AB 491, to educate public about Japanese American incarceration, passes committee


Al Muratsuchi. photo by Meeno

Al Muratsuchi. photo by Meeno

TORRANCE, Calif.  — Assembly Bill 491, legislation introduced by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi that would allocate $3 million in grants to the State Library to educate Californians about the World War II incarceration of  Japanese Americans, passed the Assembly Education Committee on March 22 by a unanimous vote of 7-0.

The bill designates $1 million each year from the general fund to the State Library for three consecutive fiscal years to extend funding for the State-run California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, announced Muratsuchi.

“The money will be used to develop educational programs and activities to not only educate Americans about the Japanese American incarceration but also about the historical parallels to what we see happening here today with President Trump’s recent executive orders on the basis of national origin and faith.”

The intent of Assembly Bill 491 is “to ensure that Americans learn the lessons of the incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, without due process of law,” stated the Assemblyman. “On this 75th anniversary of (President Franklin Roosevelt’s) Executive Order 9066, we are seeing modern day presidential executive orders targeting Muslims and refugees as threats to our national security. I believe that, now more than ever, every American needs to learn the lessons of the Japanese American incarceration, to understand that our Constitution should not allow any community to be targeted because of their national origin or faith.”

Supporting the bill is Barbara Takei of the Tule Lake Committee, a nonprofit organization that represents Japanese American survivors and descendants of those imprisoned during World War II at the Tule Lake concentration camp in Northern California.

That organization works to preserve that historic site.

“Given the echoes of 1942 and the rising climate of fear and racism targeting Muslims, immigrants and refugees, the work of the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program is more important than ever,” Takei stated in a Muratsuchi press release. “To ensure the mistakes of the past are not forgotten and not repeated, we are grateful that you have introduced AB 491 to continue the work of this valuable program.”

According to Muratsuchi, the State Library would administer the fund, and this program will continue the California Civil Liberties Public Education program that was originally established in 1988 through legislation authored by then-Assemblyman Mike Honda.

This program will continue to financially support the programs that have been funded since 1988 after passage by Congress of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

The appropriation for this CCLPEP stopped in 2011, although there was some funding that was restored last year. Passage of AB 491 would re-establish the CCLPEP at $1 million per year for the next three years.

“I believe that all Americans would benefit by learning the lessons of the Japanese American incarceration experience, so that we learn from the past and our nation doesn’t repeat one of the largest mass violations of civil liberties in our nation’s history against any other group,” said the only Nikkei member of the State Legislature.

Some schools are doing better than others in educating students about the Japanese American mass incarceration, Muratsuchi commented. “We have some outstanding work being done. Teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District have received training on how to incorporate lessons about the incarceration, highlighting the broader implications for the communities.”

Muratsuchi recently spoke with a young teacher from the LAUSD, Kurt Ikeda, who teaches in the MacArthur Park area, a community with a large population not only of Latino students but of undocumented students. “This teacher just finished reading ‘Farewell to Manzanar’ with his students, and they were discussing the atmosphere during World War II, when the FBI and government authorities were going door to door looking for Japanese Americans. Apparently there was an undocumented student who related that it was similar to the experience that his family was going through now. I think the lessons of the Japanese American incarceration are more relevant than ever.”

The Sansei legislator said he was aware of the Japanese American incarceration while going to high school, but didn’t gain a greater appreciation of it until he went to the University of California at Berkeley. “That’s when I was able to work with civil rights attorneys like Dale Minami in the 1980s and with the redress movement in the 1980s that started me going into politics.”

The next step for the legislation will be the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where the lower house legislators will consider the cost of the bill, according to Kerry Jacob of Muratsuchi’s office. Action on the bill will likely take place at the end of May. Then AB 491 proceeds to the full Assembly for a vote.

Proponents of AB 491 have started gathering the support of community organizations, Muratsuchi continued. “Not only is the JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) supporting the bill, but also CAIR (the Council on American Islamic Relations). We see this not as a bill for the Japanese American community, but for all Americans.”

Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi represents California’s 66th Assembly District, which includes neighborhoods such as Torrance, Gardena, parts of Los Angeles, Palos Verdes Peninsula cities, and other portions of Southern California’s South Bay area.

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