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Miya Iwataki: Asian Pacific Islander Against Prop 187

- Written by: Pilar Marrero, Portrait by: Ricardo Palavecino

Miya Iwataki has a long history in activism for social justice, mainly in the Japanese, American and Asian Pacific Islander communities, but she says her proudest moment was the achievement of reparations and redress for the Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II.

"My parents and grandparents were in the concentration camps, and my father was part of the heroic 442nd segregated army unit of its size that won more medals of valor than any unit in the history of the United States,” she recounts.

But the experience was so painful that her parents and grandparents never talked about it to her generation.  Eventually, her family's experience became fuel for her activism.

In the 1970s, Iwataki worked at the Japanese American Community Center in Little Tokyo and then with the office of Congressman Mervyn Dymally, where she was deeply involved in the reparations fight.  Dymally, who was chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus “was a big supporter or our redress struggle,” she says.

At the time of Proposition 187, Iwataki was the director of the Los Angeles County Office of Diversity and Cultural Competency. As such, she was already working in immigrant rights and in contact with other organizations, like the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA).

She says that Proposition 187 galvanized the Asian Pacific Islander community, which was extremely diverse. But the organizing that happened at the time brought a lot of groups together.

“In the Asian community at that time were a lot of individual organizations. The Thai CDC, the Chinatown Service Center, United Cambodian Community, we all had our separate organizations. But this was an issue taking away social, human, health and educational services from our immigrants. And it really brought us together,” Iwataki says.

She was part of the formation of Asian Pacific Islanders Against Proposition 187, which had the participation of 60 different groups and organizations. It was formed as an arm of Californians Against Proposition 187, a state-wide group. She became the Southern California co-chair of the larger group.

Out of that experience came the formation of another group, API FIRE, Asian Pacific Islanders for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment.

Iwataki is also a poet, a writer and hosted/produced the East Wind Radio Series for KPFK Radio Pacifica.

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