Julie Azuma, Activist

 

Julie Azuma is a Chicago-born New Yorker with an extensive career in social activism, both as an educational activist for children with autism, and as an activist for Japanese-American rights. With a career spanning more than two decades, Julie has used the influence and success of her company, Different Roads to Learning, to speak for those without a strong political voice. Julie’s work in bringing awareness to issues such as the educational gap for autistic children, and the necessary reparations needed after the holding of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during World War II, has sparked important change and started needed conversations about human rights. As she continues to work for progress in our country, she talked about her extensive life and career, and the effect her work has had on herself.

Interviewed by Alexis Perez

I would say that all of the activist work I have done was not calculated, but very natural. It all felt very necessary and essential to the life I was living. Growing up in Chicago, with two Japanese-American parents who had lived in America during the second World War, I felt very personally affected by the history of the use of concentration camps during that time.

During this time, Japanese or Japanese-Americans folks were held in these internment camps right after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Both of my parents had been held in one of these camps, and my mother was even pregnant with me during her year-long imprisonment. This was about as extensive as my history of their experience at the camps was; my family refused to talk about what had happened, or the effect it had on them thereafter. If I was ever to ask about what had happened in these times, my parents would shut down on me. This past was treated as though it didn’t matter, although it was very clear to me that it had scarred my family and others for generations.

My mother, a first-generation Japanese-American, and my father, a Japanese-American immigrant, both seemed to hold significant scars after their imprisonments. These effects were also seen on my distant cousins who were held in the camps, and consisted of a general, underlying fear of authority. I also felt that it made them want to blend into the background politically, and they have not wanted to stick out in the face of authority since. Even discussing the effects or happenings of the concentration camps felt like a can of worms best left unopened.

Not knowing more than this about their history, and the history of other interned Japanese-Americans, caused me to seek out, later in my life, a place to learn and discover more about it. I was greatly affected by the shame and humiliation these events had caused in my family, and was open to meeting with others who felt the same. I sought out a group working for Redress Reparations in California, and eventually, I got involved with a group that met weekly, or sometimes monthly, in the basement of a church to work towards receiving these reparations for Japanese-Americans affected by these concentration camps. We wanted to find a way to stand up for the detention our people faced, and we truly believed we were capable of fixing the issue. We worked tirelessly until we won in 1980, when the bill was passed to start a reparation program. Working with this program for years, I got to meet many famous Japanese and Japanese-American activists that I felt so privileged to be able to enjoy. Since that time, I am still in touch with many of these people, and continue to reach out to this day.

Being a part of that movement, and involving myself later with other Japanese New Yorkers helped me create my space in America as a Japanese-American. We felt as though the Japanese New Yorker experience was different than those in other regions, as we were generally more artistic or bohemian. Prior to discovering this circle, I had always felt as if I had no sense of community. It seemed as though Japanese-Americans were previously pushed into the background, and continued to face oppression because it was assumed that we wouldn’t yell, or make noise about what we were facing. Gathering a community of Japanese Americans, and continuing to raise awareness about what our ancestors had faced, fostered the greatest sense of community for us. Even now, we try to gather as often as possible and have a potluck of Asian food, and it has given us our own, different space to feel a part of.

This has been a big part of my activism over the years–wanting to create a sense of belonging on many levels for those that didn’t have this before. Whenever inviting someone new to come along to our potluck, my mantra is: “I promise you’ll meet someone that you like!” This has been my favorite way to foster community among those who had felt neglected before.

Like my activism for Japanese-Americans, my work for educational support for autistic children also came from what seemed like a place of necessity on my part. Moving into adulthood, I had always wanted many children and imagined myself having quite a few. My older daughter, however, Miranda, was adopted by my husband and me from Korea. We noticed fairly early that she had severe behavioral issues, and was disabled in some way.

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Eddie Chiu

 

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I came to America in 1980, from a long line of political leaders. My family came from the rulers of the ancient Song Dynasty. In 1948, we were chased by Maoist soldiers from China to Hong Kong. When I came to America, I started a few restaurants, one on Grand Street and another on Division. I retired when I was still young enough to give back to the community- to make life better for other people. I took over the Lin Sing Association, a very old Chinatown club, to provide space for journalists and community members to meet, to take classes and teach them, and to help people find answers to their problems.

Marian Thom

 

Marian-ThomMarian Thom is an early Chinatown union activist, and a bilingual paraprofessional (para) who worked on reading and other programs in NYC public schools in Chinatown for 36 years.  She has motivated and defended students and fellow employees alike during a long career devoted to her community.  She helped to organize the paras into the United Federation of Teachers, and has been active in the union since 1970.

