Catching up with former Rep. Mike Honda on the importance of Day of Remembrance


Mike Honda. file photo by Andy Frazer

Mike Honda. file photo by Andy Frazer

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, who as an elected official over the past two decades has joined San Jose’s Japantown in commemorating the Day of Remembrance nearly every year, recently attended the Feb. 18 event marking the 76th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066. That order by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt put the wheels into motion to forcibly remove some 120,000 persons of Japanese descent from the West Coast into American concentration camps, including a young Honda himself.

After the event held at the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin annex — at which he was recognized for his political leadership over the years — Honda, who served in the California state Assembly and as a Santa Clara Supervisor prior to Congress, talked briefly with the Nichi Bei Weekly about the importance of the Day of Remembrance commemoration. He also discussed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 — which granted redress and reparations to the surviving Japanese Americans who were deprived of civil liberties during World War II — and the state of civil liberties today.

Nichi Bei Weekly: Why do you think these Day of Remembrance programs are still important?
Mike Honda: And growing. I think that the message of the effects of the (EO) 9066 and the realization of what it had really done to the community resonates across other communities of the diaspora more so today (than since 9/11). If it were not for the Redress Movement and for the passage of HR 442, this realization in the halls of Congress would have not existed. Even though it wasn’t 100 percent supported, it passed, was signed into law, and became an American experience and American lesson. But it’s more important now that more and more people understand what it means to their own community and they grasp it, and hang onto it, tightly and exercise the rights of citizenship and make sure the Constitution is irrevocable. Even with President Trump and his cronies trying to diminish and distract us from the goal of attaining equal rights.

NBW: Do you think the lesson of incarceration and redress is being lost upon this Congress, though?
MH: I don’t think so. Those who keep pursuing the questions that need to be pursued like (special counsel Robert) Mueller, (Deputy Attorney General Rod) Rosenstein, and the fact that we have more media out there — on both sides of the center, right and left, trying to convince people that they’re right — is an indication that the lessons are still strong. The point, though, has to be that the community and citizens has to keep focus on what this is really all about, and not to be distracted and dissuaded by all this nonsense that Trump is putting out. He’s trying to use the power of the pulpit. But I think that when people get together like Day of Remembrance we can pound the pulpit to powder and make sure that Trump really understands that he can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

NBW: So you’re hopeful that people take the lessons of civil liberties to heart?
MH: I’m hopeful only when people continue to teach, learn and re-teach. You know this whole thing about incarceration, it’s not only about race, it’s about economy, greed and using race as a tool to acquire the kinds of things that people envied that Japanese Americans had created — wealth, turning around unproductive land into productivity. The same thing is happening today. The working people and middle class don’t understand that there’s a great gulf of inequity in what people in the middle class earns and what the one percent earns. It’s not about race, it’s about economy and it’s about the acquisition of more wealth and power. … They use us all the time, and we’ve got to be aware of that.

NBW: So we have to be vigilant?
MH: Yeah. Not only fight back because racism is not acceptable, racial profiling is not acceptable, but not to be so distracted about that so that we don’t see that the other hand is grabbing money, grabbing power, grabbing influence and trying to create this disparity. As long as we keep our communities together and maintain a commonality of understanding of what we need to focus on, we’ll be OK. But it’s not without struggle. This is not new; it happened when (John) Adams was President. They incarcerated people based upon nationality. … The Alien Sedition Act of 1798 is still on the books, and we have to get rid of it. That’s the basis of justifying their actions …

NBW: You’re the chair of Red to Blue. How is that going? Do you think that there’s a faint chance that Congress will turn to Democrats this year? Certainly, California Republicans are dropping like flies.
MH: Well, they are retiring. That’s what’s making our job easier. Out of the seven (California House Republicans) that’s identified, three are retiring. Now we can focus our resources on the other four, turn them around, and hope that the other three (Democrats) can take that opportunity and win those seats. … (Democrats need to) share their resources, and not split it. The Democrats have not been playing smart. They’ve been using their own money for their own level, but not looking at it as a team.

NBW: There are a couple of Asian American Democrats running for Congress in California, there’s Dr. Mai-Khanh Tran, whose Republican opponent Ed Royce just dropped out, and in Devin Nunes’ district, an Asian American named Andrew Janz is running as a Democrat. What do you think of their chances?
MH: Our job is going to be, as Red to Blue, will be to train, support them in their efforts, and make sure that they get resources to them. And also help them, according to their own will, develop their message and (make sure) that they don’t fall into the trap of raising money only and spending them on the traditional methods of campaigning, but to tailor that to their own community. … When you do that, you have a better showing. Those are the communities that you have to tailor your message. …. We have not been good at delivering that message well.

NBW: Do you think the Nunes seat is in play?
MH: I think he’s going to be vulnerable. And as Mueller goes along, he might be able to show what a clown Nunes is. The Democrats have to understand how powerful the (House) Intelligence Committee can be if (Rep. Adam) Schiff becomes chair. He’s smart, he’s precise, and he’s diligent, and he will go after the information.

NBW: What else are you up to these days?
MH: I’m working with the Muslim community … The president of Turkey is trying to deport all these Muslims from different Muslim countries out of those countries back into Turkey where he can incarcerate them. He’s incarcerated over 120,000 Muslims … That’s contrary to a good democracy. The president of Turkey, (Tayyip) Erdogan, is a nationalist, and he’s going to drive Turkey right into the ground.

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