This is a picture of my father, when he was five years old. The year was 1942.
This is not his school photo, it’s an identification card he received from the United States Army.
My father needed this as proof to demonstrate that he was allowed to remain in California, even as his grandfather was put on a train and sent off to a fenced compound in the Arizona desert.
I am a fourth-generation Japanese-American. And as such, in 1942 I would not have been welcome in the state of California. In April of that year, by law, I too would have had to report for relocation, as they called it.
Here on the left is my great-grandfather, Riusaku Tanimoto, more commonly known as Frank.
Frank emigrated from Japan to the United States at the turn of the century, where he married a Mexican-American woman, Miquela Coz. But after he and Miquela separated, many of the family members went by the last name of Coz.
In April of 1942 Frank was relocated to the Poston camp in Arizona. Because according to the government, these desert camps were where persons of Japanese ancestry in the Western states belonged.
But the Coz children petitioned for an exception, and remarkably, got it. My father, his sister and mother, and his aunts and uncles, were all granted ID cards stating that for them, the provisions of Executive Order 9066 had been suspended.
So my father was allowed to remain in California. Although on days kids called him “Jap” in the schoolyard, it was hard for him to feel that he belonged there.
This is Ernest Coz, my father’s uncle.
When he was drafted, the Army had no way of knowing someone named Coz was of Japanese descent, not until a Basic Training bunkmate found his ID card and turned him in. Once identified, he was shipped off to the 442nd Infantry, because according to the Army, that’s where soldiers of Japanese ancestry belonged.
But this isn’t actually a post about the history of Japanese-Americans in World War II.
It’s about the reason my son has the opportunity to attend the school that he does.
ASIP, the Asperger’s Inclusion Program is part of the Oakland Unified school district’s Programs for Exceptional Children. (PEC is what we grew up calling Special Education.)
In most school districts a child like mine on the spectrum might spend his school day in a classroom dedicated to children with special needs. Oakland’s ASIP program identifies certain such children as capable of participating with some support in a regular school classroom, with typical kids at their own grade level.
For my son the ASIP program is a little like my father’s ID card. It says that—by law—my son is entitled to be where he is.
But the vision of the principal at my son’s school extends far beyond mere compliance to the law. She does not believe in teaching to the test. She believes in fostering the growth of the whole child as a way to build student achievement. And she has adopted the goals of the Caring School Community® Initiative, in which everyone in the community is cared for and respected. In which everyone belongs.
And in which diversity is celebrated. Cultural and ethnic diversity. Economic and gender diversity. And one that’s newer to many people: neurodiversity. In which different kinds of minds are welcomed and celebrated within a community.
Because the goal of diversity isn’t about compliance. It‘s about what we gain from our interaction and participation with each other.
I’ll give you one example of what our school has learned from ASIP.
Part of the ASIP curriculum is a program called Superflex, designed to help children with Asperger’s cope with strong emotions that arise when dealing with other people, especially when things don’t go the way they might like.
As the teachers in the younger grades were introduced to the Superflex concepts and materials, they realized that EVERY kid could use some extra help in navigating these same challenges. And so many of these teachers have adopted Superflex as part of their standard classroom curriculum for the year.
Not everyone is required to be inclusive when it comes to my child.
Some kids will roll their eyes at his mannerisms, or his way of talking, and simply walk away. Some won’t extend an invitation to a playdate or a birthday party.
But those children who do decide to be his friend, who welcome him into their play, who decide that he belongs, are participants in the vision of inclusion within a caring school community. And the challenge for us as educators and parents is to foster that environment, where everyone belongs.