Water the Cherry Blossoms

On February 15, 2001, the Trail published a message written by former Asian Pacific American Student Union President Ngai Fang Chen, which called for a more-than-passing remembrance of the internment of thirty Japanese Puget Sound students. With eloquence, Chen contributed her voice to the chorus in condemnation of the internment and of ethnic persecution in general.

Six months later, two skyscrapers fell in New York, ushering in a period marked by, among other things, a heightened national sense—that is, a countrywide solidarity founded on a common American identity.

At the same time, ethnic discrimination persisted. Entire groups were targeted for the actions of a few, resulting in the ostracism and marginalization of ostensibly suspect peoples. This unified backlash against entire communities reflects a unique inability to attribute blame to individuals with individual motives; fault is found with peoples and not persons, in perversion of a proud democracy that generalizes persons as groups according to principles of equality/equation. This tendency manifests itself daily in the persecution of American ethnic minorities based upon historically informed suspicions, however uncharacteristic of a group they may be.

What troubles me is the co-presence of a strong national sense that fosters unity on the grounds of American-ness and an opposed ethnic sense that seeks to divide Americans on the basis of color. Herein lies a fundamental problem with the attitude America has adopted toward its multiethnic inhabitants. America will continue to undermine itself and its people if it cannot reconcile its sense of nationalism with its hostility to ethnic others.

The internment of 70,000 Japanese American citizens reflects the danger of a divisive ethnic mindset, in which prejudices culminate in the subordination of national identity. Chen writes of our responsibility as students and Americans to learn from the mistakes of the past. With fourteen years elapsed since her reminder and the anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 recently past, it is important, more than ever, to heed the lessons of the past and to undo, if in-small, the tension between national and ethnic identities that troubles America today.

In doing so, we water the cherry blossoms.