Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Pramila Jaypal Interview II
Narrator: Pramila Jaypal
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: June 1, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-jpramila-02

<Begin Segment 1>

AI: Today is June 1, 2004, and we're continuing with the second session with Pramila Jayapal. I'm Alice Ito with Densho here in Seattle, and on videography is Dana Hoshide. So, Pramila, thanks for returning for another session.

PJ: Sure.

AI: And as I had mentioned, we wanted to pick up a little bit where we had left off in the first session, but go back just a little bit into 1999 and 2000. And at that time, you were in Seattle at that time?

PJ: Yeah.

AI: With your son?

PJ: Uh-huh. I had just come back from India in '97, so I had been here since then, yeah.

AI: And what were you doing at that time for your work?

PJ: Well, I think my, my book came out in March of 2000 and I think in '99 -- it's hard for me to remember exactly the date -- but around sometime in '99 I started doing consulting work for the Annie E. Casey Foundation on their Making Connections initiative and their work in White Center, which was primarily with immigrants and refugees. And part of that project was actually to interview, I think I interviewed something like over sixty people about their experiences of coming to the United States and kind of what they were looking for in order to strengthen their families, what would it take in order to strengthen their families. And it was an amazing experience for me because I really had not done any work with immigrants and refugees here in this country. That was really the first time. So I was working on that and listening to people's stories about why they came to the United States and how they felt. A lot of it was so timely, I guess, for me, because coming back in '97, in some ways it felt like I was coming to the United States all over again. You know, some of the same feelings of just being out of place or, or trying to figure out, I mean, very vivid memories of... you know, going to a gas station, and by then they had actually introduced the card readers at the gas station, which they didn't have before. And I remember just being so stunned by that, and realizing that you could go through an entire day without ever seeing anybody, and have to, after having come from two years of a village experience, it was very isolating. And that was a lot of what the new immigrants that I was talking to were also talking about, how difficult it was to get around and obviously for them there were all kinds of language issues as well, and other issues.

So I was doing that and I was also completing my book, and I was also involved in helping to get going a South Asian non-profit organization called Chaya, which had been established before, and it had a board before, but they had never really had any money. It was for domestic violence issues for South Asian women, and there are a lot of domestic violence agencies that work on issues for other communities, but the South Asian community is this huge community that really didn't have that resource at all. And so I got on the, I became the chair of the board and then we applied for our first grant and actually were able to hire our first executive director, started out as project manager, and then she turned into an executive director. So that was also happening. So I was also getting very connected with my own community, which was the South Asian community, that I really had never been connected with, 'cause I was always traveling. So I was connected with India and I was connected with other communities around the world, but not, not really the immigrant community here and not my specific immigrant community.

AI: Well, can you say a little bit about that? Some of the things that you learned as you were working with Chaya and the things you learned about the immigrant South Asian community here in the Pacific Northwest.

PJ: Well, it's all connected also, I think, to what I found out during my book tour. So it, I don't know when some of these things occurred to me. But first of all, the South Asian community here is huge. It's the fastest growing immigrant community in the United States right now. And -- other than the Latino community -- and I think it actually rivals the Filipino American community in terms of numbers overall. And when I wrote the book, I was kind of under the impression that I was writing this personal story. And I kept saying to my editor, "Is this gonna be interesting to anybody?" You know, sort of, like I've said to you in various ways. [Laughs] But what I realized both through writing the book, and through doing the work with Chaya, and through the White Center work, is that there are so many common experiences that immigrants share, in spite of the differences in how we might have come, or why we might have come, or even our ability to acculturate or not acculturate, there are these similar experiences of, "How do we fit in?" "What is our place in this society?" "What does it mean about our place in whatever society we came from?" So the two are very related and it's part of -- I think I might have mentioned this in the last set, round of interviews that we did -- but you know, in taking citizenship, the issues that come up are really the issues that we're dealing with from the moment that, not just the moment we get here really, but the moment we make the decision to leave our countries and to come to another country. And so I think I saw a lot of that duality of feeling. I wouldn't call it ambivalence, but duality of feeling, and the constant tensions that we're under to come up with an identity that represents who we are and not necessarily the identity that other people ascribe to us. And so I found that consistently with the White Center interviews. People struggle with their desire to create a life that looks like what they want their life to look like in the context of this culture. Because the culture, this culture, necessarily negates things that they would consider critically important at home. So, human connection was a big piece of that. And I talked a lot about that in my book. It was the experience I had in India, and so when I came back and realized that these interviews in some way were this continuation that I never expected, of this journey that I had started to go on while I was in India, I think, was pretty phenomenal for me.

The Chaya work was a little bit different because it was focused around domestic violence, but it was an opportunity for me to see also how far I've come from my roots of wanting to create community here. And how my community is very diverse, but there is something very different about being with people who are from the same culture that you're from, that is so grounding in a way, and there's so much that doesn't ever need to be said. You know, it's like -- I've not been married for fifty years, but it's what I imagine a fifty-year marriage would be like. [Laughs] You know, that you just know things without ever having to say them. And I think that that's part of what we all are looking for, and part of the problem, actually, to bring us to the current day, part of the problem with how Americans view immigrants. You know, kind of the dominant American culture because there's a, there's a character that's ascribed to, to, quote, "the immigrant." And it's not the immigrant that we were searching for in the Statute of Liberty. It really is something very different that's threatening to the American self-identity. So, I know I packed a lot in there, but I think they're all actually connected.

AI: I think so, too.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

AI: Maybe, I wonder if you could say a little bit about, especially your own South Asian community of immigrants and South Asian Americans. When you, when you think about this difference between the ascribed identity or the stereotypical perception of a South Asian immigrant that we see sometimes in mainstream media or advertising or just hearing anecdotes about stereotypical interactions. Right now, for example, I think there's a stereotype of some nameless, faceless person in India who perhaps is a software engineer and then immigrates to the U.S. Or, you know, there are any number of things.

PJ: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

AI: And maybe if you could say a little bit specific to your community.

PJ: Yeah. Well, that was gonna be my second book -- [laughs] -- was on South Asians in America. So there are these stereotypes, and one clear stereotype -- there are different ones, but the one clear one is obviously the engineer, the computer people who have come over here. But there's another, which is the taxi drivers, the blue collar workers, the hotel owners -- or motel owners. The largest chain of motels is owned by Indians; actually, I think it's something like sixty percent of the motel industry across the United States is now owned by Indians. The newspaper stands. So, so the, kind of the lower socioeconomic class and then this very high socioeconomic class, so if you look at Indians, I think the last list of the hundred richest people in the United States, Indian Americans constituted a larger percentage than any immigrant population on that list. And that was during the time of the high-tech boom.

So, again, I think that what I saw when I started doing the research for my book, actually, and then connected with Chaya as well, is that people, incredibly bright, entrepreneurial, well-educated people, coming to the United States to take advantage of the opportunities that were here, but also very spiritually grounded, or culturally grounded, because religion is so much a part of the culture there. It's really not just religion; it's a way of life, and so the struggle to incorporate those. And so you see it, for example, with the really wealthy kind of software engineers. I interviewed several of them, both, both, actually, when were getting Chaya going, but also for this book that I was intending to write. And they said, well, the ways of being were very different. So, for example, lifestyles for the most part, for the amount of money that they had, much lower key than the typical lifestyle. People would say, "Well, this isn't my money," it's like Gandhi's idea of communal wealth. It's sort of like, "God has been good to me and the money is here and so, you know, I'm providing, not necessarily charities, but I'm providing for my family members and extended family members to go to school and that kind of thing, sending money back home." So it would show up in terms of the way that people do business, which I was really interested in. How can you link success in the business world to our cultural identities and who we are as people? Does it change how we operate in this kind of capitalistic material world? And then, on the other side, for the taxi drivers and the gas station owners, there was also a similar thing going on where people would work very, very hard and be very committed to their community. So they would go to their temple more so than say the other side of the spectrum, but very integrated into a cultural identity here, that they recreated here, but still be lamenting the inability to express that cultural identity fully.

