CAPAC Members Reflect on Japanese Latin American Experience During WWII

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WASHINGTON — Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) released the following statements on Feb. 19 regarding the Japanese Latin American experience during World War II in conjunction with this year’s Day of Remembrance:

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), CAPAC chair: “Taking ownership of past mistakes is the only way to apologize for wrongs committed and ensure that they never happen again. While many Americans may be familiar with the history of race-based internment camps during World War II, most are not aware that the U.S. government also removed 2,300 men, women and children of Japanese descent from their homes in Latin American countries. These innocents were unfoundedly relocated from their homes and lives to be used for hostage negotiations with Japan.

“As we mark 25 years since the signing of the Civil Liberties Act in apology and reparation for Executive Order 9066, we must not forget that the basic human and civil rights of Japanese Latin Americans were negated and that full redress has yet to occur.”

Japanese Peruvians in the Panama Canal Zone, en route to internment camps in the U.S., on April 2, 1942. (National Archives/National Japanese American Historical Society)

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), House Democratic Caucus chairman: “As we remember the internment of our fellow Americans of Japanese descent during World War II, let us not forget the thousands of Japanese Latin Americans forcefully relocated, expatriated and interned as well in these camps. We must continue working to fully redress this grave injustice. And we must work to ensure that our nation’s history fully accounts for this painful chapter.”

Rep. Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-Guam), CAPAC vice chair: “The unjust detainment of more than 2,000 individuals of Japanese descent who were living in Latin American countries during World War II was a dark chapter in our nation’s history. I join my colleagues and our global community in recognizing Japanese Latin American Day of Remembrance. It is incumbent on us to learn from past mistakes to ensure these injustices do not happen again.”

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside), CAPAC whip: “During World War II, over 2,000 Japanese Latin Americans were removed from their homes, held captive, deported to America, and in some cases, used in prisoner negotiations with Japan. Today is a day for us to remember this injustice and promise to never allow this type of mistake again. Our civil liberties are sacred and by shedding light on this dark period, we can continue to heal and move forward to a more perfect union for all Americans.”

Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose), CAPAC chair emeritus: “Even as we remember and learn from the experiences of the Japanese, Italian and German Americans who were placed into internment camps during World War II, we must also remember the experiences of Japanese Latin Americans who were unjustly and inhumanely treated during this same time. 2,300 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry were extricated from across 13 Latin American countries and brought to the U.S., and subsequently placed in internment camps and used as pawns in exchange for POWs in the Pacific.

“I cannot emphasize enough that the lessons of those dark days in our nation’s history are critical today, more than ever before. America showed great maturity when it honorably redressed its wartime transgression to the Japanese Americans, including my family. Let us do the same for the Japanese Latin Americans. As Americans, and as global citizens, we must continue to find our voices and speak out against injustices, here and abroad.”

Rep. Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa): “The wartime treatment of individuals of Japanese ancestry in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor affected not only Japanese Americans but also men, women, and children of Japanese descent from Latin American countries. Over 2,000 Japanese individuals from these countries were forcefully removed and confined to internment camps simply because of their race. Let us remember these tragedies to reflect on the importance of civil and political freedoms in our international diplomacy, and to make certain this type of treatment never happens again.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland): “Throughout World War II, thousands of Latin Americans of Japanese ancestry were taken from their homes and held captive in U.S. internment camps. On this Day of Remembrance, we must condemn these deplorable actions and ensure that we never fall so short of our American ideals ever again.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.): “The acts that were committed against Latin Americans of Japanese ancestry by our government during World War II were unjust. Today we pause to remember those who suffered, and we must let their memory serve as a reminder that such acts must never be tolerated.”

During World War II, the United States relocated approximately 2,300 men, women, and children of Japanese descent from Latin American countries, including Peru, and held them in internment camps on American soil. From 1941 to 1945, these individuals were used in hostage exchanges, orchestrated by the U.S. government, that often resulted in their deportation to Japan or other Axis countries.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, granting redress to Japanese Americans interned during the war, but this did not include Japanese Latin Americans. Ten years later, following a class-action lawsuit, the U.S. government offered settlements of $5,000 to Japanese Latin Americans (in contrast to the $20,000 offered to Japanese Americans) and a letter of regret.

“Despite all this, the official narrative on this troubling period remains incomplete,” CAPAC said in a statement. “There are hundreds of people of Japanese, German and Italian descent who have yet to receive appropriate redress.”

 

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