Fostering Understanding in Our Community
Asian-Pacific Islander Prejudice: Then & Now
Ben Furuta & Lisa Kawamura
Good evening. My name is Cornel Morton and I'm honored to serve as president of the Diversity Coalition San Luis Obispo County. Let me welcome you to this program tonight. A continuation of a series that we have been doing over the past several weeks. This program is not a part of the four-part series, but rather an important and timely program, especially since we wanted to talk about issues that are important to our nation, issues that are important to our county. I want to also recognize our board of directors and thank you on their behalf for the participation tonight. We're looking forward to another informative and inspiring program where we have an opportunity to learn more about the diversity of experiences in our county and our nation. Many of you are already familiar with the history of the Diversity Coalition San Luis Obispo County.
Very, very briefly, the coalition grew out of citizen reaction and citizen activism. Back in March of 2011, a cross burning occurred and a Black family was victimized by that cross burning in their front yard. A number of people came together to support them. The individuals responsible for that cross burning were actually charged. They were found guilty and actually imprisoned. It was characterized, rightfully so, as a hate crime.
The number of people who are participating tonight is very impressive. We are so happy that all of you have joined us. The coalition by the way, is a collaborative in so many ways. We work in cooperation with local schools, we offer programs like the one tonight. And we are always interested in your feedback, always interested in looking for new opportunities to collaborate in the name of social justice, diversity and equity in our county. You might find more information on our website, diversityslo.org, and there you'll locate upcoming programs and information that will be helpful, I hope, as you move forward with us.
I also want to thank my fellow board members. They are responsible for organizing and presenting tonight's program. Our panelists will be introduced very shortly. I want to close my very brief comments by again encouraging you to stay engaged, to stay involved and to stay, we hope, active in the community in the name of equity, social justice, et cetera. Kathy Minck is our education chair and Kathy's going to share some information with you about upcoming programs and a few other things that you might need to and want to know about. So I'll turn it over to Kathy. Kathy?
Thank you, Cornel. I'm just going to take a few minutes to briefly update all of you on what the education committee has been working on. As you know, education has had to be completely re-imagined because of COVID. The teachers and the principals are facing many new challenges because of that. And the teachers are not able to do the same units as they have in past years when we've brought speakers to them to enhance their units. But the districts do have Zoom capability so we will be able to bring a few of our speakers to the schools still, using that format.
What we've planned so far is in February, our Holocaust survivor, Rita Lurie, will be presented once again, and this time via Zoom, to the Lucia Mar eighth graders. Then in March, those same eighth graders will continue their Holocaust unit with a speaker that we brought last year, a [inaudible 00:04:32] who was a member of the Dutch resistance during World War II. She and her mother hid a Jewish girl in their home at great risk to themselves. So she'll be enhancing that unit as well.
As for the San Louis coastal school district. We've gotten a request for tonight's Japanese internment speaker. So I'll be talking to Mr. Furuta about that from Morro Bay High school. Also, a request for Fanshen Cox to supplement a unit on racial equity. And I'll be setting that in play. As for the adults in our community and their education, we call it fostering understanding in our community, we have tonight's program, of course. We've planned for our upcoming two meetings. So please get your calendar out and Mark November 18th, we'll be bringing a Chumash, elder and storyteller to the community via Zoom. January 6th, the title of our program will be Promoting Diversity Through the Arts. We'll have a musician, an artist, and Fanshen Cox, representing the film industry speaking to us about that.
So without further ado, I'd like to get on with our program tonight. Tonight's speakers are Lisa Kawamura and her uncle Ben Furuta. Lisa Kamakura, has a master's degree in speech and communication studies from San Francisco State University. She has been a lecture in the communication studies department here at Cal Poly for 23 years. She's an active member of the California faculty association, and co-chairs the CFA's Asian Pacific Islander caucus, and is the vice chair of Cal Poly's, Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Faculty and Staff Association. Last year, Lisa became involved with Tsuru for Solidarity, a racial justice group that advocates against the illegal imprisonment of immigrants, such important work. She facilitates healing circles for trauma survivors of the Japanese American incarceration.
Ben Furuta, her uncle was born in Oakland, California. After Pearl Harbor he and his family were sent to an internment camp in Poston, Arizona in May of 1942, where they were held for about one and a half years. Later upon being released he graduated from the air force Academy in 1960. He was the first Japanese American to graduate from that Academy. He served as a pilot for four years, and then finally he returned to California where he was a high school science teacher for 34 years. He retired in 2000 and now he volunteers as a docent at the Japanese American National Museum in LA. Please join me in a warm welcome to Lisa and Ben. Thank you for being here.
Thank Kathy. I'm going to go ahead and share my screen. We're going to start with a short video,
Walking to work, older man walking towards my direction yelled, "Chinese disease.", and suddenly stepped near me and spat at me, getting my coat, scarf, and face. A lot of disgusting saliva.
I was walking in the park when some kids from my school started spitting on me, because they said it was the only way to clean me of COVID-19. They started shoving me and spit some more, and left.
Some guys from my high school followed me home in their car. They honked very loudly and pulled up next to me. When I looked up, they threw things at me from their car, pretend to cough on me and said, "Ching Chong, you have Chinese virus." Then they drove away rolling up their windows.
Colleague of four years was a bit of a bully yells at me, "Hey, this is your fault. It's your people that brought this over." Followed by demeaning laughter.
My kids were at the park with their dad who's white, an older white man pushed my seven year old daughter off her bike and yelled at my husband to take your hybrid kids home because they're making everyone sick.
A non-white girl and her grandmother were chanting, born in the USA while we were all leaving the store. As they're looking at us, the girl says she's "Afraid of the Chinese because they have a disease." To which her grandmother says that we, "Should all go back to China." When we parted ways to go to our own cars, the little girl was yelling, "Ching Chong, Chinaman." All the way to her car away.
A white man assaulted me by throwing his drink in my face and shouting things like, "They should all be banned and they're all disgusting."
I was shouted and harassed by the cashier, workers, as well as the customers at the store to get out of the store. "You Chinese bring the virus here and you are asking people to keep social distinct guidelines."
A current graduate student posted "There's a special place in the hell for F'ing Chinese in Archaic culture. Trumps description of COVID-19 as the Chinese virus is most accurately thing he's ever said. I wish it had wiped the whole country off the planet."
