L.A. Day of Remembrance speaker urges Nikkei to resist hate-mongering

SPEAKING OUT ON UNFINISHED BUSINESS — NCRR members, including co-founder Alan Nishio, in center, and friends at the Los Angeles Day of Remembrance Feb. 17. photo by Mario G. Reyes courtesy of NCRR

LOS ANGELES — Stand up to resist the hate-mongering and violence targeting immigrants and Muslims, was the message activist Alan Nishio delivered to the 300-plus people attending the 2018 Day of Remembrance Feb. 17 at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.

The annual Day of Remembrance event commemorates President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942, resulting in the expulsion of all persons of Japanese descent from the West Coast and their incarceration in United States concentration camps.

This year’s event, titled “The Victory and … The Unfinished Business,” recounted the history of Japanese in America from the wartime incarceration, through the redress campaign that culminated in the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (granting redress and an apology to Japanese American inmates), and recognized that more needs to be done to bring about justice for all.

Feelings of Powerlessness

Shortly after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, more than 120,000 Japanese Americans were stripped of their constitutional rights and locked up in concentration camps for up to three-and-a-half years. When they were finally released following the war, a disheartened people, burdened by feelings of guilt, shame and powerlessness, had to make new lives for themselves, usually in an atmosphere of racial hostility.

Some Nikkei in the postwar resettlement period were able to resume the lives they led before the war. However, most were left with few assets to help them resettle during a time of housing shortages and strong anti-Japanese feelings. Many Nikkei who lost everything found postwar homes in trailer camps provided by the government — near defense industry factories in Burbank, Hawthorne, El Segundo, Long Beach, among others. Ironically, in the early days of the war, anti-Japanese zealots had made unfounded accusations that Japanese immigrants deliberately occupied land close to defense industries, military bases or public utilities to spy on them.

Through hard work and perseverance, Japanese Americans overcame race-based opposition, started new lives, and gradually achieved middle-class status.

In time, their Sansei offspring became curious about what happened to their parents and grandparents during the war. And by 1969, they started organizing pilgrimages to former concentration camp sites at Manzanar in the Eastern California desert and Tule Lake in Northern California.

To ensure that people would remember the human rights violations that devastated Japanese Americans, activists started Day of Remembrance events in various cities around the country. The growing awareness of the injustices perpetrated by the government against the Nikkei led to the campaign to win redress for those who were unjustly uprooted and incarcerated.

Cannot Remain Silent
Manzanar-born Nishio, co-founder of Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress who participated in anti-war and civil rights movements in the 1960s, declared that no movement was “more significant for my personal life than that of redress. What the 50 years has taught me is the true appreciation of the power of the grassroots movement … The people’s movement got us redress. Let’s not forget that.”

Noting the powerlessness and shame that the Nikkei felt as they were rounded up and locked up in camps, he commented. “It’s a feeling … that many today, particularly the Muslims and immigrants, feel at the hands of the Trump administration.”

For many Japanese Americans who testified at the 1981 Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians hearings, that was the first time they talked about their camp experiences, Nishio said. “Their feelings of shame and embarrassment … became feelings of indignation and anger.”

If Japanese Americans had not won redress, “many Issei and Nisei would have died without redemption,” he said. “The incarceration would remain a little-known chapter in history, and the revisionists would insist that we were put in camps for our own protection.”

Nishio warned that the incarceration story is “a cautionary tale” not only for Japanese Americans, but it’s about what could happen to any group that is persecuted “in the name of national security.”

The community must stand up when others are attacked, he exclaimed. “In the current environment of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim scapegoating … the Nikkei cannot remain silent.”

This year is “a critical time for our society — for women, immigrants and people of color — as we see the rise of hate violence, the disdain of civil liberties,” Nishio stressed. “Stand up for what you believe in … Join the resistance.”

Inspired by DOR
Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, California’s only Japanese American state legislator, sponsored AB 491, which was signed into law last year, allowing the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program to encourage the teaching in California of the Nikkei incarceration experience “by connecting our experience with the experience of Muslim Americans, of Dreamers and others so the rest of America can learn from the Japanese American experience,” he explained.

Acknowledging the 30th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, Muratsuchi said, “For me, the passing of the historic act and the Redress Movement that led to the passing of this act will always be one of the greatest examples of the potential to achieve justice through the democratic process.”

Muratsuchi, who attended his first DOR 30 years ago in San Francisco’s Japantown while he was a University of California, Berkeley student, paid tribute to redress activist Tsuyako “Sox” Kitashima, whom he described as “a little old Nisei lady who was a fighter. She was a symbol of what can be accomplished by everyday regular people who … come together and fight for justice. I hope DOR inspires all of you … just as I was inspired many years ago.”

Unfinished Business
Richard Katsuda of NCRR reminded everyone of unfinished business: during World War II, almost 2,300 Nikkei were abducted from their homes in Latin America, in a scheme orchestrated by the U.S. in concert with Latin American nations. With their citizenship papers taken away, they were incarcerated for the duration of the war at Crystal City, Texas, and classified as illegal aliens.

The Civil Liberties Act stipulated that redress eligibility required one to be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States. “While Japanese Americans were receiving their well-deserved reparations, Japanese Latin Americans were denied their redress,” Katsuda pointed out. “Many of us in the Japanese American community were outraged and formed a group called the Campaign for Justice for Japanese Latin Americans in 1996. In 1998, after battling with the Department of Justice, we were able to secure a settlement for the Japanese Latin Americans for the amount of $5,000 reparations for each individual. That’s one-fourth of what Japanese Americans received for their incarceration during World War II. Art Shibayama and his brothers opted out of that settlement and sued the government to try to get equitable redress for Japanese Latin Americans.”

Katsuda asked the audience to support the Shibayamas and keep up the fight for Japanese Latin Americans.

No Aiko, No Redress
Among the DOR spectators was Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, who investigated the U.S. government’s wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans and uncovered the only copy of the Western Defense Command’s final report that proved there was no military necessity to expel and incarcerate Japanese Americans during the war.

Her discoveries led the CWRIC to recommend reparations to former Nikkei incarcerees. Her work also led to victories for the Korematsu, Hirabayashi and Yasui coram nobis cases, as their wartime convictions were reversed.

Redress activists have stated, “If not for Aiko, there would be no redress.”

Herzig-Yoshinaga told Nichi Bei Weekly about her research work, “I couldn’t have done what I did without the help of so many people. I learned a lot and I’m happy to share what I learned … I wanted to do it to make people feel comfortable about looking at papers and finding out the truth.”

Herzig-Yoshinaga said of the DOR event, “I think this program helps educate the people, especially our own community which doesn’t know a whole lot except for their own personal experience. It’s good to share all these stories, and I think it’s our duty as parents to pass the word on.”

The event was presented by Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, Go For Broke National Education Center, Japanese American Citizens League-Pacific Southwest District, JANM, Manzanar Committee, Nikkei Progressives, Organization of Chinese Americans-Greater Los Angeles and Progressive Asian Network for Action.

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