As Japanese-Americans in the Chicago area struggled to reach their friends and loved ones in and around the devastation in Japan, several local organizations began relief efforts. The magnitude 8.9 earthquake and devastating tsunami that followed have snagged phone communications to that country.
“The first half an hour to an hour, we couldn’t reach them,” said Mishie Baba, who tried to call his daughter and other relatives as soon as he heard about the earthquake this morning. Baba said he finally reached his daughter and confirmed that his relatives are unharmed.
Baba, who heads the Japan America Society of Chicago, still worries for his friends in the city of Sendai, which is closest to the epicenter of the quake. “At this point still I cannot contact anybody,” said Baba. “Now I am asking my friend (who) lives in the Tokyo (area) to find out (the) status for that friends in Sendai area, but still no news yet.”
A spokesman for The Consulate General of Japan at Chicago said the office staff were occupied Friday with helping people reach friends and relatives in Japan. “People have just been calling us and saying that they can’t get through,” said Chris Kelly. Kelly said it’s been a very slow process, but Japanese cell phone companies have provided some relief. “(They’re) providing an Internet sort of emergency service where people there can leave a message,” said Kelly, “and if you have their number you can enter their number at the website and it will let you know if they’ve left a message concerning their status.”
Meanwhile, several local organizations are considering setting up funds to provide earthquake relief. Baba says his organization should be accepting monetary donations that could be directed to the Red Cross by early next week, though he says the group will likely only collect from members.
Another group that announced that it would help was the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, which often sends relief to disaster-struck parts of the world. “We announced about it in our community centers and our mosques,” said CIOGC Executive Director Zaher Sahloul. “Today is the Friday prayer, so what we did (was) that we sent the announcement to our imams and asked them to mention the opening of the fund in the Friday prayer.” Sahloul said the money will be send to Islamic charities that do relief work in other countries.
Sahloul hopes the humanitarian effort will eclipse the negative publicity many Muslims feel they’ve received since the U.S. House’s Homeland Security Committee held hearings yesterday on the radicalization of Muslims in America. Sahloul also said there was a certain symbolism to the Muslim community’s offering of aid to Japan at this time.
“As everyone else knows, Japanese-Americans were singled out during the Second World War, and they were labeled and targeted and put in internment camps and demonized as a community because of the actions of a few,” said Sahloul. “We do not want that to happen to the Muslim community, we do not want that to happen to any other community.”