Group of people talking they saw me. I was wearing a mask. One told everybody to "Shut up. There's one." They all looked at me moved away made sure I didn't follow them.
I posted from my dad, a 71 year old Korean adoptee. Yesterday he was chased out of a rural convenience store after asking to use the restroom while traveling along I-5 through California.
Good evening, everybody. My name is Lisa Kawamura, and I want to thank the Diversity Coalition for inviting my uncle and I here this evening to speak to you about the prejudice that Asian Americans, specifically Japanese Americans have faced ever since they here back in the late 1800s. It is my pleasure to be speaking with my uncle. This is one of the first times we've ever had the opportunity to present together. Even though both of us have been studying this for a lot of years. I'm going to go ahead and screen share again.
This is a little bit about who we are. So our presentation this evening is called Asian Pacific Islander Prejudice: Then and Now. We've already been introduced by Cathy. So I don't think I need to spend much more time on that and we'll just get right into it. Anti-discrimination in the United States has been around ever since Asians made it here in the mid 1800s. This year when we started to see all of the different hate crimes against Asian-Americans a colleague of mine over at San Francisco state university, Dr. Russell Jeung, started to study or catalog all the different types of hate crimes that were starting to occur with different folks of Asian descent.
So as the co-chair of the Asian Pacific Islander caucus, we approached Dr. Jeung to make a video, which you saw the first opening of in the first couple minutes. It was entitled Combating Anti-Asian American Pacific Islander Hate in the Age of COVID-19. If you're an Andrea interested in watching it, here's the link here, I'll bring that up later too. So you can write it down again. Or if you just Google California Faculty Association, anti AAPI hate you'll find it.
So we decided to take Dr. Jeung's information and put it into a video that could be used in schools and for different groups like this one to educate people about the types of discrimination that were happening in the AAPI community. I think that it's really interesting because as you listen to these, you may be surprised to know that these have been chronicled this year in 2020. These are not from 1940, these are not from the early 1900s. They were from March 19th until August, 2020. That's kind of amazing to me that in this day and age people are still so afraid of different races. So some of the information that Dr. Jeung found was that seven out of 10 incidents involve verbal harassment. 22% of the incidents were shunning. So people not allowing Asian's in places, or closing their doors, or not wanting to be around Asian folks.
Physical assaults were 9% of the incidents. There were potential civil rights violations comprised of 8% of the incident. So those might've been things like the spitting and, and things like that. Some of the trends in discrimination were that 38% took place in businesses. 20% took place in public streets. So that's just like kids walking home, or like the woman who talked about her husband taking her kid to the park, right? 11% of those were done in public parks. We found that Chinese were the most targeted ethnic group, but 60% of the respondents were non-Chinese. So this tells us a little bit about the kind of discrimination that's happening and who it's happening to. That many, just look at us and think we're all the same and that we all must be infected. We all must be from China or have some connection there. Because even though the words were against Chinese folks, 60% of the respondents were non-Chinese. So 60% of the people experienced these kinds of hate crimes were not Chinese.
We also found that 14% were young under 20 years old and 7.5% were elderly. Which is kind of interesting to me yelling at somebody who is really old or really young thinking that they are the reason why we're in the middle of a pandemic. Some Of the resources that I have for you, if you would like to see the video, the whole video, it's really short. It's only 23 minutes long, and you've already watched the first two minutes. But it is found at the second bullet here, calfact.org. The report of Asian anti-aging discrimination and more information. So if you want to see the updates on the kind of information that Dr. Jeung is acquiring. If you know of anybody or witness any kind of anti-Asian discrimination, we encourage you to go to the first bullet point here, asianpacificpolicyandplanningcouncil.org/stop-aapi-hate.
I also thought it would be interesting to share some things because it still amazes me that even today, many of our community members are unaware of what happened to the Japanese Americans like my family during World War II. Densho.org is a great resource. They have an encyclopedia that I've listed there for you and a lot of historical documents that could be really interesting for someone who doesn't have a lot of information and would like to know a little bit more.
Finally, the organization that I put a lot of time in ever in this year is Tsuru for Solidarity. Tsuru for Solidarity is a community organization that was created by Japanese Americans who had experienced the incarceration during World War II. As the administration started to withhold families at the border, and separate families at the border, and put children in cages, a group of Japanese Americans headed by set Satsuki Ina, and several other folks got together and created Tsuru for Solidarity. Tsuru for Solidarity is a not-for-profit social justice organization.
A Tsuru is a crane. For those of you who may not know crane's stand for peace in the Japanese American community. So it is our mascot of Tsuru for Solidarity. Japanese Americans who are in this group are committed to helping stop the illegal detention of immigrants at the border. Much like we were taking away from our communities during World War II.
I know that for many people to think that this kind of discrimination is continuing today is hard to believe, but every day I turn on the television and whenever there's a discussion about COVID-19, we can see how the current administration still refers to COVID as the China disease. We heard that on the debates the other night. That just fuels the fire for more discrimination or for folks to think it's okay, or commonplace to put blame on Asians and specifically Chinese Americans in our community. Obviously, I don't think I have to do a hard sell to say that this is something that is important and that we should be concerned about because you probably wouldn't be here if you didn't agree with that. But I really want to encourage you to stand in solidarity as co-conspirators with those of us who are being targeted in this time and in these places to report these instances of violence and to educate folks about these kinds of things that are still definitely happening today.
The other thing that California Faculty Association or the CFA has done is in addition to making the video, we've made a curriculum guide that if you are a teacher or a community later, like many of you are, if you wanted to hold a presentation on this, there are many materials that are available to you to do so. So we make those available free to the public. That was one of the things that was one of Dr. Jeung's requirements for us to publish his video. Was that he wanted everything to be open so that communities and all over could take advantage of this information. So, like I said, the last update was published in August and I'm expecting that we will get a new update soon, but we really haven't seen much of a change other than it continues to happen.
So that really ends my part of the presentation. I wanted to make sure that my uncle had plenty of time to talk about his story and our family's experience. So thank you very much for your time. Again, thank you to the Diversity Coalition, and now alternate over to my uncle, Ben Furuta.
Good afternoon, everyone, or I guess it's evening. I'm glad to be here to give a little bit of insight into the evacuation and incarceration of the Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II. One thing, just a slight notion. Lisa mentioned the labeling of the current pandemic as the China flu. It's interesting to note that in 1918 with the Spanish flu, many, many people were killed and died and so on from that. But if you think about it, I know the history, it started in an army Fort in Kansas. So I'll just leave that as it is.
