SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- The devastation wrought by last week’s 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region of northeastern Japan, and the subsequent nuclear threat, has sparked an equally massive outpouring of support and community fundraising both here in the United States and overseas. Recent headlines from the ethnic media convey the extent to which these efforts have cut across ethnic lines and in some cases, deep historical divides.
Nichi Bei Weekly, one of the country’s first non-profit ethnic newspapers, responded to the tragedy by publishing a special edition, in which managing editor Heather Horiuchi observes that the “nikkei”, or people of Japanese descent living outside of Japan, including U.S. immigrants, are again showing solidarity with the Japanese people, as has been the case historically.
“The Japanese-American and Japanese communities have come to one another’s aid for more than a century,” writes Horiuchi, in reference to the Japanese Americans who came together to provide help for war-torn Japan after World War II. Editor-in-Chief Kenji Taguma also points out that one of the founders of Nichi Bei Weekly’s predecessor, Nichi Bei Times, used the newspaper to raise awareness, funds and much needed aid, after being established in 1946.
Forty years earlier, when Japanese Americans needed help after the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, Japan provided the largest amount of foreign contributions to the city, according to Paul Osaki, Executive Director of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC), a group that is now at the forefront of fundraising for the Tohoku quake & tsunami victims. JCCCNC has already received more than $150,000 in donations, just days after launching their Northern Japan Earthquake Relief Fund on March 11, the day the earthquake struck. The fund drive was also reported by the Pan-Asian news site, AsianWeek.
Aside from the multitude of community-based and civic organizations that are either collaborating with this relief fund or doing their own donation drives, small local churches, some in Sacramento, and a host of Facebook causes and community events are providing ways for everyone to give help. Nichi Bei Weekly’s partial list of aid groups across the country primarily within to the Japanese-American community include the Minami Tamaki LLP law firm, who together with other non-profits is aiming to raise $50,000 by this weekend. This year’s Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival to be held on April 9-10 & 16-17 in San Francisco’s Japantown will also keep the focus on supporting the quake & tsunami victims.
Japanese-American community figures have also stepped up, including Olympic gold medal figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi who pledged $10,000 while actor and community leader George Takei conveyed a message of sympathy on his website saying, “Today, we are all Japanese.”
In Los Angeles, The Rafu Shimpo daily newspaper reported on a relief drive for Japan held outside L.A. City Hall on March 17, a photo showing one of the volunteers clad in full samurai armor. The fundraising effort for the Red Cross was organized by Councilmembers Bernard Parks and Jan Perry, whose district includes Little Tokyo. Consul General Junichi Ihara and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa stopped by to express support.
The paper also reported that the Southern California town of Riverside is reaching out to its sister city of Sendai, considered ground zero of the quake. Mayor Ron Loveridge says that Riverside “sends its prayers and thoughts to Japan…and it stands ready to provide any assistance requested by the federal agencies coordinating the earthquake relief and support efforts.”
Another southern California fundraising event is being spearheaded by the Indian American Associations of Southern California, and is scheduled for Saturday, March 19, at the Sanatan Dharma Temple in Norwalk. The event ad is running on the India West news website serving the South Asian community, and aims to discuss a collective effort to help the victims.
Widely reported in the Korean and Korean-American media outlets - such as Korea Times, Korea Daily, Paran and KBS - as well as in Japanese media, was one of the biggest individual donations to date, given by Korean movie actor Bae Yong-joon. The actor’s donation was reportedly in the ballpark of one million dollars. According to the Chosun Ilbo website, the 39-year old actor, who became hugely popular in Japan via the soap opera, “Winter Sonata,” made the decision when he heard there was a shortage of relief and recovery supplies. He says he will continue to look for more ways to help. Aptly, he is considered one of the first “Korean Wave” stars, and now he has inspired a wave of support from his peers. JoonAng Daily reports that other Korean celebrities have followed Bae’s example and are also pledging their own donations.
NAM writer and Korean media monitor, Aruna Lee believes Bae Yong-joon’s contribution is a significant symbol of what many perceive as the setting aside of hostilities between Korea and Japan. The two countries have been locked in bitter disputes for more than 6 decades over history and territory, but those seem to be taking a back seat in the face of this tragedy. Lee cites that Seoul dispatched 100 rescue workers to the disaster area, while civic organizations in Korea have rallied for donations.
Behrouz Saba believes that the same can be said for China – that despite being “Japan's fiercest detractor since it was occupied by Japanese forces from 1937 to 1945 with a human toll of 20 million, the Chinese government has offered its formal condolences as well as a variety of aid.” Chinese media report that in total, the Chinese government, China’s Red Cross and various groups have pledged millions of dollars in cash and emergency supplies.
For Filipinos, their history with Japan is long and complex, writes columnist Benjamin Pimentel on Filipino news wire Inquirer.net. Pimentel hopes this tragedy expands the lens by which Filipinos view the Japanese, which was defined by their experiences during World War II. Filipinos came to see the Japanese primarily as brutal soldiers, but Pimentel also points out that “Filipino war-era bitterness later turned to admiration for the way Japan not only recovered from the devastation of World War II, but also thrived and emerged as an economic powerhouse in the 70s and 80s.”
The Filipino-American community feels deeply for the victims, as they also remember with gratitude the outpouring of international aid in the wake of the devastating Typhoon Ketsana [Ondoy] in the Philippines in 2009, and are exploring various ways to help. The Filipino Channel news reporter Henni Espinosa confirmed with NAM that Philippine Consulate officials in San Francisco were exploring a meeting with their counterparts at the Japanese consulate to discuss the most effective ways of extending support. The National Federation of Filipino-American Associations [NaFFAA] is also asking Filipinos to donate to the Red Cross.
Sing Tao Daily reports that the Tzu Chi Foundation, based in Taiwan and with offices in San Francisco and San Jose, held a street fundraiser last weekend. Hundreds of volunteers stood outside Chinese supermarkets and restaurants all over the Bay Area, asking for donations. The foundation also raised awareness of disaster preparedness by holding an earthquake drill at Martin Luther King School in San Francisco’s Portola District.
This concern for California’s vulnerability to earthquakes was echoed in La Opinion’s editorial column last Monday, which called on Californians to prepare for disasters, while also encouraging solidarity and international assistance for Japan.
Meantime, the Arab-American community in Dearborn, Michigan is also organizing relief efforts for Japan led by the Center for Arab American Philanthropy [CAAP], which is encouraging community members to collectively help through CAAP’s donor site. The Anti Arab Discrimination Committee [ADC] also expressed condolences and support for the people of Japan.
Pacific Islander groups are also reaching out to Japan. SF SAMOA founder Manufou Anoai says Bay Area Benefit is planning to partner with Japan Center to hold a fundraiser. At a rally in San Francisco on March 16, speaking out against injustices against the Rapa Nui or native people of Easter Island, demonstrators also took time to remember the victims in Japan. Anoai explains that the ties between Japan and the Pacific Islander community are deeply intertwined: “We are all people of the Ocean…we share the same waves.”
- With reporting inputs from Summer Chiang, Vivian Po, Jin Kim, Andrew Lam, Elena Shore, Viji Sundaram, Suzanne Manneh
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