Star Advertiser, Saturday, Jan.19, 2013
College struggles shaped award winner’s views
Kyle Kajihiro became involved in social justice efforts after experiencing racism on the mainland
By Pat Gee
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 19, 2013
Kyle Kajihiro, winner of Church of the Crossroads’ 2013 Martin Luther King Jr. Peacemaker Award, said his becoming a peace and justice activist was sparked by insults to his ethnicity while attending college in Oregon in the 1980s.
“It was one place where I encountered racism. Being a person of color, I was called names, and it was shocking” to a fourth-generation Japa¬nese resident of Honolulu, Kajihiro said in an interview this week.
“I think it made me realize we can’t take for granted having relationships of respect between peoples — it’s something you have to work at. And it has to be grounded in a commitment to social justice,” he said.
Crossroads will pre¬sent the award to Kajihiro at 7 p.m. Monday, the day set aside nationally to honor King, a 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner, civil rights pioneer and a Christian clergyman who fought for the labor movement and against the Vietnam War.
While in Portland, Kajihiro said his newfound “sense of responsibility” about social justice was channeled into helping to organize immigrant workers through the Quaker-based American Friends Service Committee, which also was involved in Asia-Pacific issues. He later became active in the Hawaiian sovereignty, demilitarization and gay rights movements.
Kajihiro served as program director for the Hawaii branch of the AFSC from 1996 to 2011 and became a board member when it re-formed as Hawai‘i Peace and Justice in 2011.
Kajihiro said he is fond of a saying of King’s that “‘true peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.’ That is really important. Sometimes we think of peace as meaning to avoid having tension between people; but it’s about being honest and having enough respect to address some of the historical kinds of issues that continue to have effects (on people).
“I feel really humbled, being given an award named after Dr. Martin Luther King, because I can’t imagine that I measure up to anything in terms of his impact, but hopefully, I do work in that spirit and will make a difference in the world,” he added.
Renie WONG LINDLEY, executive director of Hawai‘i Peace and Justice, nominated Kajihiro for the award.
The vision of the organization is “for Hawai‘i to be a demilitarized, socially just and environmentally sustainable society that honors Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) culture and core values and actively upholds peace and human rights,” according to www.wp.hawaiipeaceandjustice.org.
She said Kajihiro’s “message to rethink our dependency on the military and to reveal the extent militarism has invaded our society is a clarion call. … (The first time they met) he spoke eloquently and spontaneously as if the message were created for me. And it’s true; I received a kind of instant spark that lit, and still lights, my path.”
Kajihiro said he was raised in Buddhism and Shintoism by family tradition, but “I’m a bit eclectic in religious and spiritual beliefs. I think there is a lot of wisdom drawn from many different traditions.”
Kajihiro said his opposition to militarization goes all the way back to the role U.S. troops played in the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, and the formidable economic, cultural and environmental effects that followed.
A common argument for having U.S. military headquarters in Hawaii is that the country can’t afford to lose its strategic position in the Pacific or the economic advantages, he said.
“But why does a country, the U.S., get to take over other countries and peoples for its own defense? … We really need a different kind of relationship to have decent security for all people, not only for the powerful and wealthy countries.”
He added, “We really need to look beyond this paradigm that if you don’t take it, somebody else will. I really question if the rationale of defense is really the main operating principle or whether it’s about projecting power outwards. It seems contradictory to me to portray Hawaii as a gathering place and this paradise of racial harmony and of intercultural peace … when it’s the hub of the largest military network in the world.
“It would be another thing if we were to talk about our desire to be a place of peace, but then we have to challenge ourselves: Why we can’t raise a really critical discussion about war and our role in the production of war?”