Washington, DC - In an interview reported in The Hill earlier today, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn rightfully recognized the trauma that Rep. Ilhan Omar has experienced as a Somali refugee. Unfortunately, in the same interview Mr. Clyburn appeared to diminish the trauma experienced by the children of holocaust survivors and Japanese American incarcerees in comparison to Rep. Omar’s experience. We can state in no uncertain terms, what one person experiences as trauma, cannot and should not be compared to another’s experience.
It is well documented by mental health professionals the multi-generational impact of community traumas such as the holocaust and Japanese American incarceration. Children and grandchildren continue to be affected by what has happened to their families and their community. Transgenerational trauma impacts nearly anyone who is from a community of color in this country. The impacts are felt not only in the Japanese American and Jewish communities, but also in the Native American community, African American community, and now we see the same trauma inflicted upon the Latinx immigrants seeking asylum at our border.
We understand the Congressman was seeking to emphasize the depth of impact Rep. Omar’s experiences have had on her and understand the clear parallels to the experience of former Secretary Norman Mineta, a child incarceree at Heart Mountain, Wyoming. However, it is the mission of organizations such as JACL to preserve our community’s history, both through those who directly experienced incarceration, and those of us who live with its legacy. In telling our story, we also stand with Representative Omar, and with Representative Clyburn, in the fight for what is right and just. Our collective histories should not be dismissed as less “powerful” than Representative Omar’s story, but held up as reinforcing and strengthening her story of struggle and victory over oppression.
We call upon Representative Clyburn to reconsider his words and offer an apology to the Japanese Americans who speak out against injustice today as they seek to honor the memory of their family’s experience of wrongful incarceration at the hands of our government.