So, some of the things that... I interviewed a guy who's a very good friend of mine now, who is, started out as a cab driver -- and this is a really similar story -- started out as a cab driver and then owned a gas station and then owned several gas stations. And you know, he told me the story of somebody showing at his door who was a distant, who was a friend of a distant cousin of his. He hadn't heard from the cousin, but the guy just showed up at his door. He stayed with him for six months. He lent him eighty thousand dollars, my friend did, lent him eighty thousand without a note or without an agreement or anything so that he could buy a franchise for a taxi cab. And I said, "Did you have any kind of agreement with him to pay you back?" And he said, "Oh, no." He said, "I knew he would pay me back." He said, "He's already paid me back." And I said, "Well, did you know who he was?" He said, "Well, no, he just mentioned my distant cousin's name," and so people try to recreate that sense of community in their own way. But then they're struggling with their kids. You know, a big thing that people were dealing with in the South Asian community, as I think is true in every immigrant community, is the disconnect between the values of children and their values as parents and how do you bridge that gap, that cultural divide? And so some people take their kids back to India. But then the kids are, you know, it's this whole identity issue for the kids as well because they've been raised in America and then they don't really fit in in America but they don't really fit in at home either.

So, I think, so those were a lot of the -- and then this issue of giving up citizenship, you know, people obviously wanted to become citizens because of everything that America offered and it feels almost like they're in a bind. You know, they can't go back but they also are uncomfortable staying here. And I talked to a taxi driver in New York, oh, about six months ago and he said, "Yeah, I came here twenty-one years ago to pay off the airline tick-, I was gonna just basically work to pay off the airline ticket for my trip to the United States." He said, "And I'm still working to pay it off." And so it's just, it's the way that people think about it that, he said, "I can't really go back home, because what would I do there? But I also, you know, there are so many things I miss about home." So a lot of it was just kind of the emotion around what we miss, family, the way of life. People talked about the connection, the fact that everybody's so busy here, nobody drops in for a cup of tea, you know, all the conversation is through e-mail instead of on the phone -- instead of in person. And I think that sense of being dislocated from community versus feeling like community supports you to be who you are.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AI: Well, I wanted to ask also, you had mentioned briefly that after your book was published, you went on tour --

PJ: Yeah.

AI: -- and had some speaking engagements and readings, and I was wondering what kinds of audiences you had spoken to, if some of them were with South Asian immigrant and American audiences?

PJ: Yeah, it was amazing to me. I, I just thought nobody would read my book. I really -- you can't write a book just thinking about who's gonna read it. You just have to write it and hope that it's gonna be interesting to somebody, and of course you have to do a marketing thing where you say, "This is who I think is gonna read it." But I went on a national tour so I went to the East Coast and to the West Coast, not really in-between very much. And it was really a lot of South Asian American young people, a lot, and older people as well. And Westerners who had been to India and loved it and were trying to find a way to articulate what they loved about it, because it's both incredibly frustrating, I mean, I think the dualistic portrayal that I try to present in the book was very much what people who know India, they get it. And so, the audience was really mixed but there were a lot of South Asian American young people. And I realized this hunger for literature that represents both fictional and non-fictional, that represents who they are. And that's what they kept telling me all the time. You know, people would say, "I felt like I was writing the book," which is an odd thing to hear as a writer because then you feel like, "Well, is my experience singular in any way, or could it just be applied to anybody?" [Laughs] But I understood what they were saying, which is it speaks to the experience that we've had. And many of them, unlike me, were born here. But I think those identity issues are really similar. And for the older people, I think they really connected with the pieces of the book that talked about all the things in India that they miss, because those were so real for them, being here. So it was really quite a diverse audience but I was amazed at how universally appealing it was to South Asians.

AI: That must've been incredible for you to hear back this response and to hear from people that they felt that you had captured feelings of their own.

PJ: It was incredible. It was a real honor. It really was, because I wasn't expecting that at all. I think what I was expecting was more the reaction... it was interesting, the book was picked up by Penguin, India and published in India. And the reaction there was much more mixed, where... for several reasons, I think. But it got very good reviews from all of the national review places. But I think there were a lot of individuals who were... felt it was trite, or trivial, because, of course, it wasn't geared for them, it was geared for people who don't know India, and it was published exactly as it was here in India. But I think it also brings up the issues that Indians have about why is it that somebody from the United States has to write about India, even if it's an Indian. There's a lot of tension there in terms of publication because a lot of Indians feel that the only authors that really make it big are the Indian authors who are from the United States and not the ones, you know, because India has such a rich collection of literature, both regional languages as well as Indian. So I think that -- I mean, as well as English. So I think that comes into, into play quite a bit. But I expected much more of that and I just didn't get it here.

AI: Well, I also wanted to mention that -- just to place the context of the year and the times -- that in 2000, when your book was published, that was also the year that the stock market took a dive.

PJ: Yeah.

AI: And then, of course, later on, that was the year of the United States presidential election with George W. Bush having a controversial election.

PJ: [Laughs]

AI: And so, just to place that time and the year and some of your activities, and all of this was all going on at once in the year 2000.

PJ: Right, right.

AI: And you were... you mentioned you were preparing to write another book.

PJ: Right.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

AI: And so you had... you were preparing to discontinue your, your work in consultation and your work with the foundation, and so tell me what you were doing and what happened in that year --

PJ: In that year...

AI: -- leading into 2001.

PJ: Well I, you know, I was an English major in college, but I think I never really had -- I've had a lot of faith in my ability to do just about everything, except write. And so it's been this very emotional place for me where I've never taken the risk of saying, "This is just what I'm gonna be. I'm just gonna write. I'm not gonna do other work, I'm not gonna be an activist, I'm not gonna be a consultant, I'm just gonna write." And after my book came out, and I think I talked about this hunger that people had for more information, and I just felt like there was a lot that I wanted to say that I still hadn't said yet, that I was gathering in the re-acclimatization to the United States. And so, and I was also doing these interviews for the Casey Foundation which made me realize the power of an individual story. And so I had this idea to write a book about South Asians in America, kind of focusing on individual stories of people to try and dispel some of the stereotypes and say this is not a singular culture, this is a... you know, they're incredible, there's incredible diversity of, in South Asian Americans that are here in this country, and here's what they're contributing and here are some of the struggles that they go through and here are their personal stories.

So I had this in my mind, and at the same time I was also working on a collection of short fiction that I started, actually, in March of 2000 when my book had just been published. And I was working on this book on South Asian Americans out at Hedgebrook, a women writer's retreat. And it was a beautiful day. I think I had just picked up the hardcover of my book, so I had just seen it in print. And I took the ferry out to Whidbey Island and was sitting in my little beautiful cottage. And suddenly I just realized I wanted to write a story. And it was a story of a young girl in a village, and it was fiction. But it was a wonderful experience because again, it was about rural... most of the literature that you see is about the urban India. It isn't so much about rural India. There's a few people, Rohinton Mistry and a few people, but not much. So I had started writing these short stories as well. So I had this idea that I wanted to take six months off and work on this second book on South Asian Americans and also this collection of short fiction. And it took me a long time to do that because I'm an activist at heart and so there's fear involved and you know, if I put away all this stuff that I know how to do and I know I know to do it, then what's gonna happen to me? What if this doesn't work out? What if I'm a complete flop as a writer? You know, what do I do then? And it's a funny thing because I've never thought that about anything else. So it took me a while to really work out how, both the finances of it but also, you know, yes, this is what I want to do. And so I had decided that I was gonna take that six months off. I worked to clear everything off my plate and I was gonna take that six months off the day that I moved into my new house because I had just gone through a separation and a divorce. And I moved into my new house on September 10, 2001. And September 11th happened the day after. And sometimes I think about it and I think, is this, was this fated somehow that my plate was completely clear, and I jumped into doing what I know best? Or was it something else? And I don't know the answer to it. But September 11th happened and because of all the work I had been doing in immigrant refugee communities and with Chaya, I started getting a lot of calls from Sikhs and Muslims and people who were being targeted right after September 11th. And...

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

AI: Before we get too far, let me ask you to just go back to that day if you will and recall the day for me.

PJ: Well, that weekend before -- September 11th was on a Tuesday, and I had gone to Portland, I think, for a speech or something that I had to do on Friday. Saturday I came back and had to pack up the U-Haul and literally move everything into my house, which I did on Sunday and Monday. And so it was, I just remember the context being, first of all, very frenzied. And I was in boxes and I was, I was unsettled. I was very ungrounded because I was moving houses, but it was more than moving houses, it was also symbolic of other changes that were going on in my life. And on September 11th... actually, on September 10th, on Monday, September 10th, I had a friend of mine who was out from California helping me to move. And he was supposed to stay until September 11th. And on September 10th, in the morning, he said, "You know, I have a really funny feeling." He's a very intuitive person, and he said, "I have a very funny feeling." He said, "I just, I feel like I need to get back to California today." He said, "I don't know what it is but I..." and his son, he has a teenage son, and his son was going through some problems and so he said, "I don't know if it's something that I'm feeling with Jonathan, that he needs me to go back, or what it is, but I'm gonna change my flight." And so he did. He changed his flight to that afternoon, I think, late afternoon, and he left.

