Thursday, December 10, 2015

Standing Guard

I'm proud to have counted Howard Nakai as a friend.  Howard farmed in Penryn and Newcastle most of his life.  We weren't close friends, but he was one of those older farmers I've been blessed to know who always took an interest in younger farmers and ranchers (like me).  The Loomis Methodist Church was absolutely packed for his memorial service several years ago.

Howard was one of the Japanese-Americans whose story was featured in a book published by Sierra College entitled "Standing Guard."  The work documented the stories of Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II.  I remember that Howard told of a Portugese neighbor who cared for his farm during the war - and who filled Howard's referigerator with beer and steak when he knew Howard was coming home.  Howard told me one time, "I never had a better beer."  When I purchased the book, I also received a lapel pin with the Japanese symbol for the words "standing guard."  I wear it as a reminder of my own responsibility to speak up.  It suggests the poem from Martin Niemoller, a German protestant minister, who said:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
I offer this story as a way of expressing my incredible disgust over the proposal by several U.S. presidential candidates to keep Muslims out of the United States, and to have American Muslims carry some form of identification.  While I guess I can understand the fear that has led people to embrace this idea, I'm outraged that those who would lead us have chosen to ignore our founding principles - and basic human dignity.  And speaking of fear - I fear religious extremism in any form - Islamic, Christian, Jewish, or any other religion.

To me, the darkest periods of human existence have been marked by intolerance, fear, and prejudice.  I feel like I have an obligation - to my friend Howard, and to my fellow human beings - to speak up.  Singling out a entire group of people - because of their religion, their color, their ethnic backround - is an offense to my own humanity.