As the oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) is proud of our legacy, the important contributions of our leaders, and the unique opportunity we have to continue educating people around the world on the Japanese American incarceration experience during World War II and its relevance to civil rights work past and present.
On Feb. 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the forced removal of 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes and into incarceration camps located in remote locations throughout the country. This disturbing event, ignoring the principles of due process and equal protection set forth by the Constitution, serves as one of the darkest chapters in American history as well as an important reminder of the need for continued advocacy to ensure that the rights of American citizens are never violated again.
Originally founded in 1929, the JACL strives to secure and safeguard the civil rights of all communities affected by injustice and bigotry, in large part by reflecting upon and educating others on our own history. As an open and inclusive Asian Pacific American civil rights organization, it is not difficult to find a myriad of opinions of the work and positions the organization has held, especially regarding the World War II incarceration.
In such a tumultuous period of time, the feelings of those affected and their positions on what the JACL could have or should have done cannot be understated. But with wartime hysteria creating rampant and violent racism, it is also not hard to understand how a relatively young organization and its leaders would have done whatever they could to navigate an impossible position with the best interest of their members and the community in mind.
“Allegiance,” which originally debuted in San Diego in 2012, is a fictional musical inspired by the life of George Takei, who also stars in the performance opening on Broadway next month. The JACL appreciates the effort by Mr. Takei to bring the story of the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II to a wide audience.
However, it is important to keep in mind that this musical is an artistic interpretation of events that provide a backdrop for a love story. Although most of the characters, which are loosely based on individuals, have fictional names, the JACL is disturbed by the play’s use of the names of the Japanese American Citizens League and of Mike Masaoka. The JACL is concerned that by using actual names, audience members may forget that they are watching a historical fiction.
The JACL hopes that those who see “Allegiance” will see this as the start of a conversation, and an opportunity to be better educated on this horrific event, consider the implications of how this struggle has affected the Japanese American community, and recognize how it may relate to issues within their own community.
These considerations are the reason the JACL has been a staunch supporter of all those affected by discrimination, such as our positions on LGBTQ rights or our support of Arab American, Muslim American, and Sikh American communities in the wake of Sept. 11.
We invite anyone interested in learning more to access the resources available on our website (www.jacl.org) and work with us to ensure such a tragic event is never repeated.