DOR recalls Executive Order 9066, decries anti-Muslim hatred

SPEAKING OUT — Speakers at the 2016 Day of Remembrance program, held Feb. 20 at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles  (from left to right): Bruce Embrey, Anthony Marsh, Maytha Alhassen, Rep. Judy Chu, Bill Shishima and Traci Ishigo. photo by Mike Murase

SPEAKING OUT — Speakers at the 2016 Day of Remembrance program, held Feb. 20 at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles (from left to right): Bruce Embrey, Anthony Marsh, Maytha Alhassen, Rep. Judy Chu, Bill Shishima and Traci Ishigo. photo by Mike Murase

LOS ANGELES — The incarceration experience of Japanese Americans during World War II, based on racial hatred, and its similarity to the modern day anti-Muslim animosity in America, was a key topic of discussion during the 2016 Day of Remembrance, held Feb. 20 at the Japanese American National Museum.

The Japanese American community’s annual Day of Remembrance commemorates the Feb. 19, 1942 issuance of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The executive order authorized the United States Army to forcibly remove some 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from their West Coast homes and imprison them in American concentration camps.

Each year, Japanese Americans across the nation hold this event to remember their own “Day of Infamy,” this shameful chapter in U.S. history, and to honor the courage and perseverance of the Japanese Americans who were incarcerated.

Speak Up for Justice
Rep. Judy Chu, who serves the heavily Asian West San Gabriel Valley in the House of Representatives, remarked to an audience of about 350 persons, “Exactly 74 years ago President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. With a stroke of a pen, 120,000 Japanese Americans lost everything they had, despite the fact that three-quarters of them were U.S. citizens.”

They were locked away based on allegations that they were spies for Japan, she stated. “And yet, not a single act of espionage has ever been proven. Such a monumental travesty of justice occurred because of wartime hysteria, racism … and because there were not enough voices to speak up for justice. Today, we must speak up for justice.”

Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, stated, “When I first heard the news about the shooting in San Bernardino, my heart broke. Fourteen lives gone, 22 injured … But while we must make sure that we are safe from terrorism, we must never forget the lessons we learned from the Japanese American experience. Innocent people must never again be the victims of demagogues … I was shocked last year when the mayor (David Bower) of Roanoke, Va. made his statement … that Franklin Roosevelt was justified in sequestering ‘Japanese nationals’ after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and he used it as a rationale for doing the same thing to Muslim Americans.”

Demagogues on Capitol Hill are proposing laws targeting Muslim immigrants, most recently refugees seeking resettlement in America, and the demagogues among the Republican presidential candidates are “falling all over each other to be more anti-Muslim,” Chu added.

“Of course the loudest demagogue is Donald Trump, who is calling for surveillance against mosques, calling for establishing a database of all Muslims in the U.S., and of course we’ve all heard of his ban on all Muslims traveling to the U.S.”

The worst part of it is there are people who think it’s a good idea, she continued. “There is so much harm when the leaders of our country are saying this, because when they say such hateful things, uglier things happen on the streets. Hate crimes against Muslims have tripled since San Bernardino.”

Chu was one of a group of Congress members sending a strong message of support by inviting prominent American Muslims as their special guests for President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.

During a press conference held by these lawmakers and their guests, Congress members heard about Muslim Americans who were first responders at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, who received Purple Hearts while serving the U.S. military during the war against terrorism, and learned how much Muslim Americans have contributed to this country through their service.

Seventy-four years ago, there were not enough voices to speak up for justice, Chu emphasized. “Today, we must have those voices speak up. Today, because of the Japanese American camps, we know just how far this country can go if we let hysteria and racial scapegoating get in the way … Let’s reach out to our neighbors to make sure they know that Muslim Americans are true Americans. Let us build bigger coalitions to make sure that what happened to the Japanese Americans never happens again to anyone in this country.”

Is It 1942 Again?
Addressing the issue of Executive Order 9066, Maytha Alhassen, a University of Southern California Provost Ph.D. Fellow and the daughter of Syrian immigrants, declared, “If I were a thirty-something woman in 1942, I believe I would have vociferously spoken out against the incarceration of Japanese Americans. I would swiftly stand by their side … just like the over-300 people from the Japanese community of Los Angeles did after 9/11 (in support of Muslim and Arab Americans). All of us meeting here today must remember so that we do not forget the evils … of racism.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, and the hysteria in many areas opposing the Syrian refugee asylum-seekers, reflects the larger issue, she said. Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim travelers “mirrors the white supremacist racially restrictive anti-immigrant policy.”

“Could it be 1942 today? The sad part is that the Japanese American concentration camps are being used to justify the detention of Arabs and Muslims today,” Alhassen commented. “It is no wonder that one of the first groups to express solidarity with the Muslim community in the U.S. was the Japanese American community … We must never forget.”

Quakers Opposed EO 9066
The only organization to support the Nikkei during the war’s early years was the American Friends Service Committee, a peace and social justice organization founded by the Quakers in 1917, according to program co-emcee Traci Ishigo, a member of the Japanese American Citizens League Pacific Southwest District.

The AFSC’s Anthony Marsh, a Los Angeles native of Japanese and African American ancestry, pointed out that the AFSC opposed Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, which called for the “relocation” and incarceration of all West Coast residents with “even a drop of Japanese blood.”

AFSC assisted wartime inmates by purchasing their homes and businesses and returning their properties to the Nikkei inmates upon their release, explained Marsh, who added that AFSC also led efforts through the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council to find colleges and universities in Midwest and Eastern states willing to receive released Japanese Americans — it helped 4,000-plus students resettle to pursue their higher education at more than 600 institutions.

