Will you fold a tsuru for community solidarity?
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
In 2019, the call went out for 10,000 tsuru or paper origami cranes.
Diagonal fold, unfold, turn, diagonal fold, unfold, flip.
One thousand cranes grants one wish. Senbazuru.
We had folded a thousand cranes for an uncle’s 60th birthday to wish him a long life. We had folded a thousand golden cranes for a friend’s wedding to wish the couple a long happy marriage. Sadako Sasaki of Hiroshima had folded a thousand cranes hoping to be cured of leukemia, caused by the atomic bomb dropped on her city, and when she was not cured, she folded 400 more.
Horizontal fold, unfold, turn, horizontal fold, unfold, fold into a diamond shape.
In 2019, families were being detained at America’s southern border and children were being separated from their parents. The Japanese American community stood up and said “Never Again is Now.”
Japanese American organizations across the country organized tsuru or origami crane folding parties. Some brides donated the thousand golden cranes they received as wedding gifts. Art Centers and libraries folded tsuru too. A box of tsuru was hand carried from Hiroshima.
Squash fold, squash fold, flip, repeat.
Activists with the Tsuru for Solidarity organization sought to “be the allies that we needed” during the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. They called for 10,000 tsuru and received 25,000 from around the world. They carried these cranes to the Crystal City Family Internment Camp in Texas, where as many as 4,000 people of Japanese, German, and Italian descent were incarcerated during WWII. Then they carried these cranes to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley. Activists hung chains of origami cranes on the fence and taiko drums pounded so that the people inside could hear that people outside were standing up for them, speaking out and fighting for them.
According to Mike Ishii, a Crystal City Pilgrimage Committee member and New York Day of Remembrance Committee member, the global aspect of the cranes will connect the Japanese children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki — who were hit by atomic bombs during WWII — with the Japanese American families incarcerated in concentration camps and with the asylum-seekers today who are being separated from their families.
“There is a deep sense of outrage that mass incarcerations are happening again in the United States and we intend to be the allies that we needed during WWII,” he told NBC News in 2019. “The story of the crane as symbol of nonviolence and human love is a uniquely Japanese cultural story and we want to bring it to this struggle.”
Now with the end of Title 42 and the lifting of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions at the border, many desperate families are once again heading for the safety and opportunity of America. Tsuru for Solidarity is standing up once again. Calling on us to remember and be energized by our history.
Fold the neck, fold the tail, fold the head, open the wings.
A recent Pew study finds that although Asian Americans’ identities reflect their diverse cultures and origins, they also feel a connection to other Asian Americans. About 60 percent say that what happens to Asian Americans affects their own lives and about 68 percent say it is extremely or very important to have a national leader advocating for the concerns and needs of the Asian population in the U.S.
Another study by The Asian American Foundation (TAAF) found that 44 percent of Americans can’t name a famous living Asian American. The most popular choices for famous Asian Americans were Jackie Chan (who is not American), Bruce Lee (who died 50 years ago), and Vice President Kamala Harris. (Learn more about Asian Americans and their stories at 1990 Institute’s New Asian American Voices).
This Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, let us reach out to one another in solidarity as we reflect upon our histories and celebrate our differences. I am headed to my local library to hear an elder talk about her experiences in the Rohwer concentration camp in Arkansas and to be a part of an Asian American dance and poetry performance celebrating the power of community.