For those who have been following Thymos's local Portland annual activist event, we concluded on Friday with an excellent event hosted by Oregon Poet Laureate Lawson Inada. Mr. Inada was one of the editors of Aiiieeeee! during the 1970's, and he was appointed a couple of years ago by Governor Ted Kulongoski as Oregon's Poet Laureate. He has a deep history in the Oregon Japanese American community and is a both a poet and an activist.
Our event was advertised as a "coffee time chat" about activism. Mr. Inada began by asking us to write down all the places we lived. He told us we could draw it as a map, or we could just list the places sequentially. He then went around the room and asked us to tell our story.
It was absolutely amazing. People I had known for a long time had life stories that I would never have imagined. As Mr. Inada later explained, the purpose of the exercise was to show everyone where each person "was coming from" and how each person's life eventually brought them to the Red and Black Cafe where the event was held. I was particularly struck by the stories of the older JACL members. Their families had all endured some form of hardship and displacement due to the internment. It was a common bond that tied them all together, and each member was able to a certain extent to share some story about coming from internment. (Though interestingly enough, no one spoke about it directly.)
Mr. Inada spent most of the rest of the chat talking about organizations, about recognizing common events and milestones, and about inter-organizational sharing. He knew all about our organizations, and he knew the key players who made things happen. He encouraged us to work together and to remember history.
One lesson I took from Lawson's chat was the idea of commonality. We all come from different perspectives, and yet somehow we can find common bonds where we overlap. Within the crowd, we had diverse people such as a Vietnamese refugee, a Cuban refugee, an immigrant from Afghanistan, and a Korean adoptee. Yet everyone was at the Red and Black to discuss activism and ways in which we could create a better society for all. Everyone was there to learn how we were similar, despite the fact that we came from all over the globe.
A big part of activism, I think, is learning to work with people who think differently. This particular event showcased a lot of that. Frank Chin has criticized the JACL, and yet they supported us financially to bring him up here. During the Frank Chin movie, one of the filmed interviewees criticized the JACL by saying the organization lacked courage, and an audience member yelled out, "Bullshit!" But it's all good, and we the feedback. Hardly anyone left during the movie, and everyone stayed around to ask questions and to engage one another on issues. We actually had a larger crowd for the Curtis Choy discussion than we had for the Vincent Chin panel last year. People will never always agree on everything--Dinesh D'Souza and Tim Wise both have strong viewpoints based on the same, mostly agreed-upon facts--but we all learn to coexist. D'Souza thinks affirmative action is racist, while Wise thinks the absence of affirmative action protects racism. They'll never agree on perspective, but they don't have to, as long as everyone is honest and forthcoming. (I've found that many disagreements take place because people just refuse to say what they really think.) People can still debate issues without getting personal, and they can still live in the same space.
The Frank Chin event, overall, was a great experience, one of the best of my life. It was worth every second and every effort we put into it. When we bring pioneers and give them the space and opportunity to teach us, we learn more than we could ever learn on our own. I highly recommend all Thymos and all the 44s to seek out our teachers and to listen.