As for myself, you saw the bio on the intro, and just a couple of small, not corrections, but additions. It says something about reporting or after the bombing of Pearl Harbor we went to Reedley California. Actually that was read immediately after the issuance of Executive Order 9066, which happened in late February, early or late March in of 1942. The reason for that is that the exclusion zone, actually the border of it went right down Highway 99 through Fresno and all those cities along Highway 99 and Reedley is on the Eastern side. There was a short time that the families of the Japanese Americans could actually exit, leave California, Washington, Oregon, so long as they went East. So that's small correction, just so you have the timeline.
Now, a couple of things about my of my family so you have a kind of structure for this. My family consisted of obviously my mother and father, but also my brother who was a year and a half older than me, myself, and my sister who was born in November of 1941. Now this means that at the time that we were being removed from the Western coast of California, my sister was only six months old. I'd like to ask those of you who are parents and had small children, what would you do with your kids or kid if it's a plural that are small?
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... if it's plural that are small, like we were, and you were told by the government you had to go to someplace that you didn't know where it was, you didn't know how long you were going to be there, you didn't know what you were going to do about housing and food and that sort of a thing. That's just a thought that I had as I reflected on all of this with regard to my own parents.
How did they cope with that kind of thing? When you think about it, the resilience that they had to have in order to deal with that, I think is something that can pray on all of our minds.
This means that, and it says I was born in 1938, which means actually I was four years old when we reported to the internment camp at Poston, Arizona, which is on the California/Arizona border, right along the Colorado railroads, on the Colorado River Indian Tribe Reservation.
There's an interesting in political story behind that, that I won't get into. But just to say that the Indian Council actually voted to resist or make known to the government that they did not want us there. That is not a negative thing because the reason they stated for that was that they did not want to see another population of people become incarcerated like they were on the Indian reservation. Think about that as just part of the expression of ideas that were happening at that point.
I must also clarify for you that we were only in the camp for about a year and a half, or maybe a little bit more than that, because the administration of the camps, called the War Relocation Authority, started issuing passes for leaves. In our case, my father got an indefinite leave, so long as he had a job promised and that we would not become wards of the state and that we would not return to California. Hence we ended up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Why they decided on that, I have no idea.
But a couple of things about the experience in the camp itself. Again, remember this is a four year old boy trying to recall some things. I only recall specific little incidents. I'll just tell you a couple of those.
One of them was I happened to, and you have to take this all with a grain of salt in a manner of speaking, because what is the memory after some 60, 70 years of a four year old boy? I'm sure that some of the details... Well, all I'll say is that these are the memories of a four year old, some 50, 60, 70 years later. The one thing that I remembered as an example was I saw a guard, a US Army soldier with a rifle, and being an inquisitive little kid, I asked him, "Sir, what is the rifle for?" And he said, "Well, I have to shoot rattlesnakes."
Another one that is not quite so nice or is, I guess it could be rated PG or R, and that is that I can remember, because we had to eat in common mess halls, common dining halls, there were no facilities in the barracks that we were in to cook or to your own personal cleansing. But I remember going into the mess hall into the kitchen and I very distinctly remember some chickens running around, and please don't get too upset with me about this, but I remember seeing these chickens running around with their heads cut off, because that's the way the chickens were delivered to the camps. They were delivered live and had to be processed to be cooked and served to the incarcerees.
A couple of other things just to give you a sense of what it was like. I can remember my father holding up his arms and both arms were wrapped in gauze from his wrists to his upper arms, in white gauze. When I asked him about that, he says, "Well, I can't work in the camouflage factory anymore because I am allergic to some of the chemicals."
Just as a little bit of background to that. There were jobs available for people to work at. No one was required to work, but many people did. As an example, my uncles, they got specific leaves to go out and work in the fields in around the camp to help harvest the bounty there, the sugar beets primarily. My uncles really wanted just to get out of the camps, so they volunteered to do that back breaking work.
Those are just a couple of small incidents that I remember. Again, remembering that I was just a four year old boy and I do have testimony from others of my generation and perhaps a little older that said that they remember those days, especially the younger ones, as fun.
You might think, how could camp be fun? Well, get away from the notion that camp is a nice idyllic location in the mountains where you get in a boat and go canoeing and have a campfires at night, because this was not that type of camp. The Japanese and Japanese American community do refer to this as camp.
But anyway, let's see, where was I? The young people, again, those that were a little older than myself, remember the camp as being fun because they had a lot of kids around them that were their same age and they could run around the camp and do all sorts of things. Some of it mischievous, then others of it maybe not.
The youngsters or the people that were a little bit older into their teens, do not have good memories of camp because they remember the hardships.
Those are some of the things that I remember about the camp. Just to give you a few statistics, the camp that I was in was actually divided into three reservations on the Indian reservation there. Three groupings. Camp one, two, and three, of course. Each one was, roughly speaking, 4,000 people, a little more, little less, depending.
People were going in and out, some leaving, some coming in, just like my family. We came into the camp late and we departed early. The War Relocation Authority realized early on that they needed to be able to somehow move people out of the camps if they could, for several reasons. One of which was obviously the issue of crowding into the barracks. The barracks were something like 200 feet long and housed up to six or seven families each in one room.
I don't really recall that, but I've seen many, many pictures of that in my docent work at the Japanese American Museum. There was no privacy. The showers were public showers. The bathrooms were public bathrooms. Of course we had to eat in a common mess hall.
But the kids, and this created a small problem for parents because now gone was the notion of families living together and eating and having meals together, because the kids would rather eat with their friends. That became somewhat of a problem for many families. That's another part of this camp life.
The camp was, just to give you another sense of that,. The organization of the camp and the running of the camp in terms of a daily lives was pretty much left to the incarcerees. They had to organize activities. Sports was a very, very big activity in those days in those camps. The camp newspaper and those sorts of things. They even had a fire brigade that actually was a job that they got paid for.
There were the usual accoutrements of city life. There was a hospital in all of the camps, so medical care was [inaudible 00:33:54] quality. Obviously births took place. In fact, I have a number of friends who were born in camp and have no recollection of that at all, just like my little sister, she's not so little now, but my little sister, who is, by the way, Lisa's mother. She was only six, seven months old at the time. She was just about a year old when we left. You can appreciate what that meant.