Additionally, AFSC established hostels, “which served as way stations for Japanese Americans released from their incarceration,” Marsh reported. “For anyone within a group stripped of their rights, their land and possessions, repatriating into society posed a difficult challenge. The AFSC hostel system, which was in Chicago, Iowa and other parts of the United States, allowed them to get established” while looking for work or locating family members.

Anti-Japanese Hatred
While the Quakers were the only organization supporting the Nikkei, racism and wartime hysteria created a climate of fear and anger in which persons of Japanese ancestry became the targets. “Fanning the flames of anti-Japanese hatred were groups such as the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, the American Legion, California Farm Bureau, the Hearst newspapers and others,” stated Bruce Embrey, event co-emcee and Manzanar Committee co-chair.

Among the targets was the family of Bill Shishima, who was born in Los Angeles in 1930. As a result of Executive Order 9066, his father lost a grocery store as well as a small hotel he operated in Los Angeles in pre-war days. “The executive order gave the military the power to move or remove anyone anywhere for the security of the United States,” he recalled. “We found out who ‘anyone’ was. It was anyone of Japanese ancestry, alien and U.S. citizens alike.”

By May of 1942, tens of thousands of Nikkei were rounded up by the U.S. Army. Shishima’s family boarded buses for removal to the Santa Anita Race Track assembly center in Arcadia, Calif. accompanied by armed guards with fixed bayonets. “Our family lived in the parking lot barracks, while my grandparents lived in the horse stables. I hated to go visit them because of the stench in the horse stables.”

From Santa Anita, the Shishima family — the parents and five children — was sent to the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming, where dust storms often blanketed their living quarters, which were “about the size of a two-car garage,” Shishima recalled.

People had no privacy using the lavatories, Shishima griped. “The women’s restroom had no doors separating the toilet stalls, only a partition, while the men’s toilets were out in the open. We had to do our personal business sitting side by side.”

The incarceration led to the breakup of some family units, because different family members went to the mess hall at different times and sat with their own friends, he said of the difficulties resulting from captivity. “We didn’t have the chance to discuss family matters over the dinner table,” Shishima said.

During World War II, of the 120,000 Japanese Americans incarcerated in the various camps, 78 percent were American citizens, noted Shishima, a volunteer at the Japanese American National Museum. “There were no charges against us, no due process of law. We were incarcerated because of our Japanese ancestry. I was a citizen and my parents were aliens ineligible for U.S. citizenship. We were all classified as enemy aliens.”

To add insult to injury the government imposed the controversial so-called “loyalty questionnaire” on all male inmates older than 17. Question 27 asked if they were willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States “on combat duty, wherever ordered?” Question 28 asked if they would “swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance to the Japanese emperor …”

“If my father foreswore allegiance to Japan, he would be a man without a country, since he couldn’t become an American citizen,” Shishima complained.

Heart Mountain had more than 600 young men who fought for America, and one was a former student body president killed in action in Europe in 1944. There were also 85 young men from Heart Mountain who resisted the draft on the grounds that they were not free citizens.

After the war ended in 1945, his family returned to the West Coast, Shishima remembered. “To assist us, the government gave us a ticket worth $8 for meals and also $25 to get resettled,” Shishima said.

In 1952, with changes to racist laws that had previously banned non-whites from naturalization, Japanese immigrants, including Shishima’s Issei parents, became eligible for U.S. citizenship. After being in the U.S. for over 40 years, his parents gained their American citizenship in 1953.

By the 1970s, Nikkei activists had begun the campaign to win redress for the wartime injustices. The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians held hearings in 1981 and gathered testimony from former wartime inmates and government officials. The CWRIC issued a final report concluding that the forced removal and incarceration of persons of Japanese ancestry occurred not for national security but because of racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and the failure of government leaders, and recommended redress.

When President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act in 1988, former Nikkei inmates received an official apology from the White House and $20,000 as compensation for their wartime incarceration.

“As Americans, it’s important for us to remember the fragility of civil liberties,” emphasized Shishima. “We must remain vigilant in protecting the rights and freedom of all.”

Unique American Story
“We, as a community, have accomplished so much in our long struggle for redress,” exclaimed Embrey, son of Manzanar Committee co-founder Sue Kunitomi Embrey. “We’ve had presidents apologize, law students study the coram nobis cases, and the names of Korematsu, Hirabayashi and Yasui re-emerge in legal briefs.”

Yet today, despite all the Japanese American community has accomplished, “political leaders, decorated generals and shameless politicians … wonder out loud if the mass incarceration of the Japanese American community was justified,” Embrey warned. “Today, places of worship are attacked, all in the name of national defense. Just like in 1942, sharing the same religion or simply looking like the enemy is justification enough.”

The Japanese American story is a unique American story, he said. “We demanded redress, a right guaranteed by our Constitution. It was the Bill of Rights that guaranteed our due process of redress, the same Bill of Rights that was trampled upon when we were locked away in the desolate areas of our country. We placed our faith in the very laws that were denied to us years before, and it was a decades-long struggle waged in the courts, in the halls of Congress and on the dusty remains of places like Manzanar, Tule Lake and Poston.”

Embrey declared, “We stand here today and say ‘Never again. Not to Muslim Americans, not to Arab Americans, not to anyone anywhere.’ This is why we remember today. We remember so that America will not forget,”

Sponsoring organizations for Day of Remembrance included the Manzanar Committee, JACL Pacific Southwest District, Japanese American National Museum and Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress.

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