And on September 11th in the morning, I don't remember what time I got the call, but it was very shortly after the planes had crashed into the World Trade Center, very early in the morning I got a call from a friend of mine on the East Coast, in Boston. And I was asleep. And she called and she said, she was hysterical, and she said, "Have you seen what's happened? Have you seen what's happened?" And I had no idea what she was talking about. And I said, "What do you mean?" And she said these planes... and it still didn't... I just couldn't quite comprehend it. And so I tried to get the TV but I have this little tiny TV set that, you know, and I don't have cable, and so I couldn't really get reception. So I turned on the radio and was listening to it and I remember just thinking, "Oh, my God." And immediately, you know, I jumped to, "Who's gonna get blamed for this?" I mean, I immediately went there. Because, I guess somehow I knew. Excuse me. [Cries] So I don't think I had, I don't think I really knew what it would look like, but... thank you.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

PJ: So I don't, I think I called several people. I think I listened to the news. I can't remember if I got, started getting calls that day. I don't think so. I think, I think most of the violence happened that day, the initial violence. And then I think it was on Wednesday that I started getting calls from the Sikh community. And there had been -- and I'd have to go back and look at the dates, I can't remember exactly which event happened when. But there had already been the first death of a Sikh gas station owner in Mesa, Arizona, had happened. And there was a Sikh cab driver who was attacked, I believe it was on September 12th, could have been September 13th, in SeaTac, and so his family had called, through a friend of mine. Somebody had called me on their behalf. And then I started getting calls from Muslim women who were being harassed for going out into the community, some of them Pakistani, you know, because all of us wear, I mean, all of the Indian and the Somali and Muslim communities, if you're Sikh you wear head covering as well. And so it was clearly, I got several of those calls over the next couple of days. And I remember that it was Thursday or Friday maybe, my son was supposed to go out and my friend, Aaliyah, her friends were supposed to go to the zoo. And she called me and she said, "I'm not gonna send them to the zoo." She said, "I'm just, I'm too concerned." And I remember that I was gonna wear a salwar kameez one day, which I do periodically, about once a week or so I wear, wear Indian clothes and I remember I deliberately thought, "I'm not gonna, I'm not gonna wear this." And both that week and the next I remember several instances of walking, very vivid memories of walking downtown and just feeling people looking at me. And whether it was true or whether it was because I knew these things were happening to other people, it's hard for me to know.

But, so those calls continued. And then on Saturday morning I got a call, again was woken up very early, I forget what time it was, but six or six thirty, by a friend of mine who's a schoolteacher in south Seattle. And she was in tears and she said, "This is the third Muslim family that's pulling their kids out of my class because they're afraid to come to school." And it really was one of those moments where, you know, I think I burst into tears and, because I just thought, "What, what are we coming to? What is this? What is going on here?" And by that time Issa Qandeel, the Jordanian American man, had been, I think the Northgate incident had already happened where he was shot at and somebody was trying to pour gasoline around his, his car and blow it up.

AI: At the mosque?

PJ: At the mosque. And so the vigil had started around the mosque. And so there were several things that had already happened and you could sense this palpable feeling of hysteria in the air. And just the newspapers, of course, were full of the images of September 11th and the images of the people who had, who were supposedly responsible for September 11th were broadcast all over the place and so there was just this sense of tension and hysteria which, you know, I imagine lots of similarities to other times in history, but the whole nation's attention was on it. And in a way that, you know, was about every individual's safety but also the nation's safety. And so, I remember crying, and I remember just thinking, "I have, I have to do something. I have no idea what, but I have to do something." And so I called my friend in San Francisco and he said, "You know, I heard that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed this 'Hate Free Zone' resolution, and maybe you could do something like that." And I just was looking for something; I mean, just anything to do. And so I just decided that's what we needed to do, but we needed to do it for the state and somehow we had to get politicians to come out and make a statement about, that this was unacceptable and that we couldn't tolerate this, and this was not about Muslims or people wearing head-cover or Sikhs or Arabs, it was about this individual isolated group of people who had, who had committed these attacks.

And I remember I called up my friend Aaliyah and I said, "Okay, we have to start making some phone calls. I need your help." And she said, "What do you, what do you mean?" And I said, I said, "We have to do something and I have a plan." I had no plan, but I said I had a plan. [Laughs] And so I remember she made arrangements to drop her kids off somewhere, I think with a friend or something and she came over and we, literally, I think it was around noon. And we sat down at my kitchen table and I said, "Okay, these are the people we need to call," and I remember Ron Sims was on there and King County members and council members, city council members and we just started calling people and saying, "This is what we want to do; we want to have a resolution, we want to pass it, we want to have it for the state." It's very funny for me to think of now because it's been two and a half years and I think I had no idea really what we were gonna do, I just knew that something had to be done and nobody seemed to be taking leadership on it.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

PJ: And so by Monday morning -- so we had, so I got an appointment with Jim McDermott for Monday morning, and I had never met with him. And so Sunday night, I think it was about nine-thirty at night and I remember thinking, "Oh my gosh, I'm going to meet with a U.S. congressman." And I had really not done political stuff before this work. All of my work had been international development but not, not domestic political stuff. And so I thought I really should have something to give to him, you know, something written. I'm gonna meet with him and I have no idea what I'm really gonna ask him. And so I sat down and I think I finished it at about eleven o'clock 'cause I once went back to my computer to look at the document, you know, the original document to see what time I finished it and I think it was about eleven, eleven or eleven-fifteen at night. And I wrote at the top: "Hate Free Zone Campaign of Washington" and then I had this very broad mission about stopping hate in the state of Washington and making sure that Washington state was welcoming to people from all religions and cultures and ethnicities and I think I had sexualities in there. I mean, it was a very, very broad statement. And then I, it's the, my, the way I've always liked to think is, you know, "What if there were no limits?" "So what would you do if you could do anything?" kind of thing. And so I came up with these four things: political advocacy, direct community support -- because it was very clear people had nowhere to turn. There was no help line, there was nothing. And when I had done my research over the weekend, I had found that the State of California actually has a statewide helpline for hate crimes and discrimination. We didn't have anything like that. So that was in there, and then education and training, I felt like we've gotta work with schools if we're gonna make a difference. And then the fourth was media and public awareness.

And so I met with Jim the next morning. It's a one-page document, met with Jim the next morning, introduced myself, handed him the sheet of paper, and said, "I really think we need to do something." He was right there because he knows the South Asian community very well and he had heard about the Sikhs and he pulled out the Martin Niemohler quote that morning, I remember, and said, "Yes, we need to do something," he said, "What should we do?" And I said, "Well, I think we should have a press conference and we should get the governor and the mayor and the King County Executive and you and other key people, and we should do it at a prominent place and, you know, just state that this is unacceptable." And he said, "That's a great idea, when should we do it?" I said, "Well, how about tomorrow?" [Laughs] And he turned around and looked at me and said, "Who are you?" 'Cause we had never met before. And he said, "How do you expect to get the governor and everybody -- and tomorrow, I mean..." I said, "Well, it's great timing, you know, September 11th was on a Tuesday, this would be one week from September 11th, all of these things have happened, there'd be a real reason to come out." I said, "Politically, it would be something that everybody would want to be a part of." You know, and then I said, "But the real work is after the press conference." I said, "We have to figure out what to do about this." And so, he, he was great. He said, "Okay, well, let's put my staff on it," and so we all sat around a table and his staff made a bunch of calls and we had another meeting that Monday at about four o'clock.

