November 11, 2010

Buddhists in the House

Did you know that Hawaii's membership in the House of Representatives in 2011 will be 100% Buddhist? There are two House members from the Aloha State: Democrat Mazie Hirono and newly elected Colleen Hanabusa, also a Democrat and currently president of Hawaii's Senate. Hanabusa defeated Republican Charles Djou to win the seat representing the 1st district, which covers urban Honolulu, while Hirono represents the 2nd district, which covers suburban Honolulu and the rest of the islands. Both are of Japanese heritage and Wikipedia names both women as Shin Buddhists. Mazie Hirono was born in Japan in 1947 and became a naturalized US citizen in 1959 when Hawaii gained statehood, according to her official biography, while Colleen Hanabusa is a yonsei, a great-grandchild of Japanese immigrants and a fourth-generation resident of Hawaii.

The United States is of course largely a nation of immigrants (this phrase is the title of a book written by John F. Kennedy in 1958) and by any standard, Hanabusa's family has deep roots on American soil, but both her grandfathers were interned during the second World War. More than 100,000 American residents of Japanese ancestry were interned because of Executive Order 9066, which was not formally rescinded until 1976. This Dr. Seuss propaganda cartoon, shocking as it is to contemporary sensibilities, gives a sense of the prevailing atmosphere.

Dr. Seuss Goes to War

This is an episode of American history that is too often downplayed or ignored. (The Census Bureau assisted in the round-up efforts, which justifies at least a small portion of the right-wing rhetoric surrounding the 2010 census.) There is a good list of links for more information on Japanese-American internment, and the internment of American residents of other nationalities, at the end of this article. (American residents of German and Italian heritage were also interend, but in far smaller numbers, and Japanese residents of Canada and Latin America were also interned.)

Don't expect too much sweetness and light between Hanabusa and Hirono: They ran a very tight race against each other in the 2006 election that won Hirono her seat!

 

Image: The Dr. Seuss Collection at UCSD's Mandeville Special Collections Library

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