Her influence in both the schools and in the labor movement is wide ranging:  in 1990 she helped to found the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, serving as a national officer and national board member for some years.  She was the NY Chapter President of APALA for years, and was also active in the Coalition of Labor Union Women.

As a school para, she showed those (often rambunctious) middle school kids a lot of “tough love,” making sure they did not skip school and behaved properly in class, and worked closely with their families.  She served the local Boy Scout/Cub Scout troop for 41 years (starting with her two sons), and was on the Board of Directors of Confucius Plaza housing for 15 years.  She continues to chair the UFT’s Asian American Heritage Committee, as she has for 24 years.

 

Where’s Businessman Trump?

Terry H. Schwadron

April 7, 2018

In electing an avowed billionaire businessman as president, a deal-maker devoted to creating more American jobs, Americans could have believed that they had at least one basically sound principle to pursue with Donald Trump.

Whatever else Trump did that might disrupt, act out through provocative tweet, even flip off American tradition, custom and values, he would be rock solid on looking after job creation.

How are we doing?

A year in, we’re on the verge of a huge trade war with China and others—though administration either were taking pains yesterday to say otherwise or saying, yes, a trade war is warranted,  the vaunted gains in stock market value were teetering, new job creation is starting to dwindle, and lots of companies are still laying people off. The claimed economic gains of a corporate tax cut have delivered benefits to the wealthy class, but the gains elsewhere are now openly being questioned, as the rising prices for imported goods through tariff policies will eat up any personal tax gains.

Meanwhile, housing starts are down, job training lags and the president is choosing older manufacturing and mining goals over preparing for a future competition with artificial intelligence and non-fossil fuel energy sources.

That this president is impulsive, and left without a specific agenda, tends to go back to moves that serve his most loyal base by acting first, then perhaps later actually making it work as policy, if ever. That seems to be the case with what I’d say qualifies as wildly cowboy-like actions to expand tariffs on Chinese imports by another $100 billion.

That these Trump-style, disruptive actions may lead to unintended results in the stock market, among American farmers and manufacturers who depend on imported steel and aluminum, and for consumer prices, well, that strikes me as something of a different order. If Mr. Art of the Deal is as much a savvy businessman as he thinks he is, he ought to be able to predict what happens when he fiddles with the levers of the U.S. economy.

So, my first gripe of the day, is don’t make unilateral policy if you don’t know where the actions will lead us.

My second grip of the day is: Where are the Republican congressional leaders? The silence, once again, speaks volumes. Where is the oversight over all this?

Of course, behind these gripes is a general complaint that this president refuses to heed economic learning just as he rejects Science in general. And he refuses to listen to advisers who simply are unable to persuade him of likely outcomes from taking actions.

On top of all of this, it is difficult to understand that Trump actually believes that China will bend just because he tells them to kneel to his word. After all, this is the same China that holds the largest portions of U.S. debt, that is a formidable rival for control of the South Asia sealanes, that clearly is the key to reaching some kind of peaceful agreement with the loony North Korean leader over de-nuclearization efforts for the Korean peninsula.

Why does Trump believe that faces with higher consumer prices on all sides, both Chinese and American, to say nothing of Europe and the rest of Asia, that China will decide to reform its ways? What they do in Beijing has been working pretty well for them. But even more, why does Trump believe suddenly that China will limit its responses to trade issues alone, that it will not reach into a more complete diplomatic, financial and strategically military response as well?

The more I see of Trump as businessman, the less I am impressed. I realize that Trump enterprises have gone south multiple times over the years, and that he has been sued oodles of times over underpayment or non-payment of contracts. I am sure, without sufficient evidence, that he has failed to share his income taxes because he wants to keep some aspect of the tax returns extremely private either because the returns shows he has cheated or that he is not worth what he says he is. I realize that Trump’s negotiating style is just as much at issue as the policy he seeks to win.

The new job figures this week show about 104,000 jobs, about half the amount of job creation as had been expected, offsetting the hyped addition of 300,000 in January. In fact, the Labor Department now is saying that January figure must be adjusted downward. The entire Trump economic effort is tied to job creation, particularly in mining, steel and heavy-metal manufacturing.

Data show that, as this column, at least, predicted, companies are choosing to spend more money on retiring debt and stock buybacks, and then on technology investments, than on job creation.  Wages have remained stagnant, despite the hype over tax cuts, the wage gap between workers and bosses have grown wider and any improvements have served the specific Rust Belt areas where Trump won over broader support for job creation in new technologies.

Whatever gains there have been in corporate taxes and rising markets have now given way to nervousness and market uncertainty. It seems an economic truism that in uncertain times, markets lose value.

