The following speech was given before the South Coast Interfaith Council on Nov. 4. During its 41st annual Interfaith Concert, SCIC honored Sahara for cultivating communities of compassion and justice.
I want to thank the South Coast Interfaith Council for this wonderful award. I want to accept this award on behalf of the members our group called Save Our Nation, who worked so hard to make our country a better country.
I want to explain how our group started. Two years ago, politicians started saying, “Register the Muslims” and “Expel the Hispanic immigrants.”
I remember that this is how it was for the Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. In 1942 when I was 8 years old, I was sent to Santa Anita Assembly Center. That was a camp in Arcadia, which is right next to Pasadena.
Santa Anita was a racetrack that was converted into a prison. 8,000 people lived in horse stalls in the stables and 10,000 people lived in barracks that were hastily constructed on the huge parking lot. My father, my mother, my three sisters and I lived in one room in a barrack. The room was about 25’ x 20’. When you put in six beds in the room, it became really crowded.
For the 18,000 people, there were only six mess halls. That meant 3,000 people ate their breakfast, lunch and dinner at each mess hall. That meant long lines at every meal. The government spent 43 cents per day for our food. For the 18,000 people, there were only six shower buildings.
When we first went to Santa Anita, there was toilet paper hanging next to the commodes in the latrines. After a while, the government decided the Japanese were wasting their toilet paper. So the government decided to issue each person one roll of toilet paper a week and now you brought your toilet paper to the latrine.
The government decided that the sanitation of the camp would be improved if people aired their mattress out in the sun. So every Saturday, we had to bring our mattress outside to have the sun shine on it. It was very difficult for my father to bring out six beds and six mattresses every Saturday.
While we were standing next to our bed out in the sun, a truck would drive by and a young man on the truck would toss a roll of toilet paper on each mattress.
What I hated the most was the overflowing of the sewage. Santa Anita was in the City of Arcadia and Arcadia did not have a sewer system. Each house in Arcadia had a septic tank. So in Santa Anita, each latrine had a septic tank. So with 18,000 people living there, the septic tanks could not handle it and there was overflow of the sewage. It was ugly and smelly.
In 1980, Congress established a commission to look into the incarceration of the Japanese people during WWII. After several years of study, the commission concluded that there was no military necessity for the incarceration. The commission stated that the incarceration of the people of Japanese ancestry during WWII was due to racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and failure of political leadership.
We all thought that this would never happen again. But it happened again this year. Along our southern border, young children were taken from their mothers and put in cages. These cages were built in old Walmart stores. The cages had cyclone fence on the sides and cyclone fence on the top. The cages were too small for the number of boys in it, so they did not have any beds. The boys slept on the floor.
Girls were flown to New York City and other northern cities at night so that the people at the airports would not see what was going on.
In Texas, they built tent cities for the young boys. These facilities were run by private companies. Corporations were making huge profits running these prisons.
So, what are the differences between now and 76 years ago?
I was with my parents and sisters every day while these children are separated from their parents.
I lived in a barrack while these boys live in cages or tents.
I slept on a bed every night while these boys sleep on the floor.
There is, however, one significant difference from 76 years ago.
In 1942, when people of Japanese ancestry were forced to go to camp, the Japanese had no support. The labor unions, the churches, civil rights groups, ACLU – nobody supported the Japanese. Only the Quakers supported the Japanese.
This time when the government is misbehaving, many groups are opposing the government. These groups are supporting the Muslim and Hispanic people. These groups are churches, such as Faith United Methodist Church, civil rights group such as the Japanese American Citizen League, grassroots organization such as Save Our Nation and the South Coast Interfaith Council.
I want to thank you again for this honor.
Kanji Sahara is a member of Greater Los Angeles JACL, Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, Manzanar Committee and Faith United Methodist Church; a Japanese American National Museum docent; and was project director of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition’s traveling exhibit. The Rafu Shimpo’s management and staff continually strive to maintain high editorial standards for professionalism as well as accurate and balanced news coverage. The inclusion of a particular piece, including columns and op-ed submissions by contributing writers in print and/or digitally, does not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the owners, management, individual staff members, and editors. The Rafu Shimpo welcomes responses to any article published in print or digitally. Responses may be sent to author directly or emailed to [email protected]