Feb. 19 is a significant day for the Japanese American community. In 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which stripped Japanese Americans of their civil rights and led to the internment of nearly 120,000 people of Japanese descent – the majority of whom were civilians in Washington, Oregon and California. Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes, businesses and communities to live for years in isolated and remote areas throughout the United States. The internment of Japanese Americans was due to having the “face of the enemy”. Since 1978, the Japanese American community commemorates Executive Order 9066 as a reminder of their incarceration experience. In fact, the first Day of Remembrance program was held on Nov. 25, 1978 at the Western Washington Fair where over 2,000 people gathered to remember the historic day.
The last Japanese internment camp closed in 1946. President Gerald Ford officially repealed Roosevelt’s order in 1976. Congress issued a formal apology and passed the Civil Liberties Act awarding $20,000 to over 80,000 Japanese Americans.
In the Japanese internment camps, four or five families would share an army-style barrack with sparse collections of clothing and possessions. They would live in these conditions until the war ended. Japanese Americans had little freedom within their barracks and some died due to inadequate medical care and the emotional stresses that they encountered. Military guards killed Japanese Americans for resisting orders.
Though it has been 79 years since the wrongful incarceration of Japanese Americans, we must remember the faults and racism that are rooted deep in our country’s history – concentration camps are still common in border areas today.
The National Museum of American History hosted a virtual panel discussion titled, “FACEism: A panel discussion of history and accountability” on Feb. 19. Speakers included David Ono, an anchor for ABC7; Anna Burroughs, president and CEO at the Japanese American National Museum; and Cheyenne Cheng from the Japanese American Citizens League. The program discussed the meaning of the Day of Remembrance and commemorated the thousands of people affected by human rights abuse.
Ono, a filmmaker and creator of the FACEism series, stated “9066 stands out every time we see a new president.” “He uses the executive order and it has tremendous power.”
Ono expressed that this executive order plays a large role in the presidency, mentioning the power that Roosevelt held in sending Japanese Americans to camps just by signing the order.
The incarceration affects generations of Japanese Americans years later, as many lost everything they had. Even after their release, the first generation of Japanese Americans never recovered from their experiences in the camps and had lasting trauma.
Cheng expressed the incarceration of Japanese Americans is due to the long history of xenophobia during World War II – and today – in the United States. Chinese Americans wore buttons to signify that they were Chinese to avoid incarceration, which further shows the discrimination that Asian Americans faced during that time.
A notable figure that played a large role in fighting for Japanese civil rights was Fred Korematsu. Korematsu refused to go to incarceration camps and was arrested at 23 years old. He was convicted for defying the government’s order, but was able to appeal his case to the Supreme Court. In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled against him, justifying their arrest by stating it was due to military necessity. On Nov. 10, 1983, Korematsu’s conviction was overturned and he remained an activist throughout his life. He would later receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton in 1998. Korematsu demonstrated the importance of fighting injustices and has inspired many people to follow his legacy.
UConn’s Japanese Student Association created a post to commemorate the Day of Remembrance.
“The Day of Remembrance marks a dark moment in the history of our nation, not only for Japanese –Americans, but for all Americans,” Ethan Kimaru, JSA chief strategy officer and eighth-semester marketing major, said. “It serves as a reminder of how powerful fear can be and how vulnerable we are to its influence. Fear has a peculiar ability to make us behave irrationally and without regards for our friends, family and community members — and it is fear that dedicated the passage of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942, resulting in the forceful removal of over 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes, their businesses and communities … The Day of Remembrance exists as an opportunity for us to reflect how we must protect the rights granted to us in this country.”
Similar to other cultural organizations on campus, JSA is open to all UConn students and faculty interested in enjoying and spreading awareness of Japanese culture.
“Going into UConn, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the Japanese Student Association (JSA) in order to find others with similar interests,” Mitsuko Koyama, JSA President and seventh-semester accounting major and data analytics and Spanish minors, said. “By becoming a member my freshman year, the treasurer my sophomore year and now the President, I have always enjoyed being a part of educating others on Japanese culture and history. JSA’s mission is to enjoy and spread awareness of Japanese culture and history at UConn, and it has certainly been a pleasure to introduce students of diverse backgrounds to the beauty of Japan. Most events incorporate fun trivia, slides and activities on significant holidays, events and history to educate students in a fun and engaging way. I hope that it encourages students from all walks of life to have a deeper interest in Japanese culture and history along the way, and I look forward to how JSA will continue to grow as a community in the coming years.”
It is important to acknowledge American history, especially the history of many folks within minority groups that seems to never be taught in our classrooms. The Day of Remembrance was a day that commemorates Executive Order 9066 and further educates others on the fragility of civil liberties in times of crisis.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of @uconn_jsa on Instagram.