Florin JACL, CAIR-Sacramento Valley Members Allege Racism, Denial of Service At Bishop, CA Bowling Alley During Manzanar Pilgrimage Weekend

The following is a letter sent by representatives of the Florin chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Council on American Islamic Relations – Sacramento Valley.

To download a printable copy of the complaint letter, click on the image above.

May 13, 2015

Mr. Thomas L. Flesia, Owner
Ms. Helen French, Manager
Ms. Trina Favel, Manager
Back Alley Bowling, Bar, and Grill
BMTI Corp.
649 N. Main Street
Bishop, CA 93514

RE: Denial of Service at Back Alley Bowl in Bishop on April 25, 2015

Dear Mr. Flesia, Ms. French and Ms. Favel:

The Florin Manzanar Pilgrimage Committee sponsored the Asian American and Muslim American young adult group [was] denied service by Back Alley Bowling, Bar, and Grill employees in Bishop on the night of Saturday, April 25, 2015. This discrimination in public accommodations deeply offended us and denied our civil rights.

The Florin Manzanar Pilgrimage is a ten-year project of the Florin Japanese American Citizens League (Florin JACL) and the Council on American Islamic Relations-Sacramento Valley (CAIR-SV). Since our group has faced similar racism and bigotry at Back Alley Bowl in the past, this is particularly egregious. Fundamental changes need to be made.

This mistreatment is an insult to the 1,500 people, especially those senior travelers in our group imprisoned during World War II, who come annually to the area to visit Manzanar National Historic Site. They come to learn about America’s World War II concentration camps, the lessons for today, and to stand up against such ignorance and discrimination targeting innocent people.

Our investigation of the circumstances that day shows the following. Our group of 15 Asian American and Muslim American young adults, plus some older members and senior citizens, was denied service at Back Alley Bowl on three occasions on the night of April 25, 2015. They conducted themselves in a civil, reasonable manner at all times, offering workable options to bowl, despite alleged computer problems and shutting down the business early though posted hours were until midnight.

About 9:45 PM, the night of Saturday, April 25th, a group of 8-10 Asian and Muslim Americans went to Back Alley Bowl to bowl. The “open” sign outside was lit and the establishment was operating. Three bowling alley lanes were open and lit with two of them occupied by a white family group. Some patrons were drinking at the bar and eating inside the restaurant.

When our group asked the young clerk if they could bowl he was flippant and rude. He claimed that the computer system was down and they couldn’t bowl. Though doubting a computer system could be down when people were still bowling, our group tried to find reasonable solutions. They asked that the computer be rebooted, offered to wait for a repair person to come, to use the vacant lane, wait for the family to finish, pay cash if the cash register was down, hang out buying food and beverages, or even just watch the family bowl. They were met with flimsy excuses, lies, a statement that the family had been bowling with the system down for the past three hours, and the clerk saying they were shutting down.

Our group left Back Alley Bowl, dissatisfied at this poor treatment, discussing how to get fairness, and talking to others in our group who were also upset at this discrimination. Some who had remained outside said another employee had walked to the lit “Open” sign and turned it off while the group was inside.

When a couple of other members of our group heard about this, they went into Back Alley Bowl and tried to go bowling. They too were refused.

As our group stood outside the bowling alley around 10:30 PM, talking about this, they saw several employees come outside including one taking out the trash. They politely asked to speak to the original male employee they had talked with previously. He came outside inappropriately carrying a three-foot long stick and continuously raised the stick above his shoulders while speaking to our group. He stated that the system had been frozen for the past three hours and that the “Yoda” computer technician lived 10-15 minutes away and it would be too late to have it fixed. Our group found that incredible since that meant the other party there had been bowling for over three hours. The male employee eventually let our group know that his manager was inside and they requested to speak with her.

When the woman manager came out around 10:35 PM, she repeated the claim that the computer system was down and said they were shutting down early (despite the 12 midnight posted hours). When asked if the group could come again the next day or get a discount, the manager claimed that she didn’t know if or when they would open up the bowling alley again. The manager said she was sorry that the group “did not get the response that you wanted.”

In contacting residents of Bishop and others sharing information over Yelp reviews, we learned of more instances of Back Alley Bowl discrimination, including people met with racist stares with which people of color are all too familiar. As mentioned before, our Florin Manzanar Pilgrimage Committee had experienced this type of bigotry before at the bowling alley.