And I think from Jim's office I went to another meeting at the Washington Association of Churches. And there were a whole variety of groups, the Labor Council and the WAC and the ADL and a bunch of other groups had gathered there to talk about, "What should we do?" And I said, "Well, you know, we've got this press conference and how about supporting that? And here's my proposal for how we should deal with this issue." [Laughs] And so they all came to this meeting at four o'clock on Monday afternoon that Jim had called. And I remember Judy Nicastro from the city council was there and I think Peter Steinbrook and I forget who the other, but there were three or four council members who came, Gary Locke's person, somebody from his office came and somebody from Ron Sims' office came. And so there were a number of different groups and people represented there and, you know, we had gotten the space at the Seattle Center for noon on Tuesday the 18th. And it was a planning meeting for that, and so we held the press conference the next day at twelve o'clock. And when I got there Jim was handing out, he had made copies of my one-pager and he was handing them out to people and introducing me saying, "This is Pramila Jayapal of Hate Free Zone Campaign of Washington." And I was saying, "Um, no, no. I'm writing my book. I'm taking six months off to write my second book." [Laughs] But that's what happened.

And then in the days following that, I think it became very clear that it wasn't just individual attacks, but within a month or two, we realized that it was the government targeting people which has still not stopped. You know, arresting people without any evidence, and there's this recent case of the man in Portland, Oregon who was arrested for the bombings in Spain and was held under this order that allows people to be held without actually, with no evidence, because of, quote, "suspicions of being terrorist," involved in terrorist activity. So our activity continued. Really the big, first big political thing we did was with the Somali grocery stores that were shut down after September 11th -- or not shut down, but disqualified from the USDA's Food Stamp program. And the more research we did into that, the more we found it was linked to terrorism. That was kind of the big, first big profile thing we did.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

AI: In fact, I do want to ask a little more detail about the Somali grocery stores and the suspicions that they were subjected to. But before we go there I wanted to just ask a little bit about the whole beginnings of the, the very beginning calls that you and your friend made. You were not, at that time, representing yourselves as being with an organization or part of any movement or... you were calling as individuals. And were you surprised that you got a meeting with Jim McDermott and at his response, his fairly immediate response?

PJ: Well, we got a meeting with, I got a meeting with Jim because of Akhtar Badshah, who was at the time at Digital Partners. And he, I called him because I had known him through Chaya. And I said, "This is what we want to do," and I didn't get a great response from other people, you know, people were just sort of like, "Well, talk to my office." And he said, "Well, I'll, I'm gonna see Jim McDermott tomorrow and let me get you, I'll get you a meeting with him." And that's, it's really thanks to Akhtar that... and I think I might have gotten a meeting with Jim anyway because Jim, I think, in some ways is much more accessible in that, in that way, particularly with this population, I think Jim has a deeper understanding than many people do. But I was surprised, I guess... well, I guess, in some ways I was surprised that people weren't responding, just as much as I was that people were. I have this innate belief in humanity and the ability of good people to see when things need to be done. And so then I get disappointed sometimes if it doesn't happen that way. But most of the time I find that if you really believe something, then it transmits itself and then people listen.

AI: And in this case it did, it did turn out that way.

PJ: Yeah.

AI: Congressman McDermott really put the use of his office and some of the resources of his office toward this purpose.

PJ: Yeah, he did. He was, he was pretty amazing and then there were also donors, people who had been involved in philanthropy for a long time and that I've known through my work, so it wasn't, they weren't new people, but Andrea Rabinowitz and some others, I remember being at... I think this was about a month later. I was at Andrea's house for dinner and I was exhausted, because, you know, there was no organization. I mean, there was no organization, there was no money, there was no office. I literally worked out of my desk, which I didn't have a desk because I had just moved. And I had given away my old desk and so I had to go to Ikea and buy a desk just so I would have somewhere to put a phone. [Laughs] I had to get my phone connected, I mean, all of that was happening at the same time and in fact I think I stayed in boxes for a year following September 11th. I didn't even have time to unpack because I was just working around the clock, literally around the clock. And part of it was also trying to figure out what existed, what didn't exist with this help line. I was told that the City of Seattle did have a help line for hate crimes and discrimination. I called it, it turned out it was the same line that you report, like if your garbage isn't picked up. They had no information about these cultures at all. So it wasn't like they could refer people. They would take complaints, but you had no idea what went on with them. So I had to work with the Office of Civil Rights. But I had, as you say, I had no stature, really. I wasn't, I was just a concerned citizen.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AI: And so then, then in the first few weeks, you must've been receiving more phone calls because your name was now out there associated with this thing called Hate Free Zone --

PJ: Right.

AI: -- Campaign of Washington. And in the first month, what, what was actually happening? You were working out of your house without a desk. Calls were coming in to you, and what happened in that first month or so that created this, an organization -- or did you make a conscious decision that you would then become an organization?

PJ: No. If you look at some of the first documentation, it said that we were, that Hate Free Zone Campaign of Washington was sort of a coordinating body for existing organizations that were doing work. But it became very clear that nobody had, nobody was taking the issue on. So in terms of figuring out the help line, for example, the Arab American community immediately established a help line for the Arab American community, which was amazing. And, but they were only really taking calls from the Arab community, so what about the Sikhs and what about the Somalis and what about all the other communities? And so there was just a lot of work that had to go on to figure out, well, if we want a help line, what do we do? Sharon Tomiko Santos was at that first meeting with the Washington Association of Churches. And she came over immediately after the meeting and said, "I'd really like to talk to you." And so I remember having a meeting with her to figure out, is there something that the state should do. Should we get the state legislature to try and pass a resolution? What should the city council do? I wanted the city council to pass a resolution, which they finally did, but it was a little bit late and it was sort of like, well, what does this really do? Because people recognized, as I did, that that's the easy part, getting Governor Locke to come to the Seattle Center and say, "Washington is a Hate Free state," is one thing, but how do you really make it true? And I suddenly felt this responsibility to do something about that because I had put the idea out there. And so, and also I think, in a completely selfish way, those times of crisis, you define yourself by what you do or don't do, and I firmly believe that. I think that people, the very few people that stood up for Japanese Americans during the internment, they did so in spite of the fact that nobody else was standing up and they had that to hold on to for the rest of their lives. And so I don't necessarily think it's about what you do successfully or not successfully, I think it's about: do you do what's consistent with your own belief in how the world should be? And so it wasn't so much that I knew that I was gonna make a difference, I think I just felt that I would never be able to look at myself if I didn't act.

AI: Is there something, looking back at that, that very early time, the first couple of months, is there something that comes to you now that in some way explains why it was that other groups were not stepping forward, established organizations, that already had, in some sense, had some mission for civil rights or related interests, was there something that...

PJ: I think there were a lot of things. I think a lot of the groups that came forward and wanted to do something were groups that really didn't know the immigrant refugee community. So they didn't have ties to those communities. Those community groups that either were established out of September 11th or the community members that came forward, like the Arab Americans and other groups, didn't have the organizational expertise to be able to figure out, "What do we do?" And so I think, you know, the fact that there were organizations that had organizational expertise and could put that to bear, or resources and put that, bring that to bear, and then there were individuals who had the experience of the community, somehow they weren't able to hook up. And I remember some of the first meetings at the WAC, 'cause there were meetings, I think, every Monday or every, twice a week or something. And I remember being so frustrated because I, I'm kind of like a... what's the analogy? I don't know what the analogy is. Maybe it's a pit bull or something, but once I -- [laughs] -- once I get my teeth into something I'm like fierce about it. And so I had this whole action plan drafted up, you know, like here are the things, here are the four platforms, and here's what we need to do and this is... and people wanted to, at those WAC meetings it was admirable in some ways, but people wanted to come up with a statement about purpose of this coalition. And I remember at one of the meetings just saying -- and I was reminded of this recently by somebody who was at the meeting that I had not met before -- I remember just saying, "It's great to argue about whether we're gonna condemn terrorists or whether we're gonna say United States is a, is a great country." Or whatever the languaging was of it, 'cause every organization had its own political thing about well, "We can't be political," or, "We can be political." I said, "It's great to think about that and I hope we do come up with a statement that everybody feels good about, but there's people that are being hurt right now, so what are we gonna do about that?" And I remember just feeling the intensity of the need to do something then for the people who were being affected. Whereas I think for organizations, part of, part of what they were saying is, "Well, we have a board," and... I mean, it's probably the way we sound now, on certain issues, though I try very hard not to. "But, but we have a board and we have resource constraints and we don't have any staff and we have this and we have that." Whereas for me, it was just, I couldn't keep getting these calls anymore without doing something.

AI: So at what point did you decide that yes, this was going to become an organization, or did, or at what point did you kind of take on a position as a, and say, "Yes, I am Pramila Jayapal with Hate Free Zone"?

