November 2019 Minutes

CLJP Minutes November 12, 2019

Monticello Room, Westminster Canterbury

Present: Taylor Beard, Burnie Davis, Jean Hammond, Ed Murray, Dianne Murray, John Peale, David Warren, Peter Weatherly, Yoshi Takahashi
Guests: Ove Osrumm, and Gwynne Schultz

Dianne Murray opened with prayer
Ed Murray presided over the meeting.

The Minutes of the October 8 meeting prepared by Hal Horan were approved with the correction noting Burnie Davis was in attendance at the October meeting.

Treasurer’s Report: Taylor Beard provided the summary of our current finances. We started October with a balance of $2,801.95, and added $120 with two members paying their dues. Our one expense was the $500 given as a sponsorship to the Virginia Festival of the Book. Our ending balance is $2,421.95

ANNOUNCEMENTS:  Bob McAdams forwarded this message to be read at the meeting in his absence:   

On Sunday, November 17th, at 3:00 PM, the Blue Ridge Virginia Chapter of the United Nations Association will host a meeting on INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS and the CHALLENGES of IMMIGRATION at UVA.  Dudley Doane,  UVa’s Director of International Studies, will speak on the problems facing international students in America’s shifting and contentious immigration scene. International students make up about 30 percent of the UVA student body and represent more than 80 countries. This event is free and open to the public and will take place at Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, 717 Rugby Rd. That’s a program on INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS and the CHALLENGES of IMMIGRATION at UVA, Sunday, November 17th, 3:00 PM. 

Program Speaker: Yoshi Takahashi, who is currently one of the chaplains at UVA Hospital.
Yoshi thanked us for the invitation and the opportunity to meet. He felt ‘inspired to be here’, particularly after hearing some of the members’ family stories.

He wanted to talk about his own experiences regarding racism, both as a common citizen and in his professional role as chaplain.

He pointed out that everyone immediately sees that he is not from the United States, more so after they hear him speak. First question is always, “Where are you from?” For the most part, people are very accepting of him, particularly the children he visits at the hospital. They get really excited when they hear his name, Yoshi, as that is one of the beanie baby characters. The origin of the name is actually ‘Green Dinosaur’.

Overall, patients tend to be fairly open, less discriminating. Of course, they are in a position of vulnerability and dealing with great anxieties of their own.

He views the chaplain’s role is to provide spiritual and emotional care to the patients. He is there to support everyone, even if from a different belief system, whether atheists, Jewish, Hindu, etc. Yoshi believes his role is to support them in their time of need, no matter their beliefs. He is not there to promote his own views. A chaplain’s calling is thus very different than an evangelist or preacher.

His experience as a Japanese-American is different from victims of anti-Semitism or prejudices towards African-Americans, so cannot speak to that.

Yoshi came to the United States in February 1991 to attend divinity school in Minnesota. The US-Japanese relations during the ‘90s were centered on the Gulf War, so he saw a lot of yellow ribbons everywhere. The Japanese had a different perspective on the war.

More significantly and pertinent to his relationships with Americans was the trade war the U.S. was having with Japan in the 1980s and 90s. He would hear a lot of angry news and people condemning Japan and its auto industry. Also, Japanese companies, including Sony, were creating products that Americans loved, for example the Walkman. But American complaints were that the Japanese were taking the market share from U.S. companies.

Difference between stereotypes and racism – Americans stereotypically view Japanese within the ‘3 S’s’ – “small, short, and smart.” He sees himself fulfilling the first two, but not the third, but I beg to differ.

Stereotyping at times can be beneficial, even at times opening some doors. People at the hospital often assume he’s a doctor when he walks in the room. Thus, their first thought is viewing him in a highly regarded and respectful way. Instead, they get rewarded by his compassion and natural empathy.

Still, he has witnessed a lot of generalized racial overtones. Even colleagues and teachers at divinity school would joke to him, asking “you’re still here, you haven’t been deported yet?”  People in his church would say similar things, but it is difficult for him to know how to respond to that. It was similarly challenging, even hurtful, to understand why people judge him on his spoken language. At times even his congregation complained that it was hard to understand when he spoke. Prejudices can take many forms.   

Experiences of more explicit racism developed after he moved his family to Durham NC to train in hospital chaplaincy. One time he went to a Toyota dealer to buy a new car. He took his 3 children with him to the sales office, hoping to get some sympathy. But sales person didn’t seem overly concerned, until Yoshi’s wife, who is white and an American citizen, arrived. Then Yoshi could see the transformation literally come over the sales person’s face. Yoshi understood about racism intellectually before, but this was first time to witness it firsthand.

Assimilation – He sees himself as Japanese-American, not as Asian-American.

Most Japanese-Americans are keener to have children assimilate into American culture, and minimize their ‘foreignness.’ This includes not talking about what happened with the concentration camps during WWII. Many give their children white American names. His daughter is named Kyoko Joy. Members of his congregation who were Japanese-Americans, would come up to him quietly and say their middle names were Japanese, even Kyoko, but would never use it or tell anyone – a form of shunning their heritage.

An interesting side note I was not aware of, Japanese-Americans have an historical relationship with Quakers, as they were the only group that helped during the times of internment. 

“God Happens”  Yoshi only planned on being in the States for 3 years while he was in school. Life’s journey, though, changed when he met his wife, got married and stayed.  He still views himself as a ‘guest’, not a citizen, so hesitates to raise objections or concerns about what is going on. Nonetheless, he now feels like this is “Home”, and is part of a community.

It was difficult as a father when his daughters came home upset by comments from teacher or friends, pointing out they were “Japanese.” They see themselves as Americans. 

Ongoing struggles – Hospital patients are usually very polite and respectful. He is sincerely impressed how the UVA Hospital staff is remarkable in working together as a “team”, supporting each other. They come together to help deal with patients that express overt racist behaviors, including using the “N” word to a staff member.

Staff training includes dealing with patients expressing racist attitudes. One class emphasized simply finding a common place for all and not be contentious.  At times, though, this isn’t always appropriate, and possibly even helps enable the behaviors.  Yoshi said his approach is to always assume good intentions while finding a common place to begin the engagement.

Solutions to dealing with racism are difficult to find. Yoshi admitted he didn’t have any ready, but feels it helps people understand what it feels like to be discriminated by thinking about their own experiences when they were in the minority, whether as a man in an all-women’s group, being a ‘lefty’, or when traveling in a foreign country. These recognitions can help ground us in improving our own empathy.

The meeting adjourned at 2:10 pm

Respectfully Submitted,  
Pete Weatherly, Recording Secretary