Some Unfinished Business

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Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas looks on as George Takei shares his memories of living in the horse stables of Santa Anita during a meeting of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

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CITY NEWS SERVICE

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday rescinded and revoked a 1942 resolution that urged the forcible relocation of Japanese Americans to internment camps.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas recommended the action.

“To ignore this and to treat it as unfinished business is to trivialize it,’’ Ridley-Thomas said. “It’s never too late to do the right thing.’’

The original resolution, approved the month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, called on the federal government to use force to remove people of Japanese ancestry from Los Angeles and hold them involuntarily.

At the time, Ridley-Thomas said, the Board of Supervisors governed the nation’s largest population of Japanese Americans — about 37,000 people, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens — and “gave aid and comfort to a decision-making process clouded by hysteria and bigotry.’’

President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, providing for the detention of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast. The camps were not closed until three years later, shortly before Germany’s surrender.

Several Japanese Americans, including some who lived in the camps, testified before the board.

Actor George Takei, famous for his role as Sulu on “Star Trek,” told of being taken at the age of 5 with his family to the Santa Anita Racetrack and moved into horse stables still reeking of manure.

“My mother remembers it as the most degrading and humiliating experience of her life,’’ Takei said.

Though Takei said he recalled the time through the innocent eyes of a child, he told of guard towers with machine guns, searchlights that followed him to the latrine at night, and classes in a tarpaper schoolhouse where he would recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

“I could see the machine guns and the barbed wire fences … while I recited the words ‘with liberty and justice for all,’’’ Takei said.

Many of the speakers recalled the bravery of Japanese Americans who fought as part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated Army unit that included volunteers from the camps. Even as the soldiers risked their lives for their country, their families were forced to remain in the camps.

County Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka, a Sansei, thanked the supervisors after their unanimous vote to rescind the resolution.

Fujioka said his grandfather was one of the first to be detained and was first taken to Leavenworth prison, though no charges were filed against him. Fujioka’s father was forced to leave UC Berkeley to relocate to the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming.

From left: Rose Ochi, Bill Watanabe and Don Nose were among the Japanese American community leaders who offered comments. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Despite such treatment, Fujioka’s father volunteered for military duty with the 442nd and was decorated for his service.

The 442nd were the “first military personnel that came upon Dachau (the Nazi death camp in Germany), and it was Japanese Americans that liberated that camp,’’ Fujioka told the audience through a burst of tears.

Many of the speakers said the board’s action was not just as a way to acknowledge past wrongs but to remind people of the dangers of bias, whether related to race, religion or sexual orientation.

Bill Watanabe was born at Manzanar, perhaps the most well-known of the camps, and is retiring after serving as executive director of the Little Tokyo Service Center since 1979.

Watanabe said revoking the resolution would sound an important message that “whether you wear a turban or a hoodie … your rights will always be respected.’’

Rose Ochi, executive director of the California Forensic Science Institute, was instrumental in establishing Manzanar as a National Historic Site. She thanked Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who previously served on the Los Angeles City Council, for his help with the Manzanar project and Supervisor Mike Antonovich for helping to put a commemorative plaque at Santa Anita Park, site of a wartime assembly center.

Bruce Embrey spoke on behalf of the Manzanar Committee, and Antonovich told him he had fond memories of his mother, the late Sue Kunitomi Embrey, who chaired the committee and co-founded the Manzanar Pilgrimage.

Salam Al-Marayati, founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, thanked the Japanese American community for speaking out against racial profiling of Arab and Muslim Americans immediately following the 9/11 attacks.

Jon Kaji, past president of the USC Asian Pacific Alumni Association, applauded recent actions to recognize past injustices against Japanese Americans, such as USC’s awarding of honorary degrees to Nisei who were unable to graduate because of the internment. At the same time, he urged USC to go one step further by awarding posthumous degrees to the many Nisei students who have passed away.

Other speakers included Greg Kimura, CEO of the Japanese American National Museum; Don Nose, president of the Go For Broke National Educational Foundation; Rev. Mark Nakagawa of Centenary United Methodist Church; Kathy Masaoka of Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress; Rinban Noriaki Ito of Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple; Kenneth Inouye, JACL Pacific Southwest District governor; and Mitch Maki, vice provost of academic affairs at CSU Dominguez Hills and author of a book about the redress movement.

Supervisor Don Knabe said he experienced some anti-Japanese prejudice years ago during a controversy over local governments doing business with Japanese companies rather than American ones. He received some hate calls, apparently from people who mistook his name for Japanese (it’s actually German).

Ridley-Thomas’ colleagues praised his resolution, though Supervisor Gloria Molina also sounded a worried note.

“I hope this country will never go through this again, although I’m not sure,’’ Molina said, her voice breaking.

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Rafu staff writer J.K. Yamamoto contributed to this report.

From left: Dr. Mitchell Maki, CSU Dominguez Hills; Robin Toma, Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission; Bill Watanabe, Little Tokyo Service Center; Supervisors Don Knabe, Zev Yaroslavsky, Gloria Molina, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Michael Antonovich; Jon Kaji, USC Asian Pacific Alumni Association; Bruce Embrey, Manzanar Committee; Salam Al-Marayati, Muslim Public Affairs Council; actor George Takei; Rose Ochi, California Forensic Science Institute. (Photo by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

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