Remembrance for the Future

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Keynote speaker Dale Minami addresses the audience at the 2010 Day of Remembrance program held at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo on Saturday. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By JORDAN IKEDA
Rafu Staff Writer

“Let us remember the lessons. That justice is not self-executing. It is not a gift. It is a challenge,” keynote speaker Dale Minami said as he closed out his speech at Saturday’s Day of Remembrance 2010 program at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. “We cannot rely on our institutions alone to protect our rights.”

From veterans to former internees to Muslim American students, over 200 people were attendance at the 2010 Day of Remembrance Program at the Japanese American National Museum.  (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

From veterans to former internees to Muslim American students, over 200 people were attendance at the 2010 Day of Remembrance Program at the Japanese American National Museum. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

As eloquently explained by JANM’s Chris Komai and emcees 2009 Nisei Week Queen Dana Heatherton and Tony Osumi, the lessons of DOR 2010 have not changed in importance or meaning in the 68 years since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 and permitted the unconstitutional, forcible incarceration of 120,000 Japanese American citizens.

But as time continues to push forward, as the number of those who lived these experiences continues to dwindle, and as new generations wholly removed from World War II and internment push the JA community and America into the future, the manner in which the lessons of DOR are relayed have given birth to new forms of edification.

On Saturday, there was the artistic performance “Leaps of Faith,” emoted by a group of artists known as Great Leaps who used music, poetry, movement and personal story to help promote unity through diversity.

Members of Great Leaps, Cesar Dominguez, Saria Idana, Nobuko Miyamoto, Carla Vega, and George Tetsuo Abe, perform “Leaps of Faith,” a poetic weaving of stories, dance and music at DOR. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

There was the digital, when excerpts from the film “Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story” were shown in an effort to educate the DVD generation on the story of Fred Korematsu, who refused to obey Order 9066 and thus propelled himself into a lifelong struggle that not only ended up vindicating the Issei and Nisei generations, but also impressed itself upon the Sansei generation who eventually helped get his conviction overturned.

There was the personal, as Minami, one such Sansei and a “rockstar” attorney for Asian Pacific American civil rights, recounted his involvement in the historic Korematsu v. United States lawsuit that overturned a 40-year-old conviction, giving way to the government’s first public acknowledgement of its unconstitutional denial of rights to its own citizens during World War II and culminated in the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

And there was the physical, as each of the 200 in attendance Saturday were given a tag, recreated to resemble the ones that Japanese Americans heading for internment were given. Each tag held the name of one of the 60 camps, from the well known like Manzanar and Tule Lake, to the unfamiliar like Fort Bliss and Sand Island.

“I didn’t know there was a camp in Hawaii,” Nisei Week first princess Marisa Tamaru told the Rafu Shimpo. “I grew up in Hawaii and we never really talk about the internment or what happened to Japanese Americans because we were so isolated from it. But when I was sitting here on my card it said Sand Island, Hawaii. To me, it’s interesting to just hear the stories because I didn’t hear it growing up in the Islands.”

The 25-year-old Tamaru and the 22-year-old Miss Tomodachi Nicole Masuda who was also in attendance, were just two examples of the youth of today paying attention to their history. Others included a group from the Bridging Communities program that included both Japanese American and Muslim American students.

Nobuko Miyamoto, portraying the virgin Mary, embraces Carla Vega as the duo perform “Leaps of Faith.” (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

“I wanted to learn more,” said Sabrina Dahak of why she came to the DOR event. “I thought it was really surprising how similar the situations between the Muslims and the Japanese was. I wasn’t that knowledgeable about it. Seeing the relationship between the two hit me hard.”

“Growing up Muslim in America, I’ve gone through a lot of racism,” added 16-year-old Shehzaib Rahim about the similarities between what the Muslim community has undergone in the wake of 9/11 and what the JA community underwent nearly 70 years ago.

