Solemn faces in grainy black and white photographs stare out behind panes of glass, a stark reminder of pain and suffering felt generations ago by the Japanese American community. At the Japanese Cultural and Community Center in Seattle, these captured memories of internment camps in the Pacific Northwest remind visitors of Washington’s deep ties to Japan.
The recent earthquake and tsunami has inspired an outpouring of support from many groups around Seattle, a sign of the strong ties with Japan that still exist today. From donation boxes to bank accounts and fundraisers, various community and ethnic groups in the city have reached out to send money to aid the struggling areas of Japan.
Kirsten Henning is the Interim Director at Seattle’s Japanese Cultural and Community Center. Since the day the quake and tsunami hit, Henning says the center has been working tirelessly to find ways to help disaster victims.
The center has joined together with nearly 50 other groups around the city to form a website called Seattle Japan Relief. Money can be donated through the Seattle Japan Relief website (www.seattlejapanrelief.org) to three separate organizations: Peace Winds America, American Red Cross and the YMCA of Greater Seattle.
“The primary purpose of the website is to donate. They need money. People want to send blankets, and gifts,” Henning explains. “But the number one thing is money. It’s not efficient to ship things.”
The Japanese Cultural and Community Center is in collaboration with the Hyogo Business and Cultural Center, or HBCC. For two decades, the HBCC has worked to foster awareness and education about the Hyogo Prefecture and Japan. Henning herself has a long history of working with Japan, and remembers the disaster response after the Kobe earthquake in 1995 that struck the Hyogo Prefecture.
“I’ve seen an incredible outpouring of gratitude,” says Henning. “The landscape has forever changed. On one hand that’s overwhelming, but it’s equally overwhelming to see people step up and work together.”
In addition to community collaborating efforts, Henning has worked as a translator for those seeking information about friends and relatives in the tsunami-struck region.
Ben Erickson is the Cultural and Educational Program Director for HBCC. His connection to the disaster area is strong, as he spent two years working for the Japanese Exchange Teaching Program, or JET, in the Iwate Prefecture. Erickson lived in the town of Ninohe, close to where the tsunami ravaged coastal cities.
“Some of the cities I would see on TV are where I would go to on weekends with my friends,” says Erickson. “Everyone I know in Japan is talking about how they’ve lost relatives or they’re still trying to find people. It’s very difficult to be safe and sound but then to hear on the other side that things aren’t well.”
Henning and Erickson have been thrilled to see the amount of money being donated. Recentlyw, nearly $20,000 was raised in a single day at Uwajimaya in the International District.
Other groups in Seattle have also stepped up to raise donations for Japan. The Vietnamese American community has planned a fundraiser for Sunday, April 10 at Jumbo Asian Restaurant. Tickets range from $25-$60, and all proceeds will go to Peace Winds America. Samantha Hoang is Director of Miss Vietnam of Washington, the group leading the fundraiser.
Hoang says the Vietnamese community was eager to contribute to the relief effort. “We were blessed to have others lend a helping hand when our country was in need. So this is a chance for us as a community to show that we do remember what others have done for us.”
The Chinese Chamber of Commerce has also set up a donation account at U.S. Bank. Pauline Lau is with the chamber, and says all proceeds will go directly to the American Red Cross.
“So many people want to help. We are more passive but we reach out to more people than just the Chinese community,” Lau explains. “We want to do something that will have an impact.”
The Asian Pacific Islander Council of Seattle, Seattle Gay News and Neighbours Nightclub put together a benefit cabaret show, with all proceeds going to the Rainbow World Fund. In a statement, drag queen entertainer and president of the API Council Gaysha Starr expressed the strong desire to join the effort.
“Since we are primarily a drag organization, we have the ability to bring many people from different communities as a captive audience, and raise money through the door cover, auction and raffle prizes and the entertainers donating their tips.”
JCCC’s Henning says the response in Seattle has been humbling. “I think I knew that about this community, but seeing it in action with my own eyes is a whole different experience. It’s nice to know we can come together in times when we need to rally.”
To help, please donate at www.seattlejapanrelief.org. One hundred percent of proceeds go directly to relief efforts.