PJ: Well, I think by about October I realized, first of all, that if I was gonna keep -- and I kept thinking I was gonna do this for three months or four months and then I was gonna find somebody else to run it. And it really, here I am, two-and-a-half years later, still thinking about that. But I guess by about October I realized "a," that I was exhausted and I needed help and that if I was gonna be able to get help I needed money, I needed resources to do that. And if I was gonna get money, then I needed to have a 501©(3). And so I contacted the Tides Center in San Francisco because I had actually been, they were interested in having me work for them about a year before and so I knew the director very well, had a really good relationship with him. I called him up and I said, you know, "We need this and we need this quick. Is there any way that you can do this for me?" And typically the process is a six-month process, and he jumped through all kinds of hoops and said, "We'll get you, you can be a project of the Tides Center." And so I think --

AI: Excuse me, as a tax-exempt non-profit.

PJ: Right, exactly, a 501©(3), which is a tax-exempt non-profit. Because I knew we needed that if we were gonna raise the money. And think personally I was realizing that I needed to actually earn some money if I was gonna do this for -- I mean, 'cause it's different to say, okay, I'm gonna take six months off and I'm gonna write, versus this was twenty-four hours a day working. And so, so I think our first grants probably came in, in November. There was a check from an individual donor, a substantial check, and then the Gates Foundation, believe it or not, very quickly came in and gave us a seventy-five thousand dollar grant, really on a two-page concept paper and a series of phone calls. The Virginia Wellington Cabot Foundation on the East Coast gave us a grant. I think by December or January the Seattle Foundation gave us a thirty or thirty-five thousand dollar grant. So, there were a number of organizations, a number of funders that came in and we moved into our office, our official office on, I think it was December 4th or 5th of 2001, by which time the first attack against the Somali money transmitter businesses had happened. And the second one hadn't, because I remember that happening after we were in our office.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

AI: And so maybe this would be a time where you could tell about what happened with the money transfer businesses and the groceries, and also in this time period is when Congress passed the Patriot Act.

PJ: That's right.

AI: So-called Patriot Act.

PJ: In October, yeah. Well, there were a series of actions that happened after September 11th, and the Patriot Act was one of those. It gets a lot of the focus for, for how immigrants were targeted, but in fact, it's probably the act that has had really the least amount of actual impact on immigrants. So it's still a huge impact on citizens' rights in general and civil liberties in general, but in terms of the attacks on immigrants, it was a series of actions, some of them passed by the Attorney General's office, not even through Congress.

The Somali grocery stores actually started with the Somali money transmitter businesses, which I think was in October. Pretty sure it was in October, it was about a month after September 11th. And what happened is that there are, money transmitter businesses are these small businesses that essentially transmit money to places that Western Union won't transfer money to. So, people come in and, like for example, you identify your, who you want to transfer the money to and where they are and then you say what tribe they're in, because it operates through this complex network of people who get the money on the other end and know the tribe and know the family and actually take it and hand-deliver it. So, the U.S., I believe it was the Treasury, U.S. Treasury Department decided that there was a connection between al-Qaida and these informal networks of money transmitters, one in particular called al-Barakaat. And al-Barakaat is located in one place but then they have branches all around the country and it's sort of like it's franchised out. And so they started to crack down on money transmitter business around the country, al-Barakaat branches around the country. And there happened to be a money transmitter business here in Seattle that was located on the same premise as a grocery store that belonged to a Somali man. And they, they had nothing to do with each other but they shared the space. And the feds came in and raided the money transmitter business, but also raided the grocery store because it was on the same premise, and took about a hundred thousand dollars worth of dry goods down to the dump, just emptied the freezers out, took their freezers, took all of the, everything that was in the store and took it down to the dump, literally. And the grocery store owner was a man name Nur, Ali Nur. And he, the community got together and launched this big protest. And there were rallies and I really wasn't involved. I went to the rallies 'cause it was just a couple of blocks down from where I lived, and a couple of blocks from our office, actually, our current office. And so I was involved in that way, but I wasn't really, at that time wasn't really thinking about how Hate Free Zone was gonna address these government issues. We didn't really know that much about it.

And so that happened, and the ACLU took on Ali Nur's case and managed, ultimately, I think, six or nine months later, to get back about forty thousand dollars. They took it on pro bono, which was really wonderful. So that happened and so there was this big to-do. And in the meantime, I had met with John McKay, who's the U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, head Justice Department person, and talked about that. And he was mortified that that had happened. That never should have happened without his knowledge, it was actually the U.S. Customs and Treasury Department that conducted that raid, but they never went through his office. So there was this complete lack of communication between the different federal agencies. About... a few weeks after that, maybe a month after that, Mahdi Mahweel, who runs Somalisan TV came to our office and said that three grocery store owners had received the same letter form the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the USDA, saying that they were allegedly involved in food stamp trafficking and therefore they were going to be disqualified from the Food Stamp program. Now, about ninety percent of their customers or clients are food stamp recipients and so if they don't, if they can't accept food stamps, then their businesses are effectively shut down. And they were in a panic. And they said, "What is this about? We don't understand. What can we do?"

And so we, I remember going to an emergency meeting on a Friday night at the Somali Community Center and hearing about what was going on and thinking this is really funny, the letters are all exactly the same, they were all received on the exact same day, they were all to Halal grocery stores, Muslim grocery stores that sell Halal meat, which is meat prepared in accordance with the Koran. And, as I started looking at it, they were all located next to money transmitter businesses. And so we started doing research around the country and we found that there were actually seven grocery stores that had received similar letters in a similar timeframe, exactly the same letter, all Halal, all located next to money transmitter businesses that had been raided by the feds before. And it seemed very, very suspicious. And so we were able to get, we started to launch these big community campaigns, we had rallies. We had this amazing rally outside one of the grocery stores where this group of Somali women came and took over the mike and started speaking in Somali about what this was doing to their families, because ninety percent of the community shops at these stores, and they can't go to other stores to shop. So it had huge impact on the whole community.

And so that was kind of the beginning of the campaign. We ended up getting Perkins Coie, major law firm in town to take on the case pro bono and challenge the USDA, and there were all kinds of things that happened in the process where we realized that this was really connected back to some belief on the government's part that these stores were connected in with the money transmitters and with terrorism. They never admitted that, but, and they did end up dropping the charges and saying, "Oh, sorry, we were wrong." Which was something that we would hear many, many times over the next two years, "Oops, sorry, we were wrong." But that doesn't fix the damage that's been done in the meantime.

AI: And so while some of this is going on, of course, what was also going on in the larger global picture is that the U.S. had demanded the extradition of Osama bin Laden.

PJ: Right.

AI: And Afghanistan, from Afghanistan, which was refused. And the U.S. then, military --

PJ: Went to war.

AI: -- went into Afghanistan. So that also was underway as some of these other actions that you're describing from the federal government.

PJ: Right, that was going on internationally. And domestically, sort of tied to that, Muslim and Arab men were being interviewed. There were twelve hundred Muslim and Arab men that were held in detention without any notice or attorneys provided immediately following September 11th. Then there were interviews of approximately over three thousand Arab and Muslim men that the FBI was conducting. And so that was all happening at the same time and there was just this general chaos and picture that if you were Muslim, if you were Arab, if you even looked like a Muslim or Arab -- you didn't have to be either -- that you were suspicious and that the United States somehow had the right to believe that you were suspicious, because in order to protect our national security, we had to be suspicious of anybody who was in that broad category. So there was this hysteria, fear, a number of programs that were instituted by the government encouraging people to report "suspicious activity," which was people who looked different from them. And it was all tied to this global war on terror. You know, so there was Afghanistan, later to be Iraq, and then the domestic actions, which were all very, very connected and if you look at later the U.S. national security strategy document, which is the U.S. foreign policy, which for the first time laid out this notion of preemptive strike. Really, domestically, that was the same thing that we were doing, is the preemptive strike and, of course, very similar to our historical experience of who is really to be trusted in this country, and who does the suspicion turn to immediately, whether or not they're U.S. citizens, whether or not they're productive, contributing members of society.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

AI: So, we're continuing our interview, and just before the break you had begun talking about the range of federal policies and practices that were having a huge impact on immigrants and refugees in the United States.

