Standing strong together, on Vashon, is a daily practice

In response to an act of vandalism, hundreds of islanders have promised to stand up for justice.

  • Thursday, November 11, 2021 2:10pm
  • Opinion

This week in The Beachcomber, we have covered news about a despicable act of vandalism on our island — one that has also prompted a half-page advertisement in this paper signed by hundreds of islanders, promising to stand up for racial equity and justice in our community.

This all brings to mind the strong response of our community 12 years ago when the Vashon Havurah was vandalized and defaced with anti-Semitic slurs and an odious symbol of hate.

At that time, islanders also came together to support our Jewish community. A candle-lit vigil was held, and many islanders placed a Star of David on their houses or cars, to show their solidarity with those who had been harmed by the vandalism.

The ad in our paper today is another expression of that same kind of solidarity. It is also a chance to speak directly to whoever committed the act of vandalism — to let them know that their action caused harm and did not represent the character of this community.

We salute those who organized this response and join them in urging islanders to remember that responding to racism needs to be a daily practice in our lives.

We should all condemn these kinds of ugly acts. But even more, we must all actually work to dismantle the structures of systemic racism that are more difficult to see, and yet embedded in many structural aspects of our community.

To do this requires an acknowledgment of the history that has brought us to this time and place.

Vashon and Maury Islands are the traditional lands of the sx̌ʷəbabš Coast Salish Native people who lived in unity with the natural world before white colonization. How many on this island now truly honor these Indigenous people? And why does our current population still in such a large part reflect the era of colonization that displaced and attempted to erase the sx̌ʷəbabš?

Earlier this year, we were also reminded of another chapter of Vashon’s history, when many islanders mourned the passing of Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, whose memoir was titled, “Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in a Japanese-American Internment Camp.”

Matsuda Gruenewald was only 17 years old when she — along with her family and every other member of a thriving Japanese community on Vashon — was escorted off the island at gunpoint and imprisoned in internment camps during WWII.

In all, 120,000 other people of Japanese descent from the West Coast were incarcerated along with the Matsuda family in a massive act of xenophobia and racism perpetrated in a highly orchestrated way by the government of the United States in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

But what of the white people who were left behind on Vashon? What were their individual actions in the wake of the disappearance of such a vital community of Japanese Americans on this island?

While some supported their friends and neighbors, others did not.

That was 75 years ago. And racism is still here, just as it has been for a long time now.

Our community still has so much hard, humbling work to do — in making housing accessible and affordable for all; in sharing power and making space in our schools and public institutions for the voices of and leadership by those who have been marginalized; in recognizing the brilliance of our own Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other communities of color; and in finally acknowledging the way that everyone’s lives on Vashon are diminished and defaced by lingering white supremacy.

One way to start, for those who have the means, is to support organizations led by and for people of color. The organizers of the advertisement in this week’s Beachcomber urge islanders to donate to two worthy causes:

Technology Access Foundation (TAF) is a Seattle-based nonprofit leader redefining K-12 public education throughout Washington State for all students and teachers, particularly those who identify as a person of color and are from traditionally underserved communities. Islander Trish Millines Dziko is the co-founder and executive director. Find out more at techaccess.org.

The Delridge Farmers Market brings fresh, local, culturally relevant food to the African Diaspora immigrant and refugee community in the South Delridge neighborhood of Seattle. It is a new farmers market, founded by women of color, that centers Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), and is organized to increase access to local food and provide a venue for BIPOC vendors. Since some of the racist graffiti on Vashon defaced the Village Green, which hosts Vashon’s own market, supporting this organization would also be a fitting gesture. Find out more at achdo.org/delridgefarmersmarket.

Additionally, we urge islanders to support the important work of Comunidad Latina de Vashon, which works to celebrate, support and empower Latinx youth and families on Vashon. Follow the group at facebook.com/ComunidadLatinaVashon and donate at latinocommunityfund.org/comunidad_latina_de_vashon.


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