Meeting Mr. Arun Gandhi

I asked Moe to write a series of three blogs for our website to show how the message of nonviolence affected her and now through her students she teaches.  I hope you will find it interesting.  Love to all of you, Arunji

Arun and Sunanda Gandhi

Arun and Sunanda Gandhi

Meeting Mr. Arun Gandhi – Part I by Moé Yonamine

It was the fall of 1994 when I first met Mr. Arun Gandhi. I was a sophomore in high school, the only child of a single, immigrant mother, moving from city to city trying to make ends meet. As we slowly drove around our latest new town of Muncie, Indiana, a jug of cold water was thrown through our open car window into my mother’s face. A truck full of men laughed and yelled, “Go back to where you came from!” Hatred targeted me directly, and I felt rage like I never felt before. Soon after, our car was graffitied with racial slurs. My school was no exception to the atmosphere of intolerance we were experiencing but rather was a place where racial segregation, separation, and fears of the “other” were magnified.

When I learned that Arun Gandhi would be speaking at nearby Ball State University, I made sure I was there. I wanted to hear something positive and powerful that I could believe in to fight all of the injustice around me. This couldn’t be the way it was supposed to be. But how could we help change things? What power did we have as young people to fight hatred and make a difference? I went to listen to Arun in an auditorium filled from wall to wall with college students. He spoke about fighting, but fighting with our spirits, non-violence and compassion. I needed to talk to him. I waited until his speaking was over, stood in a long line, and finally got to shake his hand. I vividly remember saying, “You don’t know me, Mr. Gandhi, but I really need your help. Will you come to my school?” He listened patiently alongside his wife, Sunanda, as I rambled on and on about the injustices, the anger, the violence, and the hatred at my high school.

The next day, I was called out of my first period class. The teacher told me that someone was there to see me. I hurried to the main office to find none other than Mr. Gandhi, gently smiling. “Well, where are the students?” he said. My heart burst with joy and excitement. Quickly collecting as many classes as I could, we packed the auditorium within minutes. He listened quietly, intently, as a small group of students bravely spoke up about racism around us while many others sat back, cautious and apprehensive. Looking for an answer and a way to overcome, we waited for Mr. Gandhi’s response. He shared with us the story of the pencil, a beloved lesson learned from his grandfather, Mohandas K. Gandhi.

Some sat nodding their heads. A few teachers made notes. I took in every moment with my eyes and ears, wanting to remember each word he said. A student looked back at me and said, “What’s the story got to do with anything?” But I understood that Mr. Gandhi was telling us not to let anger destroy us as individuals, to find compassion to learn from each other and the whole fabric within which we are all connected. His message didn’t mean not to fight injustice. It meant to resist the injustice but not repeat the same injustice that was done to us as individuals, for, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

From that day on, I have melted those words into my soul in my fights – back home on my island of Okinawa as the U.S. military occupation violently oppresses the peaceful history of my indigenous people and here with the youth work I’ve taken on, hoping to plant seeds in individual young people so they will realize the power they already have despite what society might tell them.

Now as a teacher of high school sophomores in a diverse, impoverished neighborhood where many who walk into my classroom are full of anger and rage at the marginalizing society has inflicted upon them, I remember Arun’s story of the pencil and his message of compassion. Compassion does not mean don’t fight. Compassion means fight with love for all people.

To be continued…

Moe YonamineMoé Yonamine  was born in Okinawa and moved with her family to the United States when she was 7. She teaches in Portland, Oregon and writes regularly for Rethinking Schools magazine. Yonamine is part of the network of Zinn Education Project teachers developing original curriculum to reflect the diversity of today’s U.S. students and to address gaps in the official curriculum. She wrote ‘But You Guys Wanted Us Here’, a film that tackles the U.S. occupation of Japan.