PJ: Uh-huh. Well, like I said, immediately following September 11th, there was the secret detention of over 1,200 Arab and Muslim men. And these were people who were rounded up around the country, put into detention in places that were not revealed. Most of them were not offered attorneys or any access to the, to the justice system. And it was really kind of this panic-stricken mode that the government was operating in under the name of national security. And so that was the first. But then there were a series of other initiatives, so the Alien Absconder Initiative was another initiative that was launched by the Attorney General's office. And essentially said that the priority for people who needed to be apprehended were those who had immigration violations, that were Arab or Muslim from certain "terrorist countries." There was... and that was the legislation -- or that was the program under which the Hamoui family -- which was a local Syrian family that was put into detention for eleven months -- that's how they were picked up.

There was the interviews of Arab and Muslim men, and this was a program that the Department of Justice announced, the FBI and the Department of Justice, that they were going to interview between, originally they said six thousand Arab and Muslim men. They actually ended up interviewing somewhere over three thousand of them. And this was supposed to be friendly interviews, so in other words, these were just people that they wanted to kind of get information from in order to protect them and to protect the country, which is familiar language to 1942. But it knocked enormous amounts of fear into people around the country because the FBI was showing up and they had no idea if what they were being asked was to tattle on people who they knew, or if it was somehow that they were going to say something that incriminated themselves. That was another program.

The Patriot Act was passed in October, I believe it was October 20th, a 642-page document, I think, or 462-page document, I forget now, passed within a week of being introduced by the Congress, substantially limited what the Justice Department had to provide in order to charge people, in order to detain people, really infringed on civil liberties, privacy rights, a number of issues that had taken a long time to sort of roll back after the McCarthy era. So that was another huge piece. And that was actually, Russ Feingold was, I think, the only House Democrat to oppose the Patriot Act. And he has stayed very active on civil liberties issues and on immigrant issues post-9/11. But it was an environment where lots of senators and congressmen since that time have said -- or congresspeople have said, "We really had no choice. We had to pass the Patriot Act because it was in response." And that was not new legislation that was drafted, I should add. We, many of us think that it was legislation that was on the shelf and it was pulled off. In fact, pieces of it they might have tried to pass in 1996 when they passed the Welfare Reform and Immigration Reform Acts. So that was another.

There was, there were all kinds of programs, database programs, where people were being profiled, special registration was announced, which was a program where men over the age of seventeen from twenty-six countries had to be fingerprinted and registered at their local INS offices. Twenty-five of those twenty-six countries were Arab or Muslim. The twenty-sixth was North Korea. That resulted in about twelve thousand people across the country being detained, many for basic immigration issues which were not even the fault of them, but were -- no fault of their own, but actually were the fault of backlog within the immigration and naturalization system, so that applications that they had filed for change of status, for example, hadn't been approved and had never been issued. And so there were people, Iranian men in Los Angeles who were, several hundred of them were shackled. We had one who testified at one of our hearings who was flown around on a plane, shackled, for several days.

There were mass large-scale detentions and deportations of Pakistanis, in particular in New York City. Somali deportation and detention happened in... December maybe, December/January -- no, January, maybe, of 2002 where we found out that the government was picking up Somalis from around the country and deporting them and claiming that it was because al-Qaida was somehow connected with Somalia, and Somalis in the United States were somehow connected with al-Qaida. And that was a case that we ended up, started out as individual cases of five Somali men here in Seattle, we ended up filing a nationwide class-action lawsuit against the government, against the INS, and winning both in district court and in the Ninth Circuit Federal Appeals Court. And that protected 2,700 Somalis from being deported back to Somalia. But we're still fighting that case. People are still in detention.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

AI: So, excuse me, about the Somali people who are being detained and who are still under threat of possible deportation, what kinds of rationale have been given for detaining them and deporting them back? It's a vague connection, a possible connection that individual Somali people may have with some terrorist network? I'm not sure if I understand.

PJ: Yeah, these are, well, the Somalis that were -- what basically happened after September 11th is that the Attorney General's office started using immigration violations as a means to get people that were Arab or Muslim out of the country. So even though they weren't connected to terrorism, they used a minor immigration infraction to say that these people are a potential threat to national security. And that has since been expanded to Haitians, for example, and other immigrant communities that have nothing to do even with so-called "terrorism." They're not connected in any way to those countries that the government seems to think are involved in this. So the rationale for holding people was because they had final orders of deportation. Now, if you understand the immigration system, you understand that eighty-five percent of people who go through the immigration system go through pro se, they're completely unrepresented. And many times their immigration violations are because they didn't know that they had a hearing, they didn't show up, they don't have an attorney, they, all kinds of things. There are some number of people that have criminal backgrounds, and again, they haven't gone through the process system. Many of them have actually, if they have a criminal violation, they've served their time in the justice system, the criminal justice system. But then they still get deported because our 1996 laws changed that and so even for minor violations, it now qualifies as a deportable offence. So the technical basis for holding people was because they had final orders of deportation.

We have a law in, in this country, and it was a case that was argued before the Supreme Court called Zadvydas, which said that if you were an immigrant who was being detained, you could not be detained for more than six months if the government could not affect your deportation. We have another law that says that you cannot be deported back to a country that does not officially accept you back. So in the case of Somalia, the loophole that we had was that there is no functioning government in Somalia. It's a civil war going on, there is no government, we have no diplomatic relations and there was no government to accept people back. We also had proof that there was a Somali man in Minneapolis who was deported back in the spring of 2002 -- shortly after the September 11th attacks -- and he was found dead. And there was a BBC report him on because, you know, if people are deported back, because of the tribalism and where they're deported to, they most likely will be killed. Many of them were not even delivered by the U.S. government to Somalia, they were taken across the border to Rwanda or Burundi and made to find their way across the border back into Somalia.

So our class-action lawsuit -- so the government's rationale for holding people was on their technical immigration violations. The case that the government made before the district court judge when we filed our class-action lawsuit is specifically that this nation is engaged in a war on terror, that we have to be careful of who we allow to stay in this country, that Somalis are Muslim, that they are from Somalia, a country where al-Qaida is known to have strong ties -- this was the government's argument -- and therefore, having Somalis who had final orders of deportation in this country posed a significant threat to national security. And the government made the argument that in order for the Attorney General to fight the war on terror, he needed deportation as a tool in his toolbox. That was literally what they said. The judge, Judge Marsha Pechman, threw out that argument and very eloquent response during the oral arguments, she said, "You know, I have searched your documents" -- she was talking to government. She said, "I have searched your documents for the link -- first of all between Somalia and al-Qaida, because there's anecdotal evidence that al-Qaida is there, but that doesn't make Somalia a terrorist country. Secondly, the link between al-Qaida and Somalis living in the United States; we see no, I see no legitimate argument that Somalis are by the very nature of being Somalis, or from Somalia, even if you were able to make the link that al-Qaida was strong there, there is no argument for why Somalis would be a threat to national security. And third, if you really believe that Somalis here are a threat to national security, then why would you deport them back to Somalia? Because there, they're just gonna be in cahoots with whatever forces you think are out there, anti-U.S. terrorism forces that are out there, so why wouldn't we keep them here?" And she really threw out all of the government's arguments.

And what was interesting is in the Ninth Circuit case, which they also, the government also lost, but they didn't use that argument quite as strongly. They used other things that had to do with deportation and needing to get, get people who had not obeyed the law to leave. But again, that's a misnomer because many of the people that pleaded guilty, for example, to minor criminal charges before 1996 did so thinking that those offenses then wouldn't be deportable. In 1996, when Congress rewrote those laws, they essentially said, reclassified certain offenses that were not deportable offenses as deportable offenses. So you could have pleaded guilty to shoplifting, thinking that you were just gonna serve a couple of months in jail, that ended up being an deportable offense, grandfathered back. So it really put a lot of people in terrible, terrible positions. So that was the government's argument.

And there is now a case pending, because our case was in the Ninth Circuit. There was a case pending in the Eighth Circuit, a similar case of Somalis, and they lost in the Eighth Circuit and the Supreme Court has taken up that case. It's called Jama, has taken up Jama in the Supreme Court and it looks likely that they're gonna be hearing that case in November. So it could have implications. It will have implications for our case, even though that covers just the person that's named in that case, it doesn't cover necessarily all of the folks that are in our case. So there's a lot of things that are still up in the air, but that argument that the government made about people being a threat to national security is one that we've heard many times.

