One big Internment Camp
And geographically, of course, you know there's the hills where the superior rich, mostly white, folks reside and the flats where the poor inferior, mostly of colour, folks exist.
East of my home, there's a steady 1.5 mile upgrade gaining several hundred feet from my home to the peak. I try to walk this 'mountain' several times a week to keep my heart in shape.
This morning is one of those California morns deeply full of beautiful promise, with the bright sun just edging over the hills and evaporating the morning fog; the crisp nite air clinging fresh and clear. A day that feels a long time in coming, as we’ve had tons of torrential (for us) rains and chills (for us), especially after a three year drought.
I meet only one other womon on her way down the mountain when I first start up. The spring birds have finally arrived filling the morning air with their twitters. A lone woodpecker knock penetrates the chorus. An owl hoots good nite.
I am on the last steep slope smiling thru my huffing and puffing as I near the summit when I hear a momentary dearth of sound – and then the unmistakable crunch crunch crunch of boots and the squeak of leather backpack straps, the swish of fabric.
Combat boots, that is. The squawk of military equipment. The swish of fatigues.
Young rabbits scurry under brush. The air – and I – hold our breath. Soldiers are approaching. Two. One white male in uniform; the other, cinnamon and bald, not in uniform but looking more soldierly with his bald head and buff shoulders.
They start to “ma’am” me as I ask if they’re training on this mountain so they can go to the mountains in Afghanistan and kill people.
The one not in uniform claims “Not me, ma’am, I’m public affairs” while the white one remains silent.
I respond by saying the same blood is on both his hands, as is on all our hands.
Now I’m talking to their backs as they hike past me. Sweat is streaming down their faces and I see they are carrying heavy packs, slowing them down a lot.
They reach the crest and wait at the bench, leaning over it, catching their breath as I catch up to them.
“Really” I say, “why are you guys here?”
“Well ma’am, getting’ fit” a smile forming the bottom half of his face. “To go to Afghanistan?” I ask. He glances toward the white guy who nods “ma’am” and tells me defiantly he’s already been to Iraq. His hair is newly sprouting over his whole face and head, a sure sign he’s heading to Afghanistan.
I peer as deeply as I can and ask that soldier not to go, ask him why is he going, ask him doesn’t he know most of the people of this country do not want him to go?
Mr. Public Affairs tells me he wants me to understand. It’s like Vietnam – soldiers are going to protect their country because they are being told to go, they are being sent.
I say yes, it’s like Vietnam in that the majority of people of this country do NOT want you to go, do NOT want war and occupation to be the priorities of our nation, do NOT want killing defenseless Afghans and Iraqis in our name.
I tell these two soldiers we NEED them to step out and to come to our side. I ask them if they know how war against Vietnam finally ended. They acknowledge it was people like me and I say yes, and it was also people like them, men and women already in the military, refusing to fight, refusing to be the cannon fodder of an illegal and immoral war.
They exchange an incredulous look as I urge them to watch “Sir: No sir!”
Mr. Public Affairs really wants me to understand. They are willing to lay their lives down defending their country, defending my rights, making me safe.
I’m glad he brought this up so I tell him how I have been unable to get one soldier to tell me how does being the military force that occupies another country, one of the poorest countries in the world, defend me. Maybe he’ll be the one to tell me.
He agrees, nodding, and tells me how it is all so very complicated and – his voice drops to convey mystery, fear, and intrigue – he cannot tell me all that is going on within these countries.
I could laugh out loud but I don’t, I just shield myself more.
For a sharp image of a small, broken woman being tossed onto the shrubs and rocks of a steep mountain side flashes like lightening between us – and I think I am seeing into his mind.
There’s no draft now, he continues, so he tells all his Japanese and Philippino soldiers about proving they’re Americans – like his uncle did for his family, and like he is doing now.
Because his uncle fought in the 442nd, proving he was American even though he was Japanese American and did I know of the 442nd?
“So your family was interned in the 40’s” I ask without a question, to which he nods solemnly. Disgust, or maybe shame, flits across his smooth face. You’re Sansei? “Half, he nods again. The 442nd, he reminds me, laid down their lives to defend their new country.
“While their families were interned in camps in the U.S.” – another question I state. “My mother was a young girl in the camps” he admits.
I ask him if he knows of Yuri Kochiyama. I have seen her twice this week, once at Spark’s Fly, the benefit for U.S. women political prisoners, and again at La Pena’s annual fundraiser where she is inducted into the Hall of Fame of fearless civil rights and social justice activists.
I want him to know Yuri Kochiyama, but more, I want him to know the choices she’s made – the ones that he could make too, the path she took to really liberate and defend the country WE want, not the country rich white men had forced upon us.
He looks lost, searching his memory banks. I don’t think he’ll hold on to her name. This time he shakes his head, no. But his uncle has made them true Americans.
“So now to prove how American you are, you are being the role of white soldier and helping to intern the people of a whole nation or two” I state blandly.
He stares at me, pale and ashy, hopping from foot to foot, and again I think I can read his mind. I am very aware I am alone on this mountain with two trained killers, two men who believe in using violence to get what they want, two men who equate physical brutality with courage and power. They are very aware too as they exert their will power to pull away from me, from this conversation.
“Ma’am” they repeat frequently, peppering practically every word, “we, ma'am, have to, ma'am, go, ma’am”.
“Remember”, I tell their broad, sweaty, retreating backs, “remember, Resist! Refuse! Don’t Go!”
I fervently send that mantra on the wind and dissipating fog, with the hope it will invade their waking moments and their dreams tonite and every nite.
“Ma’am, have a good day, ma’am”