We do not see this as a matter of a computer being down, misunderstanding, perception, or employee confusion, though these may have played a part. It’s a matter of denying services in public facilities to people of color and religious minorities.

We are aware of the concerns of others in Bishop about this mistreatment. We have met many good people there who have welcomed our diverse group into their businesses. This concern is a hopeful sign that fundamental changes might still be made at Back Alley Bowl and that this black mark be removed from the city of Bishop.

We would like to arrange a meeting at a convenient location for us to discuss what might be done to prevent such actions from ever happening again.

Andy Noguchi, Chairperson
Florin Manzanar Pilgrimage Committee

Twila Tomita, Co-Chair
Florin Manzanar Pilgrimage Committee

Brandon Miyasaki, Youth Coordinator
Florin Manzanar Pilgrimage Committee

Marielle Tsukamoto, Co-President
Florin JACL

Maheen Ahmed, Programs Manager

Lucy Porras, Programs Manager
CAIR-San Francisco Bay Area

Brice Hamack, Esq.,
Northern California Civil Rights Coordinator

Danna Elneil, Operations Manager
CAIR-Sacramento Valley

Thaya and Jim Craig

Kenza Elmourabit

Brenda Fong, Chinese American Council of Sacramento

Lorna Fong

Judy Fukuman

Effie and Stephen Hanway

Dr. Satsuki Ina

Brandon Inoshita

Breana Inoshita

Joshua Kaizuka, Esq.

Steve and Jennifer Kubo

Tatsuno Kusaba

Kristi Lin

Kinsey Louie

Lexie Louie

Sachi Louie

Alice Morodomi

Juveriyah Salat

Iman Sherif

Titus and Donna Komure Toyama

Stan and Christine Umeda

Roy Vogel

Akemi Yamane

Bishop Mayor
Bishop Chamber of Commerce
Bishop Paiute Tribe
Bishop Rotary Club
Inyo Register Newspaper
Manzanar National Historic Site Superintendent
Manzanar Committee
National – Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)
National – JACL

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Manzanar Committee Comment Policies

4 Responses to Florin JACL, CAIR-Sacramento Valley Members Allege Racism, Denial of Service At Bishop, CA Bowling Alley During Manzanar Pilgrimage Weekend

  1. David Bilar says:

    My learned friends of Manzanar, would you please confirm the letter on the web page is EXACTLY copied from the document sent to the bowling alley? There is a very bad grammatical error, the missing word ‘WERE denied service’, right in the first sentence. I am fearful it would make the Committee look very foolish if indeed it went out that way.

    When I made the pilgrimage 2 years ago, I was rebuffed by some of my friends who were themselves veterans who lost fathers and uncles at Pearl Harbor. They were understandably skeptical about the significance of facing America’s wrongs to its own citizens. My heart was tweaked in your favor when I visited the site,alone, long before the new highway was built and only foundations barely visible. Now look what you have accomplished! It is IMPORTANT to me, therefore, that the Manzanar Committee put its best foot forward to achieve its goals. If the grammar of that discrimination complaint went out as-is, the football game would be lost right at the first kickoff. I do hope it was strictly an error with the website.

    Keep up the education. It WORKS! People are listening and learning.

    David Bilar Arcadia, CA

    *********** REPLY SEPARATOR ***********

    • As noted at the very top of this post, the Manzanar Committee is not responsible for the content of this letter, and is not involved in this incident, other than to publish this letter.

  2. Keith Wood says:

    The next time this sort of this happens during the Pilgrimage, ask a couple of white attendees to try to obtain service.

    Everything they said MIGHT have been true (unlikely, but possible). They would have no way to continue their claims if someone else got service which was denied to you. And imagine the fun if the whites had gotten the service then invited the non-whites to join them — on video.

    Remember the rule that I learned at Gunsite: “Yes, you can sandbag. We can sandbag BACK.”

  3. Victor Katsutoshi Mitsuno says:

    Former Manzanar Block 22 Bldg. 8 Rm 4 resident. During late 1970’s I drove my family to Bishop. We did not encounter predudicial situations. I am saddened to hear of situations like this occurring in 2015. Happy to read that Florinians and others fighting back.

    I live in Linden, NC near Ft. Bragg. My twin son is in 82nd U.S. Airborne. People friendly to ” non-white military families but quietly prejudice to non-military”.

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