2. The Day the Earth Stood Still

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The 9/11 attack fanned xenophobic flames that were sparked on December 7, 1941 when the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

There’s a movie called The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) that stars Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal. It’s about a flying saucer that comes to earth and warns the earthlings that unless humans quit fighting among themselves, the planet will be destroyed. As a demonstration of their cosmic abilities, the aliens neutralize electricity and offer an ultimatum that people better live in peace or face annihilation.

Not much explanation is necessary about what happened on September 11, 2001, other than it was a day the earth stood still. You likely know where you were and what you were doing that day. My unremarkable commute to work that summer morning is one I’ll remember.

When the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were hit by three commercial passenger jets, and a fourth that crashed in a Pennsylvania field, those terrorist attacks would fan the flames of racial and ethnic xenophobia in America that was sparked similarly when the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and drew the United States into World War II.

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Much like what happened after Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, there was a high level of hysteria toward Muslims largely perpetuated by interpretations of U.S. government actions by cable TV news media.

After the attack on Hawai’i, in May 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) signed Executive Order (E.O.) 9066 that ordered, among other things, Japanese – particularly those living on the West Coast – to uproot themselves from their homes and businesses.

There was fear that there may be Japanese spies embedded within the general citizenry on the West Coast.

Throughout Beyond Heart Mountain, I provide some insight into the huge government bureaucracy established as a result of that national paranoia.

Parts of the federal government were reorganized, and new agencies established to manage somewhere between 112,000 to 120,000 men, women and children of Japanese descent who were sorted out in 15 assembly centers before being herded up and shipped by rail to one of 10 makeshift war relocation centers constructed in remote places within the interior of the United States.

To say that E.O. 9066 dug a cultural trench between Asians and white America is an understatement. While researching this story, I learned the American quest for cultural and racial homogeneity is nothing new.

It’s not like the U.S. government always propped up a xenophobic culture.

After the United States left Vietnam in the capable hands of Communists in 1975, thousands of “boat people” travelled to the free world, including the United States. The military set up detention camps at several army bases to temporarily house Vietnamese refugees.

The week before Saigon – now Ho Chi Minh City – fell, U.S. Navy ships and its air force evacuated 95,000 South Vietnamese. Later in 1975, another 125,000 refugees left South Vietnam and received at U.S. military bases in the Philippines and Guam before being transferred to other domestic installations where they were housed in preparation for permanent resettlement.

At the beginning of the mass exodus, there wasn’t a strong consensus among Americans around whether South Vietnamese refugees resettlement in the United States was a good idea or not.

Despite the split public opinion, the U.S. Congress approved the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act and signed into law by President Gerald Ford in May 1975.

The legislation allowed Vietnamese refugees to enter the United States under a special status and allocated $405 million in resettlement aid.

To prevent the refugees from forming ethnic ghettos and minimize their impact on local communities, they were distributed around the country, but over time, many coalesced in California and Texas.

Flash forward to 2019, there are thousands of immigrants and asylum-seekers who have crossed America’s southern border illegally and legally. Families are separated into sparse living conditions. In some cases, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security doesn’t know what kid belongs to which family.

There are some news pundits who continue to perpetuate America’s historic xenophobia and wont to preserve racial and ethnic homogeneity. The talking heads demonize the influx of newcomers as a “attackers” or “invaders.”

The earth is still standing still.

1. Where were you?

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The Yankees hosted the Arizona Diamondbacks for games 3 to 5 in the 2001 World Series that was delayed because of the attacks on September 11th, a little more than a month earlier. I went to two of the games and visited “ground zero” in October 2001.

It was an unusually hot day in September. I must have been in a hurry because I didn’t bother to turn on the Today Show or the Morning Edition on Colorado Public Radio while getting ready for my commute to work in Denver.

This particular morning I took the Regional Transportation District (RTD) route 205 bus from the stop near my Boulder condo to the RTD Walnut Street station in downtown Boulder.

The bus stop was next to the convenience store where I stopped most days for a cup of coffee.

“Looks like it’s going to be a good one out there,” I don’t think the dark-skinned clerk understood a word I said about the great weather predicted for the day. He grinned and handed over my change. I clunked a couple cents into the plastic leave-a-penny take-a-penny tray on the counter and cut through the gas pumps to the bus stand.

From the downtown Boulder bus station, few passengers waited to catch the B Express bus to Denver. There’s no free parking. I was okay with transferring from a local bus downtown so as to get the seat of my choice, which was one with extra legroom toward the middle of the cabin a couple rows ahead of where a wheel chair would be parked – similar to the exit row seats on an airplane.

By the time we reached the last Boulder stop at the Table Mesa Park ‘n Ride, the seats were filled with commuters rattling their morning papers, cramming for college classes at the Auraria campus, reading books, listening to music on iPods, catching up on sleep.

This was well before laptops internet hot spots and smartphones. I was one of the few who had a cell phone. It was the size of a small box of Velveeta cheese. I didn’t think to call anyone.

“Did you hear what happened in New York,” the guy sitting to me asked. “No, I hadn’t heard anything.”

“An airplane crashed into one of the Twin Towers,” he said. “No, I hadn’t heard. What kind of plane?” The guy shrugged.

Other passengers murmured about the news and I overheard, “It was a small plane, like a Cessna.” Hmmm, small plane, nothing to see here, folks, and soon we all returned to being immersed in ourselves.

The bus pulled up to a stall in Market Street Station. We disembarked and made our ways up the stairs and escalators to the 16th Street Mall.

My connection on 17th Street was for the eastbound RTD 20 bus that dropped me off near my work in a converted single-family home in an older neighborhood.

I walked up the steps and creaked open the wrought iron screen door before winding my way up the stair case towards my office.

“You can go home if you want,” my boss greeted me at the top of the stairs. “Two planes hit the World Trade Center. There isn’t much more information but all the air traffic is grounded.”

“There was talk on the bus about a plane hitting one of the towers,” I said.

My colleagues had all gone. I had the longest commute to and from Boulder and the last to hear.

I walked back to the bus station and noticed the eerily quiet streets – no car engines, no airplane noise, not many people out and about. When I stood waiting for the light at Broadway and the 16th Street Mall, I glanced up at the Denver World Trade Center that I later learned was a similar target as its namesake in Lower Manhattan.

The bus back to Boulder was a-buzz with rumor, but I didn’t engage.

‘Beyond Heart Mountain’ book about Japanese in Downtown Cheyenne available Feb 19th

bhm 1-1What happened to the Japanese residents and businesses on West 17th Street in downtown Cheyenne, Wyoming?

It’s not just about the demise of the once vibrant Japanese community in a small town in Wyoming that thrived from the 1920s through the 1960s, but about how downtown areas can be revived by adding new life to them with people.

The story is a historical memoir told through the eyes of the author, a Sansei generation Baby Boomer Cheyenne native, Alan O’Hashi.

The story arose from a Cheyenne Historic Preservation Board decision to allow the demolition of 509 W. 17th St. with the condition a cultural and historical survey be done about the Japanese community that flourished in the 400 and 500 blocks of W. 17th St.

John and Jim Dinneen are constructing 12 townhouses in the Downtown Cheyenne neighborhood.

Check out a preview of the 50 page picture book by opening the YouTube link.

The release date is the “Day of Remembrance” on February 19th, which commemorates 77 years since President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that required internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry.