Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday, January 31, 2011

Today is the first Fred T. Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution Day in the State of California. The Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed a bill into law this past September to institute this commemoration, believed to be the first statewide holiday in our country honoring an Asian American. Korematsu died in 2005; yesterday would have been his 92nd birthday.

I’m glad for this opportunity for others to know of this quiet man and what he did, as his name–and what it represents–is not known much outside of constitutional law circles and the Japanese-American community. But we all should know this story, because we all benefit from his principles.

Briefly, in 1942 Fred Korematsu was arrested and found guilty of violating the government order which sent more than 120,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps. His case ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court, which along with three other cases (Yasui, Hirabayashi, and Endo), upheld the constitutionality of the internment. For nearly 40 years, these cases continued to be the Supreme Court rulings which allowed the deprivation of due process of American citizens born in the U.S. solely on the basis of race. (I’ve written law review articles on this, so I’m restraining myself here.)

Using research which showed that the U.S. government suppressed the fact that its own intelligence had established that the interned Japanese Americans were not a security risk, even as the matter was litigated before the Supreme Court, teams of Sansei (third-generation) volunteer lawyers reopened the cases in the 1980s using an arcane proceeding known as “coram nobis.” In 1983, a federal district court judge overturned Korematsu’s conviction, but the 1944 Supreme Court decision, though discredited, still stands.

I followed these so-called coram nobis cases closely because of Min Yasui of the Yasui case. I’m proud to say that Min became a mentor of mine, and his memory remains an inspiration to me. While the coram nobis case case for Min and the others were going on, I was deep in the trenches of the redress movement, what became the legislative miracle that resulted in President Reagan signing into law on August 10, 1988 the bill which gave the internees an apology and token reparations. This photo from the redress bill signing hangs in my hallway, a treasured souvenir of that day when I got to take my dad with me to the White House and be a part of history.

At the end of my days, I already know I will be the proudest of having been Akemi’s mother, having authored the Pasadena stake history, and for having contributed in some small ways to redress and, I sincerely believe, to the fabric of our Constitution.

So how do I commemorate Korematsu Day? With some okayu, the Japanese equivalent of porridge, perfect “comfort food” for someone trying to kick a cold on a cool winter night. After completing the third chemo round and making it through an intense month at work, quiet remembrance is in order.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday, January 24, 2011

As soon as I’m over this annoying cold I’ve managed to catch, I’m shopping for a tie for our good friend Mitchell. On March 6th, Mitchell becomes Elder Garey, called to serve in the Spanish-speaking Florida Tampa Mission. Both Akemi and I congratulate him on his call and are so proud of his preparation to serve this mission.

We also are having a hard time processing the reality that we both are at the age when Akemi’s contemporaries are serving missions for our church. The young men typically embark on two-year missions after they turn 19. Young women, if they opt for a mission, serve 18-month missions after they turn 21.

For me, our young friends who are going off to the far corners of the earth were babies born just yesterday, it seems. For Akemi, the missionary farewells represent the inexorable march towards adulthood. Going off to college was one thing, but yikes! having your friends on missions – that’s serious sign of growing up.

Elder Garey is the latest addition to an impressive roster of our young friends out “in the field,” as we say. Currently serving are:

Elder Rudy Becerra, Iowa Des Moines Mission

Elder Chris Buffum, Chile Viña Del Mar Mission

Elder Erik Hansen, Denmark Copenhagen Mission

Elder Doug Muhlestein, Taiwan Taichung Mission

Sister Whitney Muhlestein, Russia Yekaturinburg Mission

Elder Philip Ngo, Singapore Mission

Elder Cory Roberts, Paraguay Asunción Mission

Elder Jack Spencer, Mexico Hermosillo Mission

Elder Derek Standing, Idaho Pocatello Mission

Many people think of our white-shirt-and-name-badge missionaries when they think of our church. I think of how worn their suits and skirts, shirts and blouses, and shoes get as they serve in all kinds of weather, often on foot or on bikes, living in circumstances very different from home. Mothers have a list of clothes and supplies they check off as they prepare to send off their missionary – two suits, five slacks, ten shirts!

