Ohio.

She was especially unnerved by some GOP positions on immigration and security, like this statement from Donald Trump, which he read at a presidential campaign event:

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

Akisa Fukuzawa is a Japanese native who has been in the U.S. for 20 years.  She finds the tone of some political rhetoric as concerning…especially in light of previous episodes in the U.S., like the treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two. 

FUKUZAWA: “History can repeat.  It may not be in the Japanese-American specifically, but certain group of people can be targeted, too, based on the relationship of the United States and that country.  And the people that have nothing to do with that will suffer.”

GANZER: “You’ve been in the United States for so many years, and do you feel like this is something new, that you haven’t seen before since being here?”

FUKUZAWA: “Yeah.  Certain people support those political views, and people laugh at me, ‘well that’s not going to happen, that was a long time ago.’ But you know it’s going to change once, you know, all those politicians speak out.  So that just seems to me, and reminded me, of the…how things came about during the World War Two, you know, Jewish refugees in the European countries, and certain Japanese in the United States—singling out certain groups of people and not treat[ing them] as a human being, is really concerning as a minority here.  And actually we have a Japanese-American member, and one time she shared it with us, a story about: she was actually in a camp with her brother and then parents, and the war is over, and she was relocated to the new home in California. People still doesn’t like the Japanese families that are moving in to…so she can hear gun shots, you know, from the neighbors that are shooting at her house.  You know, she was really scared.  *sobs* I’m sorry, I get still emotional.”

GANZER: “It’s okay.”

FUKUZAWA: “So if you hear real story like that, it just make me feel worried that any given moment things could change, and I’m really wishing for that would never happen to like my son, or new generation after that, based on how people can think about a certain group of minorities and certain immigrants just because of a certain political picture in that timeframe, so we have a living proof like our member, and we need to learn from there.”

GANZER: “You said your husband is American.  Have you since become American, too—U.S. citizenship?”

FUKUZAWA: “I’m still permanent resident, which is not a citizen, but it’s just a matter of time.  So currently I don’t have a vote, however I can speak my mind.”

GANZER: “The political discourse, does it make you rethink that step of becoming American?”

FUKUZAWA: “Yes.  This is how important for politicians to think about is that: just because you focus on the voters, and tend to forget about non-voters. If you want to gain more sustainable support from the community, I think you need to take care of the one who are waiting behind, you know, ready to become a citizen.”

Akisa Fukuzawa is executive director of the Japan-America Society of Central Ohio. 

Listening in to her thoughts was Niraj Antani, a Republican state representative from Miamisburg, who is also on the Ohio GOP’s Asian Pacific American Advisory Council:

GANZER: “Representative Antani, what did you think of that?”

ANTANI: “Well, you know I think that it’s a very interesting perspective, although I would have to certainly disagree.  You know, I mean, there are incredible differences between what happened in World War Two, and what the proposal on the table is by one of the candidates running for president.  You know, I don’t see them as at all the same.  You know, one was the unfair and unjust internment of American citizens; the other proposal being the cessation of visitation rights and visa rights for some folks from countries that have proven to have terrorist backgrounds, and that harbor terrorists, and that support terrorism against the United States.  So I don’t really see any similarity between the two of those.  I disagree with Donald Trump, I don’t necessarily think it has to be every Muslim, but, you know, perhaps we should be more careful of folks coming from countries such as Saudi Arabia, or Syria, or countries where these terrorists have had a haven.  And we should perhaps screen those folks more carefully as they come into our country.”

GANZER: “As I mentioned you are on the Ohio GOP’s Asian Pacific American Advisory Council, doing outreach to certain groups to share the Republican perspective.  Do you think that some of the ideas, and some of the comments from GOP frontrunners and presidential candidates—does that make your job harder, maybe, to outreach to some communities?”

ANTANI: “No, absolutely not.  As one of the few Asian-American elected officials in Ohio, I represent the Asian-American community across the state. And understanding that after 2012, when the Republicans lost the Asian-American vote by large margins, we had work to do, and that’s why we established this advisory council, and are working hard at changing the attitudes of Asian-Americans toward the Republican Party, and I think we’re making progress.”

GANZER: “Is there anything else that you think our listeners should keep in mind, maybe from the GOP perspective, or from you personally, how you view the presidential race at this point?”

ANTANI: “Well, I think you have to look at each candidate, you know, for what they stand for.  Donald Trump was a Democrat six years ago, and so I don’t know that his rhetoric reflects what the Republican Party’s rhetoric is, as he’s only been a Republican for a couple of years.  But I think what this woman’s fearmongering—it just divides our country.  And that’s what Democrats want, is they want minorities to be scared.  And that’s not something that we should strive for.  We should strive for a unified country.”

GANZER: “Would you allow that perhaps it was just a spontaneous emotional reaction?”

ANTANI: “You know, perhaps.  But this goes directly in line of what Democrats want to do in dividing our country.  You know, my family came from India and were under British-Indian rule, you know my grandparents, and so I have a special appreciation for America and for what America has given us.”

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