“America has the worst (human rights) record in the world!”
— Zenshu Shimabukuro, … 1953, ’54, ’55, ’56, ’57, ’59—’62, when he died.
“America has the greatest Constitution in the world!”
—Zenshu Shimabukuro, 1958.
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The reason my dad changed his tune in 1958 was that the “Hawaii Seven,” who had been serving time for violations of the Smith Act, were set free by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ruled that the abstract teaching of communism did not constitute conspiracy to overthrow the government by force or violence as defined by the Smith Act.
That decision was instrumental in his thoughts about America. Dad followed local, national, and international politics and shared his thoughts about the world in family conversations, especially around the dinner table. He was happy that day. He thought America had a chance to redeem itself.
As I write this, it is a few days before Father’s Day, 2015. I wonder about what he would think about the socio-political-economic state in which we find ourselves today. He felt like he was a failure because he could not provide for his children, and that he lived in a country/culture that punished kids for failures of the father. He also thought his biggest failure was getting angry and fighting with a luna (foreman) at Lahainaluna (a work/study/boarding high school on Maui) and being kicked out of school, ruining his chance to go to college.
Today, I also wonder what he would say about the changes that so obviously need to be made. Change, he always said, is inevitable. “When system broke, change’em. Every thing today, even if good, in future going need change. Because they only ‘scotch tape.’ If everybody get education, people can get together and fix stuff.”
“Nah,” I thought. “ Dad would just get angry. He always cautioned me, “Don’t get angry.” He was 55-years-old when he died.
Zenwa Uncle, on the other hand, was 97-years-old when he died and I had never seen him angry. “Your faddah and me, we ‘wen’ read too many history books. History books don’t tell truth. More truthful history in fiction.”
He was pointing out a truth. They who control the narrative, control the history. We (the 99 percent) are controlled by a narrative that emphasizes mostly entrepreneurs (beginning with Columbus), slave holders, invaders, conquerors, and thieves as heroes. Really. The 1 percent conveniently gloss over what they have done in our (American and European) name: Slavery. Genocide. Incarceration. Torture. Devastation of states’/countries’/colonies’ ecosphere in order to produce food and goods for us.
Education should not be viewed as just part of a school/job/retirement pipeline. We learn stuff from schools, family, environment, media, from listening to the stories of others very different from ours. Frontline community organizers’ primary function is to teach and learn about narratives that are true to what is happening in the community. But the school part of the pipeline, especially the public school system, is most important because it can provide the common cultural background in which we develop a more accurate narrative, especially one that reflects more what is happening with us than with the 1 percent. We can’t let them stifle our narrative. We can’t throw our children and grandchildren under the “school reform” bus.
The last two weeks have been an overwhelming learning experience for me, thinking about my life, my family, about leadership, community organizing. I’ve been moved to tears, to joy, having a good time (and paying for it), to anger, to reflection. As all these emotions and thoughts have gone through my head, there’s one simple message that keeps pounding through from Dad: The greatness of America lies in its future, not in its past.
I also think about Zenwa Uncle’s thoughts. I’ve also been reading a lot. Non-fiction. Maybe I should take a break.
Let’s catch a breath, then read some fiction.
Elders should be able to ride the bus free. It’s just safer for everyone if we’re not driving.
Taking the Community out of the “Community College” was a big mistake.
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Conversations with the following contributed to this column: Jesse Hagopian, Wayne Au, Mira Shimabukuro, Rebecca Saldana, and Heather Villanueva.
Saldana and Villanueva will be speaking at the Social Security & Medicare Decades of Success Celebration on Saturday, August 8, 2015 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Westlake Park.
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Editor’s note (7/4/2015 at 12:12 p.m.): Story was edited to correctly say that the writer’s father passed away at 55 years of age, not 62.