Amidst the many challenges and trials that people the world over suffered during the second world war, one of the least acknowledged offenses in American history is the internment of Japanese Americans almost 80 years ago, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. On Feb. 19, 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which forced more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent from their homes and jobs on the West Coast to one of 10 concentration camps in remote areas of the country.
“No Japanese Americans were ever charged, much less convicted, of espionage or sabotage against the United States yet they were targeted, rounded up and imprisoned for years, simply for having the ‘face of the enemy,’” the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) described the paranoia of the U.S. as targeted discrimination against their community.
The Japanese American community observes Feb. 19 as Japanese Day of Remembrance, which the JACL says serves as a “reminder of the impact the incarceration experience has had on [their] families, community and country.”
“It is an opportunity to educate others on the fragility of civil liberties in times of crisis, and the importance of remaining vigilant in protecting the rights and freedoms of all,” the JACL said in their remembrance of the day.
The UConn community commemorated the day on Wednesday with the event “Japanese American Incarceration.” Along with a drumming performance by UConn Kodama Taiko, writer Brandon Shimoda presented a poetry reading. His paternal grandfather, a native of Hiroshima who emigrated to the United States in 1919, was imprisoned during World War II in a federal detention center in Montana.
Legal action by the government has sought to make amends for the injustice. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 involved the federal government’s formal apology for the forced removal of Japanese Americans during WWII, as well as financial reparations to survivors of the internment. The Supreme Court just recently overturned the infamous “Korematsu v. United States” that upheld the legality of the situation.
However, specific legal acknowledgement of the removal by California, where most of those affected had lived in, had not been addressed until recently. Besides issuing their own statements of apology, California legislators are set to vote on a resolution today that would issue a formal apology for the internment of Japanese Americans during wartime. Introduced by Japanese-born assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, the resolution HR-77 calls attention to California’s “failure to support and defend the civil rights” of Japanese Americans. According to the LAist, Muratsuchi wrote it partly in response to the Trump administration’s immigration policies “including the Muslim travel ban and the detention of Latino migrants.”
California’s support and role in the internment has led many to believe the formal apology to be necessary.
“California was at the forefront for pushing for some of the policies that led up to internment,” David Inoue, executive director of JACL, said. “And many people within the state of California advocated for them.”
Muratsuchi describes the state’s anti-Japanese sentiment and legal action following the Pearl Harbor Act, including the Alien Land law from 1913 that banned anyone of Japanese descent from buying farmland seven years later.
“We like to talk a lot about how we lead the nation by example,” he said in an interview with The Hill “Unfortunately, in this case, California led the racist anti-Japanese American movement.
Muratsuchi hopes the legislation can stand as a reminder for the country as a whole.
“I introduced HR-77 for California to lead by example, and to show that we can learn the lessons of history — so that history doesn’t repeat itself,” the assemblyman said.
Hollie Lao is a staff writer and the social media manager for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.