Differences are what make us stronger

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Watermelons are a symbol of resistance - a symbol of an unbreakable perseverance and resilience. My bottle depicts a large watermelon, and across the front are two phrases “And then they came for me” in lavender, and above it, outlined in blue, “who will you protect?”

In 1942, the internment of Japanese Americans began during World War II. The Alphawood Gallery held an exhibition entitled “Then They Came for Me: Incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII and the Demise of Civil Liberties” detailing the infringement of civil rights and the culture and government that allowed for this to happen. The titled of the exhibit and the words written across the bottle are from a poem by Martin Niemӧller entitled “First they came for the socialists…”. In this poem, Niemӧller describes how because he did not identify as the group being persecuted, he did not stand, speak out, or fight for them. So when the time came that he was the one being persecuted, no one could come for him because there was no one left to fight for him.

I walked through this gallery with my heart lodged in my throat. I couldn’t begin to comprehend the lack of support and the extreme anti-Japanese sentiment that ran rampant the years leading into the internment. Families were torn apart and fellow Americans were supporting this governmental action.

Farming families in particular were heavily hit. Jealousy that the Japanese grew the biggest watermelons in California, jealousy that they opened up businesses, and held positions of power. As a Arab-American Muslim woman, it was eerily similar to how anti-muslim sentiment began. It wasn’t hard for me to know the hate displayed on the walls. I knew the emotions detailed in these photos and accounts because I’ve experienced it first hand. I’ve felt the hate spill out of ignorant mouths and pour out onto me. Knowing that Japanese Americans dealt with it and were punished for actions not their own illustrated that the rhetoric and actions of America has only repeated itself throughout history. That if we do not stand for justice and liberty right now, this could happen to another group of individuals.

For me, being a social pollinator means respecting identities, knowledge, and heritage. It means to stick up and fight for one another when the time comes. Ignorance is not bliss, it’s a weapon of destruction. To be ignorant of another’s struggles while also benefiting from the same system oppressing them angers me. It also motivates me to fight harder for myself and others.

Differences are what make us stronger. We would not have grown as humans if we did not have so many variations in life, from the languages we speak, the foods we eat,  and the clothes we wear. These are all differences that should be celebrated and respected and understood. One culture is not better than another and should not be considered a baseline ‘norm’ for our society.

That’s why Niemӧller’s poem resonates so deeply with me - to fully come to terms with what it means to fight for someone else. We don’t have to be the same to support one another. We all have to look at ourselves and ask the questions: How far am I willing to go for someone else? Who will we protect when the time comes?