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Big Cat Rescue

I think one of the first things we learned about Tampa when we were considering moving here was that it was the home of Big Cat Rescue.  We love big cats. We love cats in general. This love of big cats was definitely cemented on our trip to Africa and seeing these beautiful creatures in the wild.

Big Cat Rescue is one of the largest accredited sanctuaries in the world dedicated to abused and abandoned big cats. The sanctuary, which opened in 1992, works tirelessly to end abuse which often goes hand in hand with the private possession and trade of exotic cats. Big Cat Rescue has been constantly lobbying for federal legislation to make possession of big cats illegal in the United States. The sanctuary refers to itself as a retirement home to the 80+  lions, tigers, bobcats, cougars and other species that have taken up residence as their forever home since they will never leave the reserve.  The animals have mostly been abandoned, abused, orphaned, or retired from performing acts. The tours, open to the public, explain the reasons no one should keep a wild animal as a pet as well as relating the heartbreaking stories of these animals’ lives before coming to Big Cat Rescue. The tickets aren’t cheap ($39 plus tax), but the purchase price goes directly to managing the rescue which is mainly run by volunteers and interns.

We hope you enjoy some of the pictures of the felines we met during our visit. You can catch many of them on the Big Cat Rescue’s live cams, available through Explore.org.

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Paradise Discovered: The Unbreakable Virgin Islanders

Author and journalist Peter Bailey debuted “The Unbreakable Virgin Islanders”, the second film from his Paradise Discovered series on his birthday September 16 at Prior Jollek Hall on Antilles School campus on St. Thomas coincidently the same school where my younger sister teaches.  The documentary reflects on surviving both hurricanes Irma and Maria on his native St. Thomas alongside a cross-section of voices across the Virgin Islands. We don’t know about distribution yet but if you love the islands and its people you should keep an eye out for this cross-section of touching stories.

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Oldsmar Flea Market

Oldsmar Flea Market entrance

Main Entrance

Have you ever passed a place dozens of times and always wondered what it’s like inside?  For me, the Oldsmar Flea Market in Oldsmar, Florida, near Tampa, was that kind of place. We decided to stop in yesterday and take a look around.

The first thing we can say about it is that it’s big. The site and its parking lots cover 28 acres. A series of long narrow buildings running parallel to each other house the market, giving you shelter from the sun and potential showers.

You can find a little bit of everything there from the expected used nick-nacks to clothing, jewelry, golf equipment, and cookware. You can even get fresh produce with stands selling locally grown crops. The market may be shaded but it is still hot and there is no AC. You should be sure to hydrate. You could also visit one of the many food vendors spread out over the complex for a drink or snacks like hot dogs and mini donuts. You will want to wear comfy shoes since you’ll be walking on concrete floors.

The market has been in business for over 40 years and according to a statement from the owners, it (the market) is trying to evolve from fleamarket to a world-class marketplace for vendors. You should take some time over a weekend to look around at the market because you might come across something you never knew you needed. The hours are Saturday and Sunday 9-4.

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Buddhist Church?

The Buddhist Church of San Jose.

You would refer to a Buddhist house of worship as a temple, right?

On a recent trip to San Jose, I found out that isn’t always the case. The San Jose Buddhist Church was founded in 1902 by Japanese and other Asian immigrants in the city’s Nihonmachi (Japantown) neighborhood. I found that designation as a church a bit confusing and asked my tour guide about it. I was told that it was part of assimilation.

The immigrants would hear the other members of the community, mainly Christians, talk about going to church on Sunday. Immigrants would also be asked if they went to church. The simplest thing they could do in order to assimilate was just to call their Buddhist Temple a Buddhist Church. The change in nomenclature was an extremely simple way for the community to assimilate without having to give up something so important to their identity. The term church is now often used interchangeably with temple for many in the Buddhist community in the United States.


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Internment of Japanese Americans (1942-1944)

The internment of Japanese Americans in the United States during World War II was the forced relocation and incarceration in concentration camps in the western interior of the country. The number of Americans incarcerated was between 110,000 and 120,000. At least 65% of those interned were full-fledged United States citizens. The forced relocation of these hard-working Americans was ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A great number of the citizens were the second- and third-generation Americans descended from Japanese immigrants who held only the equivalent of a green card because they were barred by U.S. law from being granted citizenship. The excuse at the time was that they might be loyal to Japan and launch a terrorist campaign against west coast targets or become spies for the Empire of Japan. 

The internment, as many suggested in its time, today is considered more a result of racism than a security risk.