Those are some of the things about the camp itself that I can remember. I can give you other stories. Let me just tell you one story that's interesting. I have a little bit of time here, so I'll tell a couple of stories here.
I became aware of this in terms of doing the docent work at the museum. There was a group of people called the Manzanar Fishing Club. If you don't know where the locations of the camps were, there were 10 of them. The major ones were here in California at Manzanar, which is on the Eastern Sierra. Another one at Tooley Lake, which is in the far North part of California.
But the Manzanar fishing club was interesting because fishing in the Japanese and Japanese American community is a very, very popular pastime. As an example, my uncle was a very avid surf fisher when we had the opportunity to live on the West Coast.
But anyway, the Manzanar Fishing Club, and if you know anything about California you know that the Eastern side of the Sierra is one of the prime fishing areas of California. They would go out the gate late in the evening, and somehow they had an agreement with the sentries, and they would go fishing down in the streams around the camp. That really is right near Lone Pine, in an area where there are very good fishing spots.
They would come back, and part of the way that they got back in was of course they would give some of their fish to the guards. That's just one of those little incidences that go on. I must say that people made the best they could out of what they had because they had to organize the activities for themselves. They were very good about that.
I hope that if you have any questions, you will bring those up during our later Q&A. A couple of other things I'd like to mention. In the time prior to camp, I refer to it as camp in its negative connotation, there was clearly areas where Japanese and Japanese Americans could live and could not live. Think about that in terms of what is happening in our communities today.
It was very easy to find the populations of the Japanese people to round them up and move them into the camps. By the way, I must tell you that the roundup and the gathering and the transportation was basically incident free in the sense that nobody rioted, fought, protested.
There are many studies about why that was so, but one thing that you should know is that before the war, there was something called the ABC list. It was an alien registration thing. Because of that list, the community leaders within the Japanese population, because we were all pretty much in the same areas or in clusters of places, the leaders, such as the Shinto priests, the Buddhist priests, and the community leaders of community groups, they were rounded up almost immediately by the FBI and taken away.
Just a short story about that. I had a friend that I worked with whose father, at the time of the incarceration and just before, her father was taken away by the FBI. They didn't see him until after the war, some three or four or five years later. He was a very different man than they remembered him being. He never talked about where he was.
In fact, many of the men that were taken away were put into what are called Department of Justice camps, rather than the War Relocation Camp. That shows you what can happen.
After the war, just to give you a sense of that, there was a very difficult time for the families. Well, by the way, when we went to Minnesota, just a positive note on this, my mother actually remembers our time in Minnesota from 1944 to 1948, 43 to 48, as actually a fairly nice time for her. The reason why is that she was able to make friends with a number of people in a neighborhood. You can attribute this to whatever you want, but the people up there were very welcoming to people like us and she became very good friends with four or five families up there. She even kept track of them for a number of years after the war, after we had returned to California. So for her, it was, in one sense, a good time. Obviously it was war time and all of the problems with that.
To continue on, however, with the settlement after the war, many people coming back to California did not find what they had left remaining. Some were lucky, many of them were not. By lucky, I mean I have a friend who came back to the farm that they had in the Stockton area of California and it was basically the way it was when they left. A little bit beaten up, but everything seemed to be there. Because their neighbors took care of their farm.
But many people, like my folks and others around me, came back to nothing. They had to live in trailer camps. Live for a short time in places like the YMCA and churches that sponsored them. It took them quite a while to get re-acclimated to life after the war.
In my case, I have to say that I was lucky in the sense that when we were returning from Minnesota to Denver, we were part of what you would call a small enclave of Japanese and Japanese Americans that hung around together. Our social life was oriented around that cluster of people, including our church, including holidays. I grew up until I graduated from high school, knowing basically Japanese and Japanese American folks. There was a small Japanese town where we could get Japanese food and that sort of a thing.
Of course, I went after the war, in 1960, as it said in my bio, I went into the Air Force Academy, spent some time in the Air Force, then came back to California, settled down, and spent my time as a teacher. It doesn't mention it, but I was also a school administrator.
I hope this gives you a little bit of insight in what the camps were like and what happened in the camps. I could go on for a whole hour about this, but I think that's enough to give you a sense of that and to give you a sense of where this lies within the spectrum of civil rights.
I would just like to leave you with this. What are the parallels of what happened to us with what's happening today? Right before the war, with the obvious attack of the Japanese on the West Coast, the motivation and push to evacuate all of us from the West Coast. Number one, we were easily identifiable, so we couldn't just disappear. But the push was there. While not getting into the history of California and racial politics, there really was no option for us to go into the camps.
But think about now. What happened right after 9/11 and the identification of the perpetrators of 9/11 being Muslim? I don't know if you remember, but there was a certain outcry that we must identify all the Muslims and put them into camps. Well, that would have been an impossible situation.
But what's happening now down on our Southern border with the separation of families and things of that nature? Fortunately for us that were put into the Japanese internment camps, we did not have that issue of separating families. In fact, there was a good effort made to keep the families together.
I just leave you with that. Think about what's going on today, events in our society and in the life we lead today in terms of these kinds of things. With that, I'll give it back, I guess, to Lisa or to Kathleen, I'm not sure who, and hope if you have any questions, I'll be able to answer them later on in the Q&A.
I think it's probably Sarah that's going to lead the Q&A next. Is that right? [crosstalk 00:21:12].
Yep, I'm here. Wow. I'm just blown away by both of you and your presentation tonight. I know I speak on behalf of everyone attending that we thank you so much. I think we all wish we could just sit down and have a cup of coffee with Ben, and with you, Lisa, for a weekend, it was just enlightening and informative for many reasons.
But I guess we'll have a little bit of a Q&A, a virtual cup of coffee right now. I'll get to some of the questions. Hopefully we can actually get to all of them before we have to leave. We'll go until... You have until at least 7:30, so I think we should do pretty well here.
The first one, let's start off then with Ben. You answered this already. John asks, what sort of discrimination did your family experience in Minnesota after you were able to leave Arizona. Sounds like your mom found friends there, which is great. But what sorts of discrimination did you and your family in Minnesota, and maybe even after that, experience?
Well, to answer that question, I found that, and I visited Minnesota later on a number of years ago, long time after the war, but I think if you take a look at... I'm a little bit disturbed with what's happening in Minnesota right now, but our experience at Minnesota was very good in terms of discrimination. We were the only Japanese family that lived in the neighborhood that I was in, and we were just part of a whole bunch of group of kids that lived in that area.
