Amber Huff, a student of William Carder at Tarrant County Community College, Fort Worth, Texas, read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, “What Japanese Internment Taught Us About Standing Up for Our Neighbors,” by Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz.
Tracy is part of the Japanese American community on Bainbridge Island, Washington—the first community in the nation to be rounded up and sent to concentration camps during World War II. In this story, she reflects on the meaning of the Japanese saying, nidoto nai yoni: “Let it not happen again,” and wonders what communities might do differently today to protect the civil liberties of our vulnerable neighbors.
Writing Prompt: Think about someone in your school or community who is vulnerable and may need protection or support. This person may be a neighbor or a classmate—it may even be you. Are you willing and brave enough to stand up against injustice? Describe what you would do, and how your actions might make a difference.
To Know Her is to Love Her
We perceive others through eyes conditioned by our personal socialization, often leading us to misinterpret the true character of those who we have just met. In the YES! article, “What Japanese Internment Taught Us About Standing Up for Our Neighbors” author Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz, emphasizes how capable our society is of standing up for the vulnerable, unlike we were seven decades before today. Three weeks ago, fifteen-year-old Angela, strolled into the library where I work, with her tan bandana tied taut across her forehead as if it were the only thing keeping her broken life from shattering into pieces.
This brilliant adolescent has taught me more about life than the past fourteen years of my formal education: that no one deserves to be judged solely based on their history and ethnicity. Angela grew up on the streets of Madera, California, where she made her way in and out of psychological institutions and jail cells. Depression, encouraged by the disarray of her life, plagued Angela’s mind, driving her to fashion a homemade noose in a final attempt to abolish her reality. Though Angela has physically survived her past, she bears the scars of knives that have split open her skin. These memories influence the night terrors that taunt the recesses of her beautiful mind.
Three months ago, Angela was offered the liberty to fly over fifteen hundred miles from her previous life to live with her father here in Texas. Most of the residents in our tiny town of less than one thousand people judged Angela harshly based on her appearance alone. Rumors about her past spread instantaneously and captured the attention of the school police officers.
Within weeks, Angela was referred to DEAP (Developmental Educational Assistance Program) for possession of Nyquil. There were no questions about why she had the nighttime flu medication, all that she had a self-destructive history and that she potentially would be a negative influence on her peers. As claimed in Loeffelholz’s paper, the fight for justice for the loyal is minimal. Though we cannot prevent the trials and tribulationsof others, we can be there to help them in their times of need.
Upon hearing her stories and having spent time with Angela, I found that beneath the oversized hoody and ink-stained knuckles, she is the most genuine, heroic, altruistic, talented, humorous, but broken individual that I have ever met. Regardless of the way I view her, Angela possesses the self-perception of worthlessness. When she walks through town, she faces an unfair sentence from those community members who can’t see beyond the color of their skin and her trauma-filled past. Their crime is that they feed the negative emotions Angela already has about herself, and deny themselves from seeing the beauty and vulnerability that lies beneath.
Across our nation there are people just like Angela who suffer from unjust condemnation. This knowledge buries itself deep within the marrow of my bones and encourages me to put aside my trivial frustrations and place Angela atop my priority list. In my own simplistic way, I reiterate my personal motto and call for action as suggested in Loeffelholz’s article. I encourage every patron who walks through the threshold of my library not to judge others based on the clothes on their back, and to take into consideration a person’s experiences before formulating a concrete opinion. My meager attempts to help this young lady reaches far beyond her benefit. Without Angela, I would continue to judge people before ever having known them.
On the surface, Angela seems like the same shattered girl who once lived on the streets of a concrete city. Yet her aspiration for life has blossomed and exposes itself in her words. Instead of creating raps that spew the voice of hurt and hatred, Angela now sings the song of hope and gratitude. I can only imagine how many lives would be saved if others were to open their arms to the brokenhearted. Small acts of kindness like a “Hi, how are you?” check-in, or offering a ride to school. Had the roles been reversed, they, too, no doubt would crumble beneath the pressure of judgement.