“I knew Japanese Americans dealt with racism because of Pearl Harbor,” he said, “but I didn’t know they dealt with such similar racism and such extreme racism. Some of it is even more extreme than what I go through.”

“I think the most important thing is to understand history and by understanding history you get a sense of who you are,” Minami told the Rafu Shimpo after the program. “By placing yourself within that flow of history, you can understand that what you are a part of is an evolving, growing community. That you are part of something larger. You can understand not only the struggles of your parents and grandparents, which gives you hope, which gives you strength, gives you knowledge, but you can understand looking forward, where you can go and what you can do.”

What the youth of today can do is an important process that will continue to expand the ways in which edification can and will take place. For example, Khadijah Abdul-aleem learned of Bridging Communities through the social networking website Facebook and thus ended up attending Saturday’s event.

Members of Bridging Communities learn about the similarities between Muslim and Japanese American persecution. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

“I think this is a perfect example of making the younger generation know,” said Nada Mahoud another Bridging Communities student. “Each person who learns something new can go to someone else who doesn’t know about it and tell them. It would just spread that way.”

Of course, even the most sage and well-versed amongst the community continue to appreciate DOR. Take for instance Louise Sakamoto, a member of the Singles Chapter of JACL.

“With each event,” she said, “With each speech, I learn more and more.”

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4 Comments

  1. German Americans and Italian Americans were also interned. Many German Americans were in the same camps as the Japanese Americans. And the Day of Remembrance was established to acknowledge the internment of all those who were interned; not just Japanese Americans!

    See http://www.foitimes.com for more detail on the internment of German Americans.

  2. Thanks for the info. Did a story about the internment of German and Italian Americans at Crystal City and other places a year ago after I attended a conference in Denver. It certainly is important to remember everyone who was interned.

  3. We at the Rafu appreciate any and all who are interested and take the time to read and respond to our stories. The original story didn’t make it online, and it was published in July 2008. Here it is if you want to read it.

    Crystal Clear

    JANM National Conference covers enemy alien internment.

    By Jordan Ikeda/Rafu Staff Writer
    ===
    Within the Japanese American community, the World War II internment stands as a symbol.

    To the Sansei, Yonsei and even Gosei generations, it is a testament to the will and courage and tenacity of their predecessors.

    To those who lived through it, internment represents an extended moment of those same virtues, as well as a time of loss, a time of community growth.

    To those outside of the community, internment often represents nothing. Despite being a dark period in American history, a time filled with bigotry, social injustice, and fear, it goes widely unknown.

    What it should be is a lesson. One that should not be forgotten, that should be taught and learned, and one that should never be repeated.

    It took many years for people to start talking and doing something about what happened. Finally, in 1988 Japanese Americans found some form of resolution.

    Unfortunately, much like the wink American history books give Japanese American internment or anything that sullies the ideal of the “American dream,” the stories of the thousands of others who were interned have gone untold and unknown.

    Over this past 4th of July weekend, the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) held its National Conference in Denver, Colo. and focused on the theme, “Whose America? Who’s American? Diversity, Civil Liberties, and Social Justice.”

    Among the many panels featured at the event was one that addressed enemy alien internment, focalized through the lens of the Crystal City internment camp which housed not only Japanese Americans, but also Japanese, Germans, and Italians from over a dozen Latin American countries.

    The panel speakers included: Karen Ebel, daughter of a German enemy alien internee, and the President of the German American Internee Coalition (GAIC); Yae Aihara, a former internee at Crystal City; and Grace Shimizu, the leading organizer for the documentation of the WWII rendition experience of former Japanese Latin American internees and their redress struggle as well as a member of Campaign for Justice.

    “As much as is known about the Japanese Americans, virtually nothing is known about the Germans and Italians,” said Ebel. “Their experience should not be ignored or minimized.”

    On June 29, 1940, the Alien Registration Act was passed by Congress. It required all alien residents in the United States over the age of 14 to file a comprehensive statement of their personal and occupational status and a record of their political beliefs.