Like I said, the families became friendly with us. I did not, and I'm sure that my mother and father perhaps have other stories about that, but personally, I did not experience that, or I do not have any evidence of that.
However, after the war... Just let me recount a couple of things. Number one, after the war, we were visiting California, where my relatives returned into the Bay area. My Father took me to visit his cousin. I don't know why it was just me and my father, but however it turned out. My father's cousin lived in San Francisco and father told me that my cousin has to live here posing...
PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:48:04]
No, my cousin has to live here posing as a renter of this property, even though it belongs to him. And the reason why is because of opposition to Japanese people owning property in San Francisco. I also remember as another example of that, a barber that I patronized in Berkeley, which is not too far from where you are, I was talking to the barber and he said, "When I was growing up...?" And he was a bit older than me, he said, " when I was growing up, we were all told that we'd better get a trade because we can't get any jobs in anything else, but the trades like being a barber, being a grocer being, whatever?" Those are the only overt things that I can respond to in terms of the kind of racism remembering that I was a young boy before the war and so on. So perhaps that gives a little reflection onto that. And there're any number of other incidents that I can quote, but they're not part of my personal life.
I think also one of the things that we've talked a lot about in the healing circles is that the new, or the second generation who were folks that were my uncle and my mother's parents made a situation where their families could thrive. They really did their best to make sure that their kids had a good life as possible to make sure that they had fun. And they felt valued at the end of the day to not let on what kind of hardship being interned was for them and the moves across the country and things like that. So I think that was not something that I had really thought about for a really long time until Dr. Inna said, "Well, it's because parents made sure that you had as little as possible to damage you out of this experience." And I see that a lot in my mother, she was so young. She doesn't have any memories like my uncle does, but my mom really doesn't feel like there's been a whole lot of negative because of her being interned. But I think a lot of that was because she was just an infant. So...
And so bringing that to today, some of our questions are about Asians in the area in the United States today, specifically Robert asks, you students at Cal Poly feel welcome, or is it lonely for them?
You know, I think it's difficult and many Asians have really assimilated or learn to live within white communities. And some of my students come to Cal Poly, not feeling as an outsider at all because they've grown up in a predominantly white community. So for them it's no different. However, when we get students from like the Bay Area or Los Angeles or Denver or major areas where there are a lot of diversity, they really have a hard time trying to find their communities. And Cal Poly is what we call a PWI, Predominantly White Institution. And while there may be some things that our administration has done to help folks of color become more involved and feel more valued and to service those communities. One of the biggest things that I find that is hard is that our faculty and staff numbers in terms of folks of color, has really decreased over the last several years.
And so you don't have as many folks who look like me, I'm there to serve as mentors for the students that are coming. And because, we're at a point where, if I'm going to have a lifelong career, I don't know that I want to spend the rest of my life in a community where there's not very many people who look like me or can identify with me. And so we find a lot of our folks leaving the community is not as hospitable at Cal Poly for some of us as faculty and staff of color. And so, students are like, well, okay, I'm going to be here for four years. I'll be out. But we're really trying to work hard. Those of us that are left to really reach out to students and work with them and make them feel more at home.
And some of the student organizations that are ethnic based are really awesome, really awesome, but not all the Asian students find those organizations. So.
And so what can, this might be a topic for a whole another night, but what can everybody do to help and provide support and make everyone feel more welcome?
I think part of it is understanding and spreading these stories, realizing that in a lot of ways, we live in a world that seems to be not real right now because of the kinds of things that people think and say, and the ways that people act. And it's almost hard to believe that this is really happening after having gone through so many years of trying to make things a little more equal in the United States. But I think also being willing to listen and to say yes, and to support those organizations that serve those communities.
Let me, let me add in a couple of things. I think that there've been several important legislative things that have happened, especially since the time that I graduated from the Academy, that of course is Brown v. Board of education, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and so on. And I must say just in terms of, and I may be going against the grain a little bit here. I must say that my personal experience in the things that I've done have, there's been very little negative or things, but I think that in order to continue on the path of more recognition and so on, there needs to be some more cogent, I guess, is the word. I'm not even sure what that means legislation.
I think that the country faces right now, an important milestone in terms of the black lives matter movement. Because for the first time we've seen that the crowds and the people who are talking consists of more than just African-Americans, but people of all colors, there've been a number of tries to do that during some of the things in Los Angeles and this is another aspect of this by the way.
And that is that the Japanese American population is becoming by itself more diversified just simply because of where we are and what the society is like. To give you an example at the Japanese American national museum, a good portion of the staff is mixed, in other words, they are Japanese and White, or they are Filipino and White or Black and Japanese and so on. And I think that's the result, not of legislation and so on, but simply because of the way society is developing. And I think we have to recognize that and take advantage of things like these movements that we're seeing right now to promote solid legislation. That's going to build on that. And I don't know what that is. I'm too old to have creative ideas about that sort of a thing.
I do know, as an example, in my own case, and this is getting away from the campus and such, but in 1947, President Truman integrated the armed services. Now what that means is that no longer would you have strictly Black, strictly Asian units within the army and the air force and the Navy, although habits of those carried on for quite a while afterwards, but I guess you might want to call it a humorous thing. I remember when I was in Japan as a young pilot, that you have to start off as a co-pilot and you have to quote, pass a fly, pass an inspection site, I guess you'd call it.
And the check pilot, who commanded the airplane we were flying on because these are very long missions and we were just chit chatting and he says, Oh, by the way, I just been meaning to ask you, what are you? I said, "What do you mean?" Are you an Indian? And I said, "Oh no." So it goes to show you that perceptions are different. And I think that as a society, as groups of people interested in this stuff, we have to take a hard look at what perceptions are and how we can take advantage of these kinds of things. So there's my little sermonette.
And I suppose other means of at least educating ourselves, we can visit the Japanese American Museum. One of our attendees recommended visiting Man's in Isle, one of the interment camps, which is here in California. So hopefully.
And if, actually, if you guys have any books or documentaries podcasts that you can recommend to us, our listeners are always interested in and more that they can do on their own time. So if you have anything off the top of your head and post it in the chat or email it to us afterwards, and we'll get it out to everybody. Speaking, yeah.
Go ahead, Lisa.