So last year there was a Haitian refugee, a Haitian asylee who was granted bail by the Immigration Appeals Court and told to be released because he didn't pose a threat to national security and he couldn't... while he was waiting for his asylum papers to be granted. And Ashcroft, Attorney General Ashcroft, basically wrote an opinion reversing the Immigration Appeals Court decision and saying that that person had to be kept -- it was a young Haitian man -- had to be kept in detention because he posed a threat to national security. And since that time there has been legislation, or there has been policies passed by the Department of Justice that say that all asylees must stay in detention while they're waiting for their asylum paperwork to be filed and to be processed, which is a travesty because the INS is so behind and in fact, a judge just ruled on the behavior of INS in processing paperwork saying that it's a miserable performance that we have people who sometimes wait for five or ten or twelve years to get their paperwork processed. And according to Ashcroft and all those people, if you come in as, as an asylee now, you have to be, you have to remain in detention until your paperwork is processed. So really what Ashcroft has been doing is what, similar to what Bobby Kennedy, when he was fighting against the Mafia, called "spitting on the ground charges." So you pick somebody up for a minor immigration violation and use that as a way to, to deport them.

And when you think about 1942 and you think about Executive Order 9066, what's interesting to me is a parallel between, you know, that executive order in itself wasn't discriminatory, it was the way that it was implemented that was discriminatory. And I think many of the things that we've seen, the orders themselves are not necessarily discriminatory, but it's how it's implemented that is discriminatory. And that's been true across the board in terms of all of these things that we've seen affect the rights of all of us but disproportionately the burden falls on Arabs and Muslims and Sikhs and other immigrants.

AI: For example, going back to your description of the special registrations and detentions, that there were only certain countries --

PJ: Yes.

AI: -- from which immigrants were required to do the special registration.

PJ: Yeah, yeah, that's right.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

PJ: And I think, ultimately, all of this, there are many more programs I could talk about, but ultimately the question that you have to ask is: Are we safer? I mean, because I think that you can't, you can't just dismiss the fear that people have of what happened after September 11th, and it certainly changed the national consciousness about who we were as a nation and how protected we were or were not. And so I think that it's a real fear that people have that led to this hysteria, but the response to that was not, in fact, I believe, was not to make us safer. And I'm not the only one who believes it because if you look at the Justice, Justice Department's own reports, special registration was discontinued, ineffective, cost money, targeted people, discriminatory. It was disbanded. The interviews with the Arab and Muslim men yielded absolutely no links to terrorism. The detentions of twelve hundred Arab and Muslim men yielded no links to terrorism. And you can go through and you can see how none of these things has yielded any links to terrorism. What it has done is it has significantly broken down the trust between those targeted communities and the government, and it's raised the fear level of people in this country about these different communities that were targeted because it really, in a way, it was a PR campaign in the same way that in 1942, if you listen to -- I mean, I've listened to many of those old clips and listening to the news reporters and it's this, again, the same deadly combination of fear and patriotism silencing dissent. And that's really been the same combination that's been occurring since September 11th, is that people felt immediately after September 11th, I knew so many people who went out and bought American flags, Sikh cab drivers. One Sikh cab driver who wore a T-shirt, a stars and stripes T-shirt, and actually ended up being fined because you have to wear a certain uniform to drive a, to drive a taxi, but he was so afraid of being targeted and wanted to show his patriotism and his loyalty to the country by not speaking up or speaking out and not distinguishing himself in any way -- which, of course, is impossible when you're being distinguished by the color of your skin or the religion that you practice.

So there were, I think, many things that have happened since September 11th that were put forward in the name of national security, but we are no safer. And I did a speech about a month ago for Leadership Tomorrow folks and I think there were about 120 people in the room and they started off the day by having people pick a side of the room. You know, this side if you felt safer or this side if you didn't. And it was remarkable. Most people that you talk to in this country feel that America is no safer today than it was before. And I think it begs the question of: Were we ever safe? Really safe? And will we ever really be safe? And what does that mean, because I believe that really, if you want to have safety as a country, what you need to do is build international relationships and collaboration and go at it in a completely different way than the way that we've been pursuing it.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

AI: Well, I think one of the things that has been commented upon quite a bit is that right immediately after September 11th, there was a huge outpouring of empathy from around the world toward the United States, and toward not only the direct victims of the tragedies but in general toward the United States. And that since that time there has been such a shift in attitude around the world toward the United States government and military.

PJ: Yeah. It's flipped completely and I remember seeing a USA Today poll that said that people perceive George Bush as the single greatest danger in the world, to world security.

AI: George W. Bush?

PJ: George W. Bush.

AI: Yeah.

PJ: Which I think is indicative of where we are. And I think that the continuing abuses and the continuing... and the things I'm talking about haven't stopped. I mean, just recently there was, there was a report in the paper about a Portland lawyer who was arrested by the FBI under material witness charges, which meant that they didn't have to prove, they didn't have to give anything to show why he was being arrested, it was just in the context of terrorism. And they found that... and it was because supposedly his fingerprints matched fingerprints on a bag that were found at the bombing in Madrid. And those haven't yielded anything. In fact, they weren't his fingerprints, but he's a Muslim lawyer.

AI: I thought that was interesting that he appeared to be a European American.

PJ: Uh-huh, convert to Islam.

AI: And had converted, and then apparently part of the case that was built against him had to do with his practice, his law practice representing other Muslims.

PJ: Muslims who were discriminated against, that's right. And you know, I think it's a huge concern of those of us, all of us who do this work, because they don't need, the government really doesn't need to prove anything in order to hold you. And I think that that is what has permeated the Muslim community and immigrant rights community for people who are doing this work, is that really, the laws providing that kind of justice. Because even if ultimately the justice system works, how do you measure the impact of 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry who were incarcerated? How do you measure the impact of the 1,200 Arab and Muslim men who were detained and shackled and left without any access to the justice system? So, ultimately they're released, but how do you measure for the Somali grocery stores that were closed down for six months? Their businesses are destroyed. So yes, they "won," but what does "winning" mean? It's a very ephemeral term.. It doesn't, it doesn't feel like winning when your business has been destroyed or your family name has been destroyed. And there is no recourse. There is no compensation, there's no apology, there is just, "We are in this war on terror and we have to take aggressive steps. And if you happen to be in the way, then we're sorry." You know, actually, not, "We're sorry," but, "You happen to be in the way."

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

AI: Well, so what is ongoing now in your work with Hate Free Zone and with some of the other organizations that may be also working in conjunction with you?

PJ: Well, you know, there were so many amazing organizations that really came together after September 11th, and I mentioned the Japanese internment, but I remember very vividly a first meeting at the APIC, at the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition, talking about -- where Diane Narasaki facilitated that -- and talking about what had happened after September 11th and she was introducing Hate Free Zone. It was really, we didn't have an organization, I don't think. And I remember a Nisei standing up and he had, I think, fought in the war and he said, "We cannot let this happen." He was very emotional. He said, "We cannot let this happen to somebody else." And so the Japanese American community really jumped in, the Japanese American Citizens League was key in speaking out against what was going on and comparing the experience to 1942, which I think is a very courageous and brave and generous thing to do, because it's easy to say, "It's not as bad as our experience," you know. "There were 120,000 of us who were interned and in camps." But that's not what happened in terms of how the Japanese American community portrayed it. It was really that they were a part of this group that needed to speak out. The Arab American community -- so there are a number of different organizations that have been doing this work and it would be a huge mistake to make it sound like, or let people, anybody who watches this think that it was Hate Free Zone alone, 'cause there are so many different groups around the country and locally.

I think that it has been difficult as time has gone on from September 11th to limit who we're talking about in terms of what's happened, to simply the Arab or Muslim or Sikh communities anymore. And that really what September 11th has done is it's unleashed this wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. And so you find shortly after September 11th, the white supremacist groups linking up with the anti-immigrant groups, who then tried to infiltrate even mainstream groups like the Sierra Club, or traditionally thought of liberal progressive groups like the Sierra Club, with anti-immigrant movements, and a lot of that is linked to this idea that we as a country are not as safe if we have immigrants here. So I think it's been a profound shift in how, not just we think about, bur how we express our attitudes to immigrants and to immigration and who belongs in this country. And that makes our work harder to define because it isn't limited anymore to these specific groups. So we're still in the process of figuring out how we make that transition to doing the kind of systemic work that we need to do to change the perception of who immigrants are in this country, and ultimately of what America really stands for, 'cause I think we're going through a whole redefinition of what the majority, so-called "majority" believes America should be, or is. There are a lot of people who are willing to give up a lot of rights because they don't think those rights will ever actually affect them. And so they're willing to have those rights compromised because they don't see their part in that.

AI: So for example, a right to legal counsel, a right to not be detained without evidence and cause, those kinds of rights are what you're referring to.