    Due to this act, 600,000 Italians, 300,000 Germans and 100,000 Japanese were subsequently designated “enemy aliens” restricting travel and property ownership rights.

    What followed mirrors the Japanese American experience. FBI raids and ransacking of homes; arrests with no warrants; imprisonment with minimal due process; mass internment with no reason given; families separated; homes and property lost; U.S. citizens placed in camps; deportation, expatriation and repatriation of Americans, aliens and U.S. citizens.

    Many of these people found themselves at Crystal City, that at its peak housed 4,000 internees. Japanese, Germans and Italians.

    “In 1945, the government made a 45 minute movie of Crystal City internment camp, making it look like a resort, showing well-cared for internees merrily going about their business,” Ebel said. “The film did not reflect reality.”

    While the camp did boast family living units, it was characterized by governing policies and actions very much like the civil and human rights violations suffered by immigrant communities in the post-9/11 United States.

    The incarceration of people within the borders of the United States is an embarrassing and sickening aspect of American history that is slowly being realized and accounted for.

    However, there were thousands that were uprooted from their lives from the countries surrounding the United States. From December 1941 to February 1948, the U.S. government orchestrated and financed the mass abduction and forcible deportation of 2,264 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry as well as 4,058 of German ancestry living in Latin America.

    Many of those incarcerated were used as hostages in exchange for Americans being held by Japan or behind enemy lines in Europe. Over 800 Japanese Latin Americans were included in two prisoner of war exchanges between the U.S. and Japan.

    “What many of us have known as the WWII Japanese American incarceration, is now put into a broader international context of mass relocation, internment, and forced deportation of persons of Japanese, German and Italian ancestry,” said Shimizu. “It shows a shocking picture of how the U.S. Government initiated and orchestrated a conscious, systematic, planned program of massive civil rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity spanning two continents before, during and after WWII.”

    After the war, the U.S. government worked hard to repatriate these prisoners instead of allowing them to return to their chosen country. Many never returned home. 900 Japanese Latin Americans were deported to Japan while an unknown number of German Latin Americans were forced back to Germany.

    So what has been done? What can be done? What is being done?

    In 1996, a class action lawsuit Mochizuki v. U.S.A. was filed against the U.S. government on behalf of all Japanese Latin American internees who were denied redress because they weren’t citizens. A settlement was reached that provided an official apology and $5,000 reparations.

    Campaign for Justice is a collaborative effort by individuals and organizations including American Civil Liberties Union-Southern California, Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, and the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project.

    The organization is currently seeking comprehensive legislation that would serve to fulfill the education and compensation mandate of the Civil Liberties Act and to resolve the unfinished business of redress.

    Under the direction of Ebel, GAIC is currently working on getting Congress to pass the Wartime Treatment Study Act that would establish two commissions. One commission would review the U.S. government’s WWII policies regarding European Americans and European Latin Americans and related civil liberties violations. The second commission would review the U.S. government’s refusal to allow Jewish refugees fleeing persecution entry into the U.S. during WWII.

    “The impact of these violations has been long lasting in our families and in our communities and has current day significance for our democratic institutions and freedoms,” said Shimizu. “For us its very significant because our story is a hidden, or marginalized part of the Nikkei community’s history and it is a suppressed part of U.S. history.”

    “Recognizing all of the ethnic groups affected by WWII policies adds power to the argument that our civil liberties must be protected during crises,” said Ebel. “It doesn’t detract. Its study is long overdue.”

    Fittingly, German philosopher George Wilhelm Hegel once wrote, “What experience and history teach is this—that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles.”

    In this matter, it is important that history be heard, be made known.

    History needs clarity.

    For more information about Campaign for Justice visit http://www.campaignforjusticejla.org or email [email protected]. For more information about the German American Coalition visit http://www.gaic.info or email [email protected].

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