Our Pasadena Ward has had a tradition started a number of years ago by Michael, the father of Elder Erik Hansen, when he was himself the young bishop here. One young man in our ward getting ready to leave on his mission (I think it was Taylor S.) kept admiring a particular tie of Bishop Hansen’s. On the day of the departing elder’s farewell, Bishop Hansen surprised the missionary by taking off that tie while standing at the podium and giving it to him, saying he hoped the missionary would wear it knowing of the love and support from not only the giver, but from the entire ward. Bishop Hansen continued this practice for other departing missionaries on his watch. Bishop Hansen’s successor, Monte Harrick, continued this custom, as well.

Bing was really looking forward to sending off at least three missionaries during the time he anticipated being bishop. He got to send off Shannon S., but died before Tim Y.’s call. On the day of Tim’s farewell, Bishop McAlister gave him a tie I had saved of Bing’s (one of his few “regular” ties, as Bing almost exclusively wore bow ties). One of Bing’s ties made it into the mission field after all.

I haven’t been as consistent as I would have liked about getting ties out to our young departing elders, but Akemi reminded me we must do this for Mitchell. Whether it’s with a tie, or through an occasional letter, or most importantly by our prayers, we want our friends to know we think of them and support them in the sacrifices and efforts they are making. And we look forward to welcoming them home, eager to hear of their experiences.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

Warning: if you don’t have time to cry with me, stop reading now.

The last test I had in August before starting the first chemo cycle was a CT series. That series was important to determine whether I had any lymph node involvement and to document any presence of lymphoma outside of my bone marrow prior to the start of any treatment. At USC Norris Cancer Hospital that afternoon, Friday, August 27, 2010, I was fine until the lab tech handed me a large container of barium contrast fluid and said, “Bottoms up.”

As I choked down the chalky stuff, thinking “berry flavoring” doesn’t fool anyone, I also choked back tears. I wasn’t afraid of the CT by any means; in fact, CT scans have become a far more pleasant experience than when I had the subdural hematoma 26 years ago. It was that I remembered afresh how Bing likewise struggled to get down the same fluid in his City of Hope room. When a nurse came in and chided him for not finishing his container, he light-heartedly offered to finish it if she’d drink some with him. Since he evoked a chuckle out of her, he later also invited Jeff Parkin to have the remainder of his “barium milkshake.”

Sitting by myself on that hallway bench, a wave of emotions crashed over me. Here I was, experiencing in some small measure what he had experienced, and remembering all over again how much he suffered. Bing showed such good humor and grace down to the bitter end; could I possibly do his example justice? And in a complex set of ironies, here I was facing yet another trial without him, and feeling very alone.

Something that I’ve learned in the eight years without him here, though, is that when I miss him the most and feel he is the farthest away, he actually is close at hand. I can imagine in the hereafter he is going to say, “BB, why did you cry every time I came to visit you?” My cell phone rang, and it was Janet. “How did she know I was at the hospital,” I wondered as I said hello. And later, I wondered how my cell phone worked at all, since I was in the radiology wing with thick concrete walls.

As it turned out, Janet wasn’t calling to check up on me, as she didn’t intend to call me at all. She accidentally dialed me while trying to call someone else. But since she had me on the phone, she asked me what was going on and how was I doing, and after a few words from me, said, “Are you okay?” recognizing that I wasn’t. Talking with her calmed me down and then I was fine continuing to wait for my CTs. Upon reflection, Janet’s call may have been accidental for her, but I don’t think it was accidental at all for me.

Not long after Bing died, a friend who was widowed in her 20s said to me, “It doesn’t get easier, but you just get used to it more.” I’ve found that to be the case. I process each January 21st anniversary of his death differently depending on where I am in life. Today, eight years later living with my own cancer questions, I know Bing would not want me bringing flowers to his grave when I should be resting after this morning’s chemo. My problematic platelets, although low, have held steady from last week. With the medical care, advice, and support I have, I am focusing on having many years of good health yet to enjoy. To honor the brave example Bing set for me, I am trying to live life to its fullest, which is exactly what Bing wanted me to do.

P.S. As I took this picture of Bing near the end of our wonderful Chesapeake Bay sailing trip the morning of August 24, 2002, the thought came to me, “This is exactly how you should remember him,” without any idea of what we would come home to find out, and that this would be the last picture I would take of him. And so this photo has a special place in my heart.