The very fact that the White House has been given the assignment to calm nerves should say a lot about how reckless the tariff approach is proving to be.

Bottom line: The one thing Trump may have brought to the job as an advantage is itself unraveling as he sows disruption around with trade partners.

Maybe the president just needs a bigger America First hat.

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Emanuela Caferri, Another Life Change

 

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By Emanuela Caferri

I was born in Ethiopia, and when I was eleven years old we moved to Italy. I lived in Italy for twenty-six years where I studied, worked, loved and grew up. It was a very interesting adventure.

Six years ago, I  moved here to the United States where I started a new adventure in New York City.

One of the best things that has happened in my life, was that I started practicing Buddhism. I was 13 years old the first time I heard about Buddhism, and even though I had met many Buddhists, I never practiced.

But then, I saw a documentary about Mahatma Gandhi.  I was impressed to see this little man who was so positive, determined and powerful. I started to watch more documentaries about him, and I saw where all of this came from.

He was doing meditation and yoga.

I liked that kind of philosophy, and I decided to do some research. Then someone spoke to me about Buddhism. Two years ago, I started to practice, and I got a lot of benefit from it.

But Buddhism is not magic.

One of the big concepts in Buddhism is that it can help you transform your negative mind to a positive mind. It helps you to see your life with clarity and shows you the power that you have inside you to transform your own life. The Buddhist philosophy is based on the fact that happiness is inside of you, so you do not have to depend on external things like people or situations.

Meditation is at the base of the Buddhist way of life. It helps us to connect to the universe.

This meditation is not in silence- it has sound. We repeat the words- NAM MYOHO RENGE KYO.

These words that we use during meditation can be repeated as often as we want.

Buddhism has helped me so much.

One of the nice things that happened to me in two years of practice, is that I now have my own apartment when, before,  it had seemed impossible

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Yehya Balewa. Fordham Security Guard

By Jenna Lofaro

Sitting in the entrance to one of Fordham’s upperclassman residence halls is Yehya Balewa. an immigrant from Ghana. His job is to ensure and care for the safety of all residents living in his building between the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Yehya came to the United States 11 years ago. The Bronx is the first place he came to in the United States and he has never left. Yehya is a husband and father of 3 children. His wife left Ghana a year before him, and he soon followed with his children a year later.

When asked what the transition into American life was like, Yehya said he believes how one handles such a drastic change depends on the individual. For him, he found the transition was made easier by trying to maintain the same life style he formerly had. His focus remains on family and providing for them just as it did over a decade ago in Ghana. He says, “my children are my friends and that is all I need.”

Before Fordham, Yehya worked security at a different organization in the Bronx for five years. Now in his sixth year at Fordham, he enjoys the community of working in a university, especially when he gets the chance to work security at sporting events and witness the unity of the student body first hand.

 

The Invisible Janitor…

This is a story available here from the Washington Post.

The janitor felt invisible to Georgetown students                                        — until one changed his life

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Georgetown student Febin Bellamy with janitor Oneil Batchelor. (Washington Post/Andy Hoff/UnSung Heroes)

By Petula Dvorak Columnist October 13, 2016

Every night, they had the same routine.

The Georgetown University business student would settle in for his cram session — soda, chips, books lined up.                                                    And the janitor would come in to start his night shift — polishing each of the windows in the study room, moving amid all those books and chips and sodas. Invisible.                                                                                         “There was this space, like ice separating us,” said Oneil Batchelor, an immigrant from Jamaica. The janitor worked around the students — many of them in their 20s like him, many with entrepreneurial ambitions like him — for nearly a decade before one of them finally broke that ice last year.                                                                                                     A nod one night. A hello the next.                                                                             And within weeks, Batchelor and the student, Febin Bellamy, were having long talks about being immigrants, about wanting to be entrepreneurs, about politics and history and music. Bellamy even went to Batchelor’s church and met his 6-year-old daughter. After he formed that bond with the once-invisible worker, Bellamy couldn’t stop noticing the others. “Once you see it, you can’t unsee it,” the 22-year-old said.                                                                                                                        The minimum-wage cafeteria workers dishing up food, the locker-room attendant scrubbing the stinkiest places, the maintenance man doing backbreaking work in the garden while students maneuver around him, heads bowed to their phones. It’s not just affluence, age and pedigree that create this yawning gap at a school where tuition and room and board run more than $65,000 a year. “Everybody’s in their own world,” Bellamy said. “A lot of students have good hearts and were raised right, it’s just not always easy for them to get to know people around them.” Each of those workers has a story. Many of them are immigrants, and their collective histories of war and flight and families left behind offer a master class in geopolitics. No tuition needed.                                                                                                                            Bellamy understands because these are his people. His family Continue reading