Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Interview with the LRS (M-L): Asian Americans struggle for full equality and political power

First Published: Unity, Vol. 5, No. 4, March 12-25 1982.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Editor’s Note: Mike Murase is a member of the League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L) and has been active in the Japanese national movement since 1968. He is a member of the Little Tokyo People’s Rights Organization in Los Angeles, and has participated in labor support work and efforts to stop harassment of immigrant workers.

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Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you became a member of the LRS?

A: I’ve been involved in the Asian Movement and the struggles of Japanese Americans for virtually all of my adult life. When I came from Japan with my family at the age of nine, we settled in the section of Los Angeles which was predominantly Black and Asian. My mother went to work in the garment factories the first week she was here, and she has been working ever since. She used to take the bus and find her way home by remembering what the buildings looked like because she didn’t speak English then. My dad was a dentist in Japan, but he went to work here in a laboratory because his credentials from Japan weren’t recognized in the U.S. For a time, he moonlighted as a produce clerk to make ends meet.

I remember incidents when my parents were treated rudely or disrespectfully by Americans because they spoke English with an accent. I know that it hurt them inside to be treated like shit, but they couldn’t fight back. Even as a kid, those things used to make my blood boil.

In the late 1960’s, I was inspired by the Black people’s struggle for justice and equality. I also identified with the “gooks” or “yellow dwarfs” in Asia who dared to struggle against a powerful enemy: U.S. imperialism.

For me, becoming a revolutionary was a natural outgrowth of my life in America and involvement in the struggles of my people.

Q: How does the League view the status of Japanese people in the U.S.?

A: Today, there are 700,000 Nikkei in this country. Two-thirds are working class people and they earn less than whites in the same work. Last year, Nikkei warehousemen in Los Angeles and San Francisco went out on strike to win equality in wages and to gain respect. Underemployment and discrimination in hiring and promotion are commonplace.

Today’s immigrant workers, like our Issei (first generation Japanese) grandparents, are superexploited as cheap labor and are harassed by immigration authorities when times get hard. The Nikkei who are in the petty bourgeoisie (professionals, shopkeepers, etc.) also face national oppression.

The pressures to assimilate and “develop American habits” began with the government’s forced removal of every single Nikkei who lived on the West Coast prior to World War II. When our people were released from the camps, the War Department officials told Nikkei to “avoid the use of the Japanese language” and to “stay away from large groups of Japanese.” This has resulted in the serious erosion of dignity and pride in being Japanese. This can be seen in the unusually high rate of stress-related diseases and premature death rate among Nisei, as well as in the extremely high percentage of intermarriage to whites and loss of culture and language among Sansei (third generation Japanese).

From the camps and in more recent times, government-sponsored redevelopment projects have dealt terrible blows to our communities, to the point where they are a fraction of what they used to be. Our communities are the physical centers of our social, cultural and political life. So the destruction of our community and the pressure to assimilate threaten our long-term existence as a nationality and make it harder for us to organize and assert ourselves politically.

Q: How does the LRS view building unity in the JNM?

A: Today is a very exciting period for Nikkei people. In recent years, there have been very important movements which have united us. One is the struggle to preserve and rebuild our communities. Another is the movement to win reparations and redress for the World War II internment. We have also seen the growing strength of the immigrant sector within the Nikkei community. Unity was forged between newcomers and American-born Nikkei during the unionization drive at Horikawa Restaurant, the Japan Food Corporation and Nishimoto warehousemen’s strikes.

In taking up these and other concrete struggles, the League is helping to build a broad united front in the Japanese national minority. In the reparations/redress campaign, many diverse sectors and class forces were able to work together in a common direction. Organizations, including the Japanese American Citizens League, the 442nd veterans’ groups, the Buddhist and Christian churches, progressive mass organizations and revolutionaries, joined to demand some form of monetary payment and redress. The campaign was a particular united front effort, but it showed that Nikkei people from different class backgrounds can and will unite to fight for justice and equality. Nikkei people all across the country are recognizing that we share a common history, a common bond and a common destiny. We must build upon their aspirations for equality and power and forge a united front which is necessary for the long-term fight against national oppression.

Q: The League has a long history of work in the Japanese community. Could you describe some of the work it does with community organizations?

A: There are many community organizations, art groups, social service agencies and other coalitions which help meet the needs of Nikkei people. We are proud to have helped initiate and build these groups. They not only provide valuable services, but also provide a way for Nikkei people to join together.

Among the community organizations, we think that progressive mass organizations such as the Little Tokyo People’s Rights Organization in Los Angeles, the Japanese Community Progressive Alliance in San Francisco and the more recently formed Nihonmachi Outreach Committee in San Jose play a particularly important role in organizing Nikkei people. These organizations are rooted primarily among the workers and other progressive people. The League is active in these groups and strives to build them into broad, democratic, community-based organizations that can reach people of different political persuasions and backgrounds. What unites people in the mass organization is the desire to fight the inequality and discrimination facing Japanese Americans. In the course of actively participating in these campaigns, we, as communists, try to bring out a more long-range view that proposes a revolutionary solution to the oppression of Nikkei people.

Q: What are the key demands of the Japanese national minority? How does the League view the relationship between the Japanese national movement and revolution?

A: We want to see an end to all forcible restrictions on Japanese Americans. We demand full equality and political power. Fighting for full equality means, in part, taking up particular democratic demands: redress/reparations, preservation and development of Japanese communities, unconditional residency and full rights for Japanese immigrants.

Winning full equality necessitates fighting for political power. We mean more than getting Nikkei elected into office – although equal representation in government is certainly a legitimate demand.

We demand political power in the form of administrative autonomy or limited self-government for Japanese in areas of concentration. This would be a real means for the Nikkei masses to make basic decisions over policies which affect their lives. We could carry out administrative autonomy in certain areas of California, such as Gardena, where large numbers of Japanese Americans are concentrated.

The struggle for political power is a revolutionary one, because the national oppression Japanese Americans face is rooted in this system. The struggle of Japanese Americans is part of the overall revolutionary struggle in the United States.