SAN JOSE — Jimi Yamaichi will never forget his long and frustrating battle to join the carpenters union, which turned away Japanese Americans and other Asians before the start of World War II.
Yamaichi, director and curator of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, was among several speakers at the 31st annual San Jose Day of Remembrance event, “Fighting Against Fear,” which took place Feb. 20 at the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin in Japantown. The event drew a record crowd of nearly 300 people.
The event was held in observation of the signing of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942, which led to the incarceration of 120,000 individuals of Japanese descent during World War II.
The event included a candlelighting ceremony that featured the Kohagura family. Following the ceremony, San Jose Taiko led a candlelight procession through Japantown.
Masao Suzuki of the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee said, “Feb. 19, 1942 was truly a day that will live in infamy for Japanese Americans. It was the culmination of racism, war hysteria and political misleadership. It is important to remember this event and make sure that it does not happen again.
“We want to help unite Japanese Americans for the reparations movement, as well as to educate the general public,” he said.
He added that the FBI has targeted many Muslim Americans without explanation, adding that he himself was recently questioned by the FBI about his involvement in an anti-war movement.
Suzuki and other speakers at the event focused on the parallels between the recent experiences of Arab Americans following 9/11 and the ordeal faced by Japanese Americans during World War II.
Guest speakers included Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations for the San Francisco Bay Area.
She said, “It has become more acceptable to treat American Muslims as the enemy. We must learn from our history so as not to repeat it.”
Suzuki said, “We want to help unite the Japanese American community and address reparations, as well as to educate the general public. We want to shine a light on the racism and hysteria that led to the concentration camps.”
Yamaichi was eventually incarcerated at the Heart Mountain, Wyo. and Tule Lake, Calif. camps. He was also among 26 men who refused to be drafted into the U.S. military along with others.
“I took a stand for justice and civil rights,” Yamaichi said.
He said that he and the other draft resisters at Tule Lake were the only ones who did not receive a fine or jail time, as the judge was sympathetic to their plight.
Yamaichi also discussed the anger he felt about how his brother, who served in the military, experienced discrimination.
“My brother was treated differently because he looked like the enemy. His gun was taken away and replaced with a wooden gun,” Yamaichi said.
Another guest speaker at the event was Karen Korematsu of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education. Her late father, Fred Korematsu, was recently honored with a statewide holiday in his memory.
“Discrimination is ignorance and racial profiling is ignorance. We need to fight against ignorance through education in all these issues,” Karen Korematsu said.
She added, “Fred Korematsu Day is not only the story of my father, but also of the 120,000 Japanese American who were incarcerated. It’s a part of history that needs to be recognized.”
Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose), who was incarcerated at the Granada (Amache), Colo. concentration camp, added, “The best way to fight fear is to be armed with knowledge and information.”
During his speech, Honda called for the United States to apologize for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which suspended immigration from China.
He said, “It’s a fight for equality, justice and peace.”