During relocation, citizens were told they could only take what they could carry and to leave the rest behind; most lost everything.

Could you fit your life in one bag? You were only allowed to bring what you could carry.

The Supreme Court ruled to uphold the constitutionality of the Exclusion Act in Fred Korematsu vs. U.S. but only by sidestepping the main issue and only ruling on the exclusion order — not on the lawfulness of incarcerating citizens without due process. The court surprisingly ruled in favor of Mitsuye Endo. Endo worked as a clerk for the California Department of Motor Vehicles before her relocation and the court conceded that her rights were violated and she should be released. But the case wasn’t a class action, so it only applied to her. She chose to stay in the camp and continue her legal fight so it would stay in the public eye.

Internment ended in 1945. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act into law; it was an official U.S. government apology for the policy of internment. They also paid $20,000 to each camp survivor as restitution. The law admitted the government’s actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

The camps were not similar to Nazi death camps. The camps were an embarrassment and a stain on the land of liberty but were designed more like towns. The camps had shops, farms, clinics, high schools, and movie theaters. Internees were still prisoners but could feign normalcy. The students in high school even produced yearbooks. The internees were also able to make money by creating crafts and other goods and having them legally sold on the outside by designated agents. The conditions weren’t perfect. The dorms were divided up for families, but the walls didn’t go to the roof so there was a lack of privacy. If you were single or a couple you probably had roommates. The kitchen/mess hall was communal as well as the toilets and showers.

I can’t say enough about the heartiness of these people. The country they loved betrayed them. They took all that punishment from the government and still wanted to serve in the armed forces. The returned to their lives or what was left of them after the war and tried to carry on. The lasting legacy of the Japanese internment is having a living group of people in our country that speak out when they see racism and discrimination and remind us what can happen even in the land of liberty when we let paranoia and racism go unchecked.

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Japanese American Museum of San Jose

Japanese American Museum of San Jose

I made some time during my work trip to San Jose, California to leave the convention center and do a little exploring. The trip from downtown to Japan Town only cost about $15 dollars in a Lyft and took only about 10 minutes. I’ve been told that San Jose is only one of a handful of Japan Towns left on the west coast and it was worth the visit.

My first stop was the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. The unassuming building with its distinct eastern-inspired room and circular windows houses exhibits explaining the early immigration of Japanese to the west coast, the lives of the people, the creation of Japan Towns, and the internment of the Japanese Americans during the second world war. I was greeted by a Doosan after paying for my admission (under $10); he asked if I wanted a guided tour. I said sure. My guide then took me on a journey through the history of the Japanese in the Americas.

I learned a few things about Japanese immigrants such as Brazil actually has the largest Japanese-speaking population outside of Japan and that Mexico had a large immigrant Japanese population along the Sea of Cortez.

The men, of course, came over first and worked as laborers and farmhands. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 stopped immigration from China, so American labor recruiters began targeting Japanese workers. This triggered a rapid increase in the country’s Japanese population, which in turn spurred the movement to decrease their number and restrict their economic and political power.


The men would then find a bride through a matchmaker back in Japan. They increased their chances of finding a match through a bit of false advertising; they’d rent some clothes and have a picture taken in front of a nice car or house and send it home saying they were very successful in the new world. The women, referred to as picture brides, would then journey with a large group of other brides to the new world. The ruse sometimes ended with the women dumping them at the docks and striking out on their own or heading back to Japan as jilted brides.

The pairings that went well ended with the couple getting married in a mass ceremony at the immigration halls before they entered the country.

The arrival of picture brides(1909)
Angel Island, California
Courtesy of California State Parks

The influx quickly resulted in push-back from nativist groups in California beginning a period of systematic discrimination against the Japanese. The laws like the California Aline Land Law of 1913 that was specifically created to prevent land ownership among Japanese citizens from residing in the state has been compared to the Jim Crow laws of the southern states to restrict the rights of blacks.

However, in State of California v. Jukichi Harada (1918), Judge Hugh H. Craig sided with the defendant and ruled that American children – who happened to be born to Japanese parents – had the right to own land.

The Japanese and those of Japanese ancestry born in the United States succeed in creating thriving communities and accumulating wealth. They had their own hospitals, hotels, neighborhoods, and even a baseball league along the west coast. It was a thriving community until the second world war, a history we will get into in our next post as we talk about the shameful internment of U.S. Citizens during the 1940s.


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A Trip Though Japanese American History (Coming Soon)

Buddhist “Church” in San Jose, CA

I took a trip out to San Jose, CA and stopped by their JapanTown. I’ll be able to give you a full report next week.