No. Go ahead.
Well, a farewell to a Man's in Isle is a story written by a younger, she was a young girl at the time of abandoned art. And as they said, the older adolescents, in their teens and up until their twenties, very, very well remember all of the things in this book called a farewell to man's in Isle. One of the classics that is always referred to as a description of what life was like and what happened to a particular family during the internment process. I read that I couldn't put it down when the first time I read it, and it certainly doesn't give all of the political historical perspectives and all of that, but it gives a very good insight into the life that, as they had to leave it in those camps, just to give you one other insight, the camps were established March, April, May of 1942, and the official closing or the recommendation to close the camps came by the way in the spring of 1945 and the last people to leave, didn't actually leave until early 1946.
There's an interesting aspect of that, in that a number of people did not want to leave the camp. Now you might think, geez, we've been cooped up here for all these years, and now we want to get, get out and get back home. But these were primarily older people who had no, where to go think about that. I'm talking about older people like me, people in their 70s, 80s, that had no family had no resources and so on. So where are they going to go? The only secure place they really knew was the camp itself. So it was people like my father and mother, and as Lisa was pointing out that, that generation that drove by the way, just a little bit of statistics.
The people in the camps were about 70% were American citizens, Japanese that were Japanese Americans that were born here in the United States. The remaining 30% were the immigrants that came from Japan. Just to give you a sense of what that was. And I suppose the, the overriding question about that is American citizens were put into these incarceration camps against their will with no charges, nothing, no judicial process and so on. And what does that mean in terms of, and now with the confirmation hearing going on with the justice Barrett. How do, how does one interpret the constitution and what it means? So again, another kind of think is a parallel.
On that note, someone was asking, Ron asked about if you can comment on the Ronald Reagan apology that occurred and the reparations that were given.
Yes, I can comment on it in a couple of ways. The legislative process for those reparations took two, a little over two years of committee work of talking back and forth. People twisting arms in Congress and so on to get to the bill that they, they finally recommended to be passed. And the interesting thing is that Reagan initially was set to veto it. He did not like it. I can't tell you why, but what happened is he was on a trip back to California and he met a family. And at least you probably remember the details more than I do, but he met a family. One of whom was a veteran of the war. And he met this person personally. And this veteran of the war said, "I was serving in the four 42nd infantry battalion. Well, my parents were incarcerated in camp." And Reagan said that changed his attitude right there about signing the bill. So, that's how that happened. And I may have gotten the details a little bit screwed up, but fundamentally it was that encounter with a single person that changed his mind.
People are interested about your military experience. Ben, how was your experience in the military and after the treatment of your family and the Japanese in general, shortly before that, what made you decide to go into the United States air force and, and how did you reconcile the ultimate treatment of you?
Well, I have to tell you that my time in the air force is, is all positive. I enjoyed it. In fact, if I had thought a slightly different way on a particular day, I might've been a career man in the air force because I really liked the service. I liked the service life when I was a young boy, this is kind of a funny story. There's a little humor to it. But as I mentioned, we became, when we were in Minnesota, the kids in neighborhood got together.
And I got an email strange email one day from somebody in Minnesota and says," Were are you the Ben for Radar that lived on audited street in Minneapolis, in the 1940s. And I said, "Who is this guy?" So I returned the email and after a couple of correspondences, we said several interchanges. And one of the things he said was, we always played a war and you had to be the pilot, and I had to be the copilot. Now thinking about that, here we are fighting a war against the Japanese. And here I am having to be the pilot of an American plane. Anyway, think about that a little bit.
So the time in Minnesota was good and the time, my time in the air force was, was good. I enjoyed it. I was able to travel around the world so to speak literally. Yeah. Although I didn't get to see as many places I would have liked to. And the fellow officers and men that I flew with were all very, very good. They all, or part of the little and units that I served in after the war, as I mentioned, we were part of this little bubble, if you will, of Japanese American.
So as we were growing up into our teenage and teenage years, we associated primarily with Japanese Americans, but we realized that there were places that we were not welcome. Not that we felt bad about it. It just was, for instance, we did not go out into East Denver. We did not go out into North Denver. That's where I live by the way, because number one, we didn't know anybody out there. Number two, we knew that we would probably be looked upon with, I won't say suspicion, but we would get second looks if you know what I mean. So after I got into the air force and then got out of five years later, I found a very different kind of a life being here in Southern California, especially.
I think also this idea of cultural idea. We have this word in Japanese called Gaman and it's defined as enduring seemingly unbearable situations with dignity and trying to do it as seamlessly as possible. And I don't hear really my mother talking about that as much, but my grandparents and my older generations really talking about gum on. And if you watch George decays musical about the interment called allegiance, there's a whole song about it. And I think that that's part of what happened with folks like my uncle of my mother's generation or the sunset's generation, the third generation of Japanese Americans. And they really were shielded from a lot of, why wouldn't my uncle go to the military? He's an American. And he was born here. I often tell my students, my family has probably been America longer than yours, unless you are native American or Mexican.
Probably my family has been here longer than yours. And it's interesting how many of them take a second? And they're like, Oh yeah, that's probably right. Serving in the military for many of the Japanese Americans during world war II was a no brainer. I mean, one, it meant that they could get out of the camps two, they were Americans. Why wouldn't they serve their country? Although there was a big divide between some people who were asked these two loyalty questions, whether they would swear allegiance to the United States and get rid of any associations with any other foreign country. And so folks like my great-grandparents, it was, okay, so the United States is getting rid of me and now what do I do with Japan? If I get rid of my citizenship there?
Okay. I have a question that came up on the chat and it says, "Can I talk a little bit about education schooling available in the camps?" And it's very simple. One of the very first things that the community people did was establish schools for kids all the way from preschool. And I have a small story about that up through high school. And one of the big issues for the people in the camps was how do we get teaching materials, books, and those kinds of things, and where do we find qualified teachers? Well, I don't know about other camps as such, but I know that for many of the camp do would have volunteer teachers come in from outside to teach in these schools. And very early on, almost from day one, if you will, the organization of schools was pre paramount was number one because within the Japanese and Japanese American community education is seen, even in those days as a way of improving ourselves, getting better at whatever it is we're doing now, the, there are a number of pictures of kids that are in class.
