RABBIT RAMBLINGS: Reminders of gross injustices

bioline_Chizu OmoriAs we approach February 19, we will again commemorate the date of the signing of the Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942, the official order that set into motion the incarceration of the Pacific Coast population of American Japanese for the duration of World War II. In the Bay Area, this will be the 40th year of such an observance, and I wonder how much longer we will be doing this.

I was living in Seattle when what has become known as the first of these days of remembrance took place at Puyallup Fairgrounds, the place that became the assembly center for the population in the Pacific Northwest. It was first organized to call attention to those events in our history, and it caught the imagination of so many people that it became an annual ritual. I did not attend that first gathering, but soon became active in the Redress Movement that soon followed. And since then, I have participated in many of these solemn occasions in Seattle and in San Francisco.

This year, I will attend the San Jose Day of Remembrance as a speaker. As I think about what to say, I wonder what will happen after my generation, the camp generation, has faded away. We’re dying off and in a few years, none of us will be left. Will there be the will in the community to continue holding Day of Remembrance events?

I have long felt that this day should not be something that is solely for the Americans of Japanese ancestry, but really a day for all Americans to better understand our history, to mark the time when our government decided to round up and lock up a part of its population solely on the basis of being of Japanese descent. Yes, Japan and the U.S. were at war, but Pearl Harbor certainly had no connection to any of us living on U.S. soil, and the government knew at the time that most of us were harmless. I can only conclude that it was racism at the bottom of it all. Somehow, the American people, the American government and the American courts decided that we weren’t Americans, that we couldn’t be trusted, that somehow we were a threat.

How all of that could have happened just seems absurd when looked at from today’s vantage, but it really happened to me, to 120,000 of us. So, based on my own past experience, I can state that I think that such a thing, or something quite like it, could quite easily happen again.

It is quite striking to hear the language used by our president to demonize some people, like the brown people coming from Central and South America as rapists, criminals, drug dealers, and such. He considers people from the Middle East, including many who have lived in the U.S. for years, as potential terrorists, bombers, untrustworthy and dangerous. This language is quite like that which was used back in 1941, labeling us potential saboteurs, sly, inscrutable treacherous beings that didn’t deserve the protections of citizenship. According to then-California Attorney General Earl Warren, the fact that no acts of sabotage had been committed indicated that we were sneakily preparing to commit terrible acts.
Whipping up suspicion, fear and loathing seems to work every time. Now it seems that we have to build a wall and putting in travel bans to keep some persons out.

How do we combat this paranoid style of conducting politics? One thing that we can do is to keep reminding this country that nothing positive can come from scapegoating whole groups of persons in this way. We are living proof that, if not checked, such sentiments can lead to gross injustice and great harm to individuals. Days of Remembrance are reminders.

Chizu Omori, of Oakland, is co-producer of the award-winning film “Rabbit in the Moon.” She can be reached at chizuomori@gmail.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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