PJ: Yeah.

AI: That a, perhaps an so-called average American citizen might feel that he or she would never be on the losing end of a situation, and so...

PJ: Yeah. Well, and to redefine, I mean, there's, it's been amazing to me as we've done this work to see how many people think that the Constitution only applies to American citizens. There is this notion that the Constitution should only apply to American citizens. And actually, we're not guaranteeing rights, the same rights to a citizen as to a non-citizen. And it's true that non-citizens don't have exactly the same rights, but they do have many of the same rights. But there's a movement in this country, I think, to limit the rights of non-citizens. And that's a fundamental shift in who we are as a country. So I think that there's a lot of really big questions that come up and they're being played out through this domestic war on terror and through our international foreign policy and I believe that the two are deeply connected and it's a mistake to separate them. But unfortunately we do. Like Hate Free Zone doesn't work on "international" quote, "international issues," but we did take a stand against the war and we continue to do that because we think it's integrally linked.

AI: The war in Iraq?

PJ: The war in Iraq, yeah. And so, and if you look at the abuses that have happened in Abu Ghraib prison, to me, we shouldn't be so surprised that those are happening, because I call it "when rhetoric meets reality." For two and a half years we have classified Iraqis, Muslims, other countries, as less than human. I mean, we have made all kinds of statements at high levels about Islam, about Muslims, about fundamentalists, about terrorists, and linked 'em all together, I mean, to the point where people think that somehow Osama bin Laden was -- I mean, that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the September 11th attacks. I mean, it's phenomenal to me, the campaign that's gone on since September 11th. But if you look at what President Bush has said and what many of the key leading officials in the country, as well as conservative talk show hosts, have said about Iraqis and about Muslims, it is this "less than human" perspective. And so what happens when that is the main conversation that dominates everything? It's not surprising that people commit these kinds of abuses because they're just taking what they heard and translating it into actions. And I don't think that those kinds of abuses could happen unless you believe that people are less than human, You can't treat somebody that way. And I've been horrified to hear Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talk show hosts say that people needed to let off steam. And I think that has something to do, again, with our American culture of violence and how we believe that it's okay to do those kinds of things and to be above the law. I mean, ultimately, both internationally and domestically, more and more we're being told that the government, and a very small, the executive branch of the government, has the right to determine, has the moral certitude and the capability to determine what is permissible without the rule of law, without international conventions, without the treaties, without a system of due process. That's very scary to me. I think it's raised a lot of issues that are not gonna go away, but are gonna be fundamental to the discussion and the debate of how this country gets shaped in the future.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

AI: Well, I also wanted to ask, on a more personal level, you just mentioned about conservative talk shows and I know that you have spoken on some of those and also you've been very visible publicly with public speaking, and I was wondering, given this whole situation and the negative attitudes and feelings that are out there every day, what kind of impact has that had on you, and as an individual and the way that you live your life now?

PJ: Well, I'm unlisted. You know I, I especially when I go on the conservative talk shows, which I do frequently, because I think we need to learn to speak to people that are not the choir. And we need to know what those arguments are and we need to know what people are saying, 'cause they're saying it regardless of whether they say it to us or not. So we should know how to deal with that. But I get lynching threats and death threats when I go on those shows and, you know, it's, I think I feel like sometimes I can't believe the amount of hate and prejudice and violence that's out there, and it makes me very discouraged. But, then the other part of it is that part of the work that Hate Free Zone does and part of the work that I do is, I'm in the business of hope. I don't think that we are gonna get anywhere if we're discouraged. And so it's that balance constantly, I think, that as an individual, as a leader in this work, you have to find a way to take that discouragement and sadness and fear, because they're all there, and channel it into a creative energy. And that's a, that's a... it's an incredibly energy-consuming process. And so what I realize is that when I go out and do speeches and I come back, I'm usually exhausted. If it's an hour-long speech, which I do quite often, I always end on a message of hope. What is it that each of us can do, and what is that each of us can bring, and why is it so important for us to engage? Because I think people are hungry for that. And I, I see the reaction. People are just charged to do something, and that's incredibly invigorating. But for me personally, it's, it's an enormous investment of energy and it's been absolutely worth every minute of it, but it's a lot of, it takes a lot to be able to do that, personally.

AI: Yes.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

AI: I think in our, this interview, as we've gone through it, we've gone back and forth between the personal level and the national and the global, and even beyond into touching some of the spiritual realm. But before we closed, I did want to touch on some current events now in India, because for the first time a non-Hindu has been made prime minister.

PJ: Yeah.

AI: And I wondered if you would speak a little bit about that and what you think the significance is and what it may mean?

PJ: Well, it's, as you say, it's amazing, this is the first non-Hindu prime minister that India has had. It's a Sikh, which especially given the events following the September 11th and the way the Sikh community has been attacked, I know it's had huge significance to the Sikh community here. And then following the events in India's history where a Sikh actually assassinated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and then Sikhs were discriminated against hugely in the '80s. Many of the Sikhs that are here today came after being persecuted in Punjab and in Delhi and other places. There were mass riots and mass killings of Sikhs. It's, again, very significant. He's being inaugurated by, or been inaugurated by a Muslim prime minister in a predominantly Hindu country. And so to me, that's part of the hopefulness of what we have before us. India is a, is an incredibly religiously diverse and tolerant place. And unfortunately, politics has taken religion and used it for its own means. But that isn't how the average Indian interacts with people of other religions. And some of, I mean, part of the reason it's, some of the great religions of the world have been born there is because of that tolerance in India, and that secularism. And so it's significant for, for India. I think it's significant for the world in terms of what it says about keeping religion separate. You know, so much so that you can have a tiny majority, person from a tiny majority run an entire country. It's a huge lesson for the United States. I don't think we, we would ever, I think we're very far away from having somebody who is not Christian run this country. So there's that piece of it.

But I also think that for me, it's funny. It all, I think it all kind of ties back to why I started Hate Free Zone and people have asked me, "You're not Arab, you're not Muslim," and sometimes people have said this in wonder and sometimes in anger, sort of like, "You're not Arab or Muslim, why are you representing our issues?" And the thing is that I was taught that, I was raised in a country where we had Muslims in our house along with Hindus and Jews and Christians. Kerala, the state that I'm from, is one of the most religiously diverse states in the country. And I was taught that each of our freedom is inextricably linked to the freedom of everyone else. And so if we tolerate... you know, I guess Martin Luther King has said it much more eloquently, but "an injustice to one is an injustice to all." If we tolerate that for anybody else, that is ultimately a corrosion of our, or erosion of our, of our individual freedom. And so that was really fundamental to why I started Hate Free Zone. I couldn't sit back and watch those things happen to people because it's not like it's happening to them. It's happening to us. And I think that, ultimately, the idea that the country that I came from can be run by a Sikh and a Muslim in kind of the titular heads, anyway, is just a bomb. And particularly following a coalition government that has been largely run by the fundamentalist Hindu party and politics, religious politics has been brought so much into bear in the last ten years in India with huge riots of Muslims happening in Gujarat, and Hindu government turning a blind eye to it, and just some horrible, horrible things. I think a lot of that had to do with why this government was kicked out. In spite of the world's opinion that somehow India was on the right track economically.

But in India -- this is the other very hopeful thing -- in India, 75 percent of the people who vote are low socioeconomic. In the United States it's the exact opposite. And so I think it's a really hopeful example of what -- and there's lots of flaws in Indian democracy and people get paid for votes and all kinds of things. But ultimately, the majority of the population does decide who they want in or out. And it's not necessarily that they're making the right decisions all the time -- [laughs] -- but they, they definitely have an opinion and a voice that demonstrates itself in the election. And to me that's incredibly hopeful for what we want for the world.

AI: Well, is there anything else that you'd like to comment on or anything else that you'd like to add?

PJ: No, I guess the only thing is, you know, just thinking about just the incredible, just wanting to somehow make a tribute to the historical leadership of so many different communities and people. Because I don't think that any of does the work that we do in a vacuum. I think we're influenced by leaders and inspirations to us. And so sometimes I think that we're just conduits to getting things done, but, but it isn't about, necessarily about me as an individual. It really is about the collective and what we're trying to transmit about the collective. And so that's been an incredible process for the last couple of years, and I think just, again, it's a testament to the examples that we've had to follow.

AI: Well, thanks very much for your time.

PJ: Sure. Thank you, Alice.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.