Now, the question is, what about kids or what happened also by the way, is that a number of kids were taken out of the seniors in high school where all of a sudden yanked out of their senior year and were not able to finish their education in terms of an accredited graduation diploma and so on. And a number of those people, the schools recognized an injustice that had been done so many years after the war.
A lot of the schools recognized them and gave them their graduation certificates from high school. And just to give you another example of that college, of course, was not an option in those days, because obviously there were no college campuses and so on, but to give you an example of what happened, my uncle and aunt had been taking and were students at UC Berkeley and had finished partial requirements towards degree. And it wasn't until 19 and Lisa, you I'm sure, you know a lot of those details, but my auntie Meechie and my uncle George were able to get their degrees later on through some sort of a program allowed them to finish the credits from those days. So education was very important in the, in those days. Well, I won't say that the schools were equal in terms of the teaching curriculum and so on.
PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [01:12:04]
The teaching curriculum and so on. Again, the people did the best they could. One of the big issues was how do they get text materials and so on. Again, just a small, quick story. I am a dropout. I'm not a dropout, but I was a student who cut school one day. I was in nursery school as a four year old. And my cousins who were with me decided they were going to leave the preschool. And so we left and we got caught and were disciplined and put back into school, you kids are not supposed to be... Anyway, so that's my little story about being a guy that cut school, but the schools were very important. And I think that for the most part, people were able to, I won't say, get ahead or get all of the advantages of a higher education, they certainly were able to keep up their studies, at least for those two or three years and get back into school and succeed as well.
Sandra is wondering if you had extended family in the camps and if you guys were scattered in different camps and I'm going to add to that after you got out, if you did have family members, did you all get forced to go to different places?
Well, in my case, I know that when you say extended family, I know that my father's brother, my uncle and his family were in the same camp as we were. And in fact, one of the problems, I guess you would call it a problem, but our grandmother who had a stroke before the war and was limited to a wheelchair, I know that my father and my uncle had to share taking care of her in the camp. I have another uncle who was in Colorado for a while, then he came back this way and came in and entered the camp in Poston. So yeah, there were some efforts made to keep families together, generally speaking, and I'm not sure how they did this, but families from general geographic areas in the States went to the same camp. For instance, my relatives in the Bay area basically ended up in the camp in Utah called Topaz. I had a couple of uncles and aunts that went into that camp and they stayed together as a family. So I hope that- [crosstalk 01:14:59].
I have a interesting story, the aunt and uncle that uncle Ben referenced, George and Michiko, they were not married at the time. And when [crosstalk 01:15:09] the evacuation orders came out, she was, I want to say 19 and he was 20. And Dorothea Lange was commissioned to Chronicle, the famous photographer Dorothea Lange was appointed to take pictures for the government and Chronicle the evacuation. And one of the things that she had heard about was this young couple in Berkeley that was getting married that evening, because they didn't want to be separated, because we had heard that families were not going to be separated. And so she's wearing a black and white Sunday dress and he's wearing a simple suit and they were married and had a small family dinner at the house. They had no wedding pictures or anything like that until 30 years later, 40 years later. One of their friends was at the National Archives and said, "Hey, we think we found a picture of the night that you two got married, that Dorothea Lange took.
And so in 1989, my aunt and uncle flew out to Washington DC and found their wedding photo of the night that they were married. And they were able to stay together, although it was very hard. I know my aunt talked about feeling depression and it was very sad for her. And someone said, well, have a baby. So she had a baby while incarcerated, and she said that's not helping. So then she had another baby. And it was really difficult on some of these young couples. I mean, I can't imagine being married at 19 and under that kind of pressure. And they made it to over 50 years of marriage. And so my uncle was killed in a freak car accident in Berkeley. So that was their reason for getting together and we're so happy that they were able to make a life after that.
Great question, Monica. While it seems unimaginable at the internment could have happened, do you feel the US is at risk of something similar happening one day again?
Say that again, I'm not sure I heard the question or was it a comment?
That was question too. Do you feel the US is at risk of something similar to the internment? Is the US at risk of something like that happening again?
Oh, if you want a personal opinion, I have faith in our constitution and in general, the population of this country. And I think we're going through, in a manner of speaking some very difficult growing pain because we have the influx of immigration and I said as you well know, that as a big issue in today's election. And anyone that is paying any attention to that, know that the immigration process is bringing talent into this country, whether they be from the far East, whether they be from India, whether they be from wherever, what they bring is... And if we think back too, and let me pause here or take a slightly different tack. Most of the Japanese people that came here in the early 1900s, late 1800s, early 1900s, were uneducated, had only the talent of working hard. Yet, we did not become a burden on the society of this country.
And I think that's generally true of the immigrant groups we see today. So I am not sure if I'm answering your question, but the whole issue... oh, well, you asked about what I see as the well, forecast. I am feeling very comfortable. When I say comfortable, I have some fear of course, of the damage that's being done to our constitution, of being done to the attitudes and so on of people, especially those people in power where some people feel that they can do as they wish. I think that the rule of law will eventually take over. I think that the constitution, if one has done their study of American and the world history, is one of the best things that this country has. And I think... And this is just a personal, you can accuse me of saying things through rose-colored glasses, but I have to feel confident that we're going to get through all of these trials and tribulations, and I hope in a better place.
I would respect the latest degree. I think we are seeing it now with the detentions at the border, the reasons why Suited for Solidarity has felt a need to gather and fight for justice. We saw it during desert storm number one, where in Baton Rouge Louisiana, we had a camp where they were sending Arab-Americans, we saw it during desert storm number two. Any kind of time, we are aware of who our quote unquote enemies are. I'm not, maybe not necessarily just disagree with my uncle, but I'm not as optimistic, I'm a lot more cynical.
And I would like to believe that our constitution is strong enough and those who are there to interpret the constitution would protect those kinds of rights that this country was founded on, by a group of immigrants. But there are things that are happening in our political tenor today, that me very scared for that. So I do think that these kinds of things are happening. We're not maybe seeing them highlighted as much. I mean, as much as social media occurs today and how open information flows, I think that it's still happening and that it is something that we really need to be careful about.
I would agree with you on all of that, but like I said, I'm a little more optimistic than you. And maybe that goes from the fact that I'm so many years older than you.
Well, the optimism is helpful for the rest of us.
Maybe there's also, I think social and activism movement going on right now, so, hopefully.
