Three months after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, ordering the relocation of Japanese Americans living in coastal areas, who were at the time “considered a security risk.” In the weeks that followed, local newspapers carried almost daily reports of proclamations, plans and restrictions to civil liberties. 66 Years ago today, on April 29, 1942 Civilian Exclusion Order No. 20 was issued. This required 660 people living in California report to the Japanese American Citizens League at 2031 Bush Street for registration, and for removal.
Internees were first transported to one of 13 “Assembly” centers throughout the state, including Tanforan race track in San Bruno–since demolished–where 8,000 Japanese Americans were detained in converted horse stables and makeshift barracks between April and October 1942, then on to permanent camps inland such as Manzanar. In all, nearly 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent were forcibly relocated to concentration camps.
I have this quote about the time written down, but I don’t know where I got it from: “Our people were forced into concentration camps and their lives where ripped away from them. One of the reasons that they threw us into the terrible living conditions was that they believed that we were spies for Japan during World War II, which in the end only ten people were convicted of spying for Japan, all of whom were Caucasian. The sudden attack of Pearl Harbor increased a fear of our people. Members of congress escalated fear of us among the American people. As early as January 1942, there was talk of imprisoning us. Many whites were motivated by economic self-interest and were determined to destroy our businesses, which they saw as competition.
It all began with police raids, where they were frantically looking for those of us, whom they thought to be spies. More than two thousand of us were arrested without any evidence of disloyalty. Our businesses were forced to close down, the police were illegally detaining us, evicting us from our homes, and firing us from our jobs.”
Today, looking back, many agree that this is a shameful and tragic part of our history. And yet – as I am told today about ICE raids in communities with a large number of immigrants it all sounds too familiar. When I hear stories of immigration detention centers it sounds tragically familiar. And when I see the racial profiling of those individuals Middle Eastern descent and hear the racist and fear filled comments about Muslims or Arabs it all sounds too familiar.
Remembering history is important – ensuring we don’t continue to repeat it is even more so.