On Monday afternoon, Black Lives Matter Shinagawa and advocacy group Justice for Pato-chan gathered dozens of protesters in front of Shinagawa Station to demonstrate against the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau. Their demands were: to release trans Pinay Pato-chan from detention, to stop abusing Black immigrants and asylum-seekers, and to end the criminalization of immigrants refusing repatriation.
As we assembled at the Konan Fureai Plaza with flags and placards, speakers shared their anger and disgust at the Immigration Bureau's discrimination and Japan's historical neglect of its minority peoples. A transgender activist expressed her frustration at how most people aren't even aware that discrimination is taking place, often complicit in it themselves. "What we demand is not your understanding, but rather our human rights and equality," she added. "Stop discriminating against us."
Another woman, who identified as third-generation Korean, explained that refugees and immigrants "have always lived among us," and the fight for their rights not a recent development. She appealed that until Japan reflects on its imperialist and colonialist history, nothing will change. An organizer reiterated this point later, emphasizing that the protest will not tolerate any symbols of Japanese imperialism.
Later, Elizabeth, a Biafran woman who sought asylum after fleeing Nigeria over thirty years ago, described the prejudice that she and others have faced in pursuit of safety in Japan. Without a visa, she explained, immigrants like her who are only granted provisional stay are not only forbidden from traveling within the country without written permission, but also from working. Pointing out how willingly Japanese people embrace athletes like Naomi Osaka, she added that there are haafu or mixed-race children just like her who suffer because their foreign parent cannot work in Japan. Addressing the crowd, she asked, "What will you do to save these children?"
The protest has come in the wake of increasingly dire news from the detention center. The Immigration Bureau reported its first incident of coronavirus in August, but hasn't responded to appeals to release detainees and prevent further possible spread since. Pato-chan, who has been detained for over a year since overstaying her visa, is only allowed two hours outside of her cramped room each day while isolated from other women due to her being transgender, and constantly endures slurs by personnel. In May, a Black woman was carried into solitary confinement naked after burning up and fainting while being administered insulin for her diabetes. Most recently, an activist has reported that a Haitian-American man was abused on multiple occasions in the past month, once for simply refusing soap from staff.
Japanese mainstream media's commitment to accurately telling the stories and history of violence committed against minorities abroad may ebb and flow, but thanks to the pressure of local activists and advocacy groups, as well as public figures like Naomi Osaka, who remained steadfast in her message against police brutality throughout the U.S. Open, we may see some effort for a while yet. However, it's important that these discussions about the injustices minorities face come home – as one organizer pointed out, the abuses that we are seeing in the United States are taking place here as well, only a fifteen-minute walk from one of the busiest stations in the city.
At 5:00PM, the organizers led protesters in a march towards the Immigration Bureau. We chanted, "Trans rights are human rights," "Give us back our friends," "Give us back our families," and more, holding our flags and signs high through the streets of Shinagawa. As we made our way through the concrete desert in the reclaimed land where the Bureau sits, we saw fewer people in the streets. But circling the building itself, we could hear the cries and cheers of everyone inside. I saw one arm waving from a window far above and waved back, wondering if it was as hard to see us as it was to see them among the rows of windows.
After we had marched a few laps around the building, chanting and calling out all the while, we filed into a nearby park, where I helped unfurl an impressive banner with #JusticeForPato-chan written on one side, and Black Lives Matter on the other. As everyone gathered, finally allowed a moment's rest after a 1.5 hours-long march, the organizers of Justice for Pato-chan explained the importance of our continued effort and shared their future plans, including Japan's first transgender march later this year.
We also had a chance to hear from Pato-chan herself, as one of the organizers managed to reach her by phone. Over speaker, she expressed her gratitude to the protest's participants, to which we responded with cheers. But as the organizers explained, Pato-chan had had a fever over the past week, and as of writing, has yet to recover. Nevertheless, according to an activist's most recent visit, she's in good spirits after hearing and seeing the protesters from her room.
"I thought I was all alone. But recently, it feels like everyone is supporting me," she reportedly shared with a smile.
To learn more about protests against the Tokyo Immigration Bureau, follow @PatoJustice on Twitter.