Well, I am very, very, I guess I want to use the word thankful for the activism that is occurring, the rising interest of people speaking out, and hopefully they will be able to, we will be able to see a coalescing and a bigger impact of these things as time goes on. At least that's what I'm hoping in at least the few years that I have left.
In regards to the Japanese history in America. I went to high school in the 90s in the Midwest, but American history and world history, my entire studies or what I was taught on-
Are you doing that [inaudible 01:22:51] Ben?
...Japanese history was the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and then we bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and that was it.
What's going on?
Then the concentration camps and-
I'll be there.
...the internment camps were, I mean, I didn't know of that until too recently, and I don't think I'm the only one. So I guess more of a comment, but my question is, is that being rectified? Is more being taught in schools today, or less? And is anything being done about that or what can we do about that?
I think this is not a vote for this resolution or whatnot. But Assembly Bill 1460 has just been signed into law in California. And that is a comprehensive ethnic studies curriculum. And we are working hard for the groups that are included in ethnic studies to make sure that there is a more equitable education about things like internment and immigration and all the different issues that folks of color in California have had to deal with. And so I think that's a huge first step.
That's good point. All right, I think... Any other questions from anyone? We have a couple more minutes. A couple of curiosity questions, or quick questions, someone is wondering how many people were in the Poston camp? Do you guys know?
Say that again.
Do you know how many people were in the Poston, Poston, how do you say it camp?
Okay, yeah. Generally speaking, well, the population varied from a low of in the 8000s up to 17,000. A total of 120,000 people were in the camps at one time or another. The largest being one of them was Manzanar, which is like I said, on the East coast or East Sierras. And Poston also was up around 17,000. I think 18,000 was the largest and that was at Tule Lake, and I don't have time to get into all of the issues around Tule Lake, because it was a kind of a unique situation. But as an example, one of my friends was in one of the camps in Arkansas. I think she was in Jerome. And they had only something like 8,000 and as time went on and people were moving around and so on, they began to close those. Simply because there really wasn't enough people to sustain the campus. There were rooms in other places and so on. So a total of 120,000 over the time of the camps, the largest being into the 17, 18,000. But most of them were around 12,000 people.
One more popping up. In the video shown in the beginning, or that Lisa showed with the bullying of Asian-Americans, in what cities is this happening?
All over. Most of the reports were taken in California. The majority were from California. Over 46% of the incidents were reported from California. New York was second with 14%. Washington with 4%. Illinois with 3%. And Texas with 3%. Now, I'm not sure how much national coverage stop Asian-American Pacific Islander hate has. And whenever I give these kinds of talks or even talk to my classes, I always talk about this and encourage people to report. So your reporting statistics are only as accurate as how many reports you get. So it doesn't surprise me that California has a lot more representation there, because this is a study that's being run out of San Francisco state.
And then maybe one last question, how did the experience affect the rest of your life? Did your life experience change the way you raised and taught your children?
Well, for me, the obvious thing is that I ended up growing up in a different place, because if this had not happened, I'm sure we would have stayed in the Bay area. And how that would turn out, I have no idea, but being in Minnesota and then in Denver was just something that would have not happened if this had not happened. And to give you a little bit of insight, I've always been interested in the military and when the Air Force Academy was established in 1956, I was really interested. And I'm not sure that would have been the same if I had grown up in California. So from the standpoint of just geographic location, that was it. I think that in terms of the issue of race relations, acceptance and so on, I feel that I was very lucky because as Lisa was pointing out, I grew up in a very supportive family and also in a community that supported me. And as I became an adult, I was more able to handle all of the other issues.
Great. Well, we want to thank you again for joining us. I'm going to turn it over to Cornel here in just a second to wrap it up. Do you guys have any final comments or thoughts before I do that? You're muted, Lisa.
I've noticed a lot of people and I've tried to answer live some of your questions, have asked, what can we do? And I think that idea of really spreading this story, encouraging people of color, and earlier I said, say yes. So many of these experiences that we're hearing from folks of color are disbelieved. And I think once more people realize that these are true, that these are stories that are coming from the last nine months of our lifetime, the more people will be forced to acknowledge and to do something about it. But if this just stays with you and this group, nothing can happen.
And as what we'd like to call in the union, co-conspirators. Not supporters, but co-conspirators, who are fighting for social and racial justice. I think this is the best thing that we can do, is to spread these stories, to talk about them widely, to invite, like the diversity coalition has this evening, folks like my uncle and myself to come speak about what's happening and how this is still relevant today. Because so many people think that the Japanese-American incarceration during World War II is a thing of the past and that it would never happen again. And that's not true because we see it happening even today.
All right. Thank you, Sarah. Well, first I want to say thanks again to all of those who participated tonight. Each of the folks who took time to join us, I really appreciate that. I know the board appreciates that. We all, again, value this conversation and certainly want to, again, thank you for that. Thanks, Sarah. You did a great job tonight in helping us facilitate this dialogue, really appreciate that. I just wanted to mention, to Lisa how moved I was by her experiences and her work. The work of the educator, and especially right now, providing education that's truthful education, that's factual is critically important. And thanks again too, for that video, that video was very powerful. And I really appreciate, we really appreciate you sharing that with us. Then I want to thank you for your stories and for your real person experiences.
Sarah's right, we could spend all weekend listening to you and learning from you and from Lisa. Thank you so much because those stories are purposeful and instructive. And I really appreciated your comment about how important it is that we learn lessons from the past. So as not to repeat the tragic history and the tragic stories that are part of our histories. I know it is sad, it's disgusting, in fact, that at the highest levels of our government, we see racism perpetrated against Asian-Americans, when we have leadership that insists on its followers, describing COVID-19 as the China virus or the China problem, and Chinese-American and other Asian-Americans are subjected to that hostility that comes from those kind of despicable, quite frankly, words and despicable attitudes. But we can fight against that, we can vote. I'm encouraging everyone to vote and also to participate in a community striving to be a better one for everyone.
I'll close very quickly by mentioning again, the November 18th program, where we will hear from Chumash educators, Chumash leaders. And that program is planned for November 18th, 6PM. And also January 6, January 6, promoting diversity through the arts. All of these activities are going to be featured on our web page, and I would encourage you to stay in touch with us through our website. Again, thanks to my fellow board members, organizing and presenting these programs. And thank you to, again, all of those who participated, I'll leave it there and close with again, our gratitude to all of you. Thank you so much.
Glad to be here.
Thank you, Ben.
Thank you, Lisa.