The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Jess Macinko
News Editor 

MLK holiday: invisible history


Many Goldendale residents had the day off Monday, Jan. 16, but if they wanted to celebrate the occasion in a publicly organized way, they would have had to drive an hour northeast or southwest. Services at Riverside Community Church in Hood River and a march in Toppenish were the nearest publicized events honoring the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Hood River event, "The Dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. Live On: Building a Community with Justice for All," featured a series of workshops, speakers, musical performances, and a potluck dinner.

This was the event's fifth year. Rev. Vicky Stifter, Riverside pastor and chairperson of Gorge Ecumenical Ministries, which sponsored the evening, said it has gotten bigger and more diverse each year. This year saw greater participation from the city's Hispanic community-Stifter estimates more the 50 percent of the total turnout.

"The goal is to bring us together as a diverse community, and to recognize that injustice and inequality still exist." Among the speakers were Dell Charity, an African-American Gorge resident; Carina Miller, council representative for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs; and Patti Arozco, who spoke about the immigrant experience. Workshop titles ranged from "Know Your Rights" to "Raising Racially Just Children."

Stifter said the event started as a collaboration between local pastors who wanted to celebrate the meaning and continued relevance of Dr. King's message. "I notice a hunger [for this type of event]. A number of people said, 'I don't want my kid to think this is just another day without school.'"

The Sentinel wasn't able to speak with organizers of the Toppenish march. We did speak with Steve Mitchell, CEO of Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) of Washington, which organizes Yakima's MLK march. Mitchell said OIC was instrumental in helping Toppenish create its program seven years ago in response to desires expressed by the Toppenish community, especially the school district.

"Schools are a good place to start talking about how to bring awareness and education." Mitchell added that OIC is interested in helping any community start similar programs.

"It's something that impacted all Americans. It's really important."

Cyclical history

At Riverside, Maija Yasui and her son Niko led the workshop "The Legacy and Lessons of Internment." According to Maija, one of those lessons is constant vigilance.

"You don't 'win' a right. It will always be challenged," especially during times of political and economic duress. "It's not ancient history. [It's] a cycle that will be repeated continuously."

During World War II, Japanese Americans living on the west coast were subject to forced relocation and other civil rights infringements. Anti-Japanese sentiment in Hood River was so strong that in 1944, the American Legion removed the names of 16 Japanese American soldiers from its honor roll.

Maija, who is of Finnish descent, married the nephew of Minoru Yasui, a Japanese American attorney who was sentenced to solitary confinement for peaceful protesting during the Internment period. In February of 2016, the Oregon State Legislature passed a bill recognizing March 28 as "Minoru Yasui Day."

Maija describes the purpose of these occasions as touchstones for civil engagement. "Understanding the history and trauma that's gotten you to this point, and using what you've learned to get to a better point."

She also said that though MLK day and MY day are "steps in the right direction," for every disenfranchised group that gets recognized, more remain in the shadows.

"If you look for ethnicity, you will find it. If you look for poverty, you will find it. If you don't listen to the voices of the suppressed, that's another tool of suppression."

Everyone's history

While stressing the need for vigilance against discrimination, Yasui also emphasized the importance of addressing concerns in a way that brings people together.

"Everyone's perspective is needed. [We need to] have discussions of what are the basic rights we all believe in. It's hard to see someone as the enemy when they're across the table saying, 'I want this for my child, for my spouse.'"

On similar lines, Mitchell said the theme of the Yakima march was "One nation, one people, one community." The event featured a ceremony recognizing four police officers for going above and beyond in forming positive relations with the community.

"We may disagree on the issues. We don't disagree on our love for the country."


Reader Comments


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2019