Rafu Staff Report
SACRAMENTO — California State Grange President Bob McFarland apologized for his organization’s treatment of Japanese Americans before and during World War II in a March 25 letter to David Lin, national president of the Japanese American Citizens League.
“On behalf of the members of the California State Grange, please accept this letter of apology to the Japanese American community for a discriminatory period in our history, of which we are not proud,” McFarland wrote.
“The California State Grange started in 1873 and continues today as a fraternal organization supporting agriculture and communities. We have over 9,700 members serving 185 communities in the state.
“Examining our past, we recognize that the Grange was a leader in organizing opposition to Japanese immigration, beginning in 1907. Along with the American Legion, the California State Federation of Labor, and the Native Sons of the Golden West, the Grange was active in the Asiatic Exclusion League.
“The California Grange passed a resolution in 1907 which stated that aliens living in the United States should be barred from buying and owning land. The California Grange was instrumental in passage of the Alien Land Law of 1920, and the 1924 law ending Japanese immigration to the United States.
“In 1922, the California Grange passed a resolution supporting federal legislation that resulted in the 1924 law that expressed ‘… the intense feeling of our people of the West in this matter, so absolutely vital to Christian civilization and the white races of our country.’
“These early seeds of racism sprouted after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the Grange supported the incarceration of Japanese Americans. In 1943, the Grange called for the deportation of all people of Japanese ancestry, aliens and American citizens alike.
“In view of this history of discrimination, an apology is long overdue. The California State Grange, by unanimous vote of its member delegates, recently passed a resolution calling for an apology to the Japanese American community. As president of the California State Grange, I present this letter of apology to the Japanese American Citizens League, with the request that it be shared with Japanese Americans across the country.
“No words can compensate for the past injustice and loss of property, freedom and dignity, but I hope that this is a small step toward preventing a recurrence of racism and toward promoting equality for all people.”
Sandy Lydon, historian emeritus at Cabrillo College, alerted the current Grange leadership to their organization’s past history of discrimination. A resolution of apology was written and approved unanimously at the October 2012 California State Grange convention.
Titled “Affirmation of Diversity,” the resolution was authored by Takashi Yogi of Garden Valley (El Dorado County), a member of Marshall Grange and the California State Grange Executive Committee, and co-host of “Home on the Grange” on KFOK Community Radio. It read as follows:
“Whereas, the California Grange encouraged the removal and confinement of Japanese Americans in 1942 and opposed their return to their homes after World War II; and
“Whereas, the Japanese Americans were deprived of constitutional rights and suffered loss of property, freedom, and dignity; and
“Whereas, the United States formally apologized for the injustice and offered restitution in a bill signed by Ronald Reagan in 1988. Be it therefore
“Resolved: That the California State Grange apologize to the Japanese American community for the Grange’s participation in the injustices suffered by Japanese Americans during World War II and convey the apology via the Japanese American Citizens League and the Grange News. Let it be further
“Resolved: That the California State Grange declare that it will not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, political affiliation, or sexual orientation.”
The Grange was denounced in a Pacific Citizen editorial on Oct. 28,1944, Yogi noted. It read, in part: “In its latest resolution on Japanese Americans, the California State Grange has descended to the nadir of hypocrisy. It is impossible to believe that any group of men in this nation is so devoid of understanding of the basic principles of our democratic life and culture that they would advocate in sincerity the revocation of the citizenship of a body of fellow Americans on the grounds of ancestry.
“The latest action of the California Grange can only mean that this organization is shamelessly stooping to the use of hate, fear and the cry of race supremacy for purposes of economic advantage … This insistence on restrictions against Americans of Japanese ancestry, at a time when any military justification for such has evaporated, is proof that economic greed and racial hate, rather than any concern for the military security, were the underlying motives for the continuing campaign of the Grange, the Native Sons and similar organizations for the duration exclusion of the evacuees from the evacuated area.
“The Grange has exerted great influence, both nationally and locally, in political and legislative matters on behalf of the agrarian population. It is a pity then, that its West Coast leadership is in the hands of narrow, bigoted men whose ideas on matters of race and ancestry are no different from those of a little man with a moustache in Berlin.”
(The JACL newspaper was headquartered in Salt Lake City during the war.)
Yogi told The Rafu Shimpo that although his family was not interned, the issue is very meaningful to him: “Our family was in Okinawa during World War II and survived the last battle of the war, in which over 147,000 Okinawan civilians were killed. We emigrated to Hawaii in 1948. So I was not directly involved with the internment.
“But being a survivor of the war, I am keenly interested in the effects of the war on civilians. War seems to stir up patriotism as well as racism. One need only look at the propaganda posters of World War II to see the blatant racism, with Japanese depicted as rats and snakes. I am interested in the process where normally decent people consent to inhumane acts.
“I have studied both the Jewish Holocaust and the Japanese American internment to understand this process. What I see is: (1) The labeling of people as objects separate from us. (2) The creation of fear of those objects. (3) The persecution or extermination of those subhuman objects.”
Yogi wrote on his website, “It is our responsibility to keep the machinery of democracy oiled and repaired, and to ensure that the machine is operated correctly, as it was intended. Our responsibility is more than merely voting and watching the news on TV. Since we are the government, we need to be informed and take an active part in maintaining democracy. The challenge is to learn from the past and create a democracy that truly provides ‘liberty and justice for all.’”
After 72 years, all I can say is, “It’s about time!” It is a shame that this apology did not come when most of the people who actually suffered living through the concentration camps were still alive. My family was one of those families. My grandmother and grandfather (Issei) and their eight children (Nisei — all of whom were U.S. citizens, born in the United States) were taken from their home in Spreckles, CA with only what they could carry, only to be treated as subhuman objects at the Salinas Fairgrounds — and from there, they were sent to the Poston Relocation Center. I always found it ironic that the Colorado River Indian Reservation Tribal Council refused to use their reservation land as relocation camp, because they did not want to participate in inflicting the same type of injustice that they had suffered. (They were overruled by the Army and the BIA.) How many times do we, as Americans, need to repeat history before we learn that this sort of behavior of stripping civil rights is injust? One of my aunts spent her entire high school in Poston, graduating from H.S. in camp. My uncle even joined the Army and served the U.S. with distinction during these WW II years, while his family was incarcerated for being of Japanese decent. (Others in my family also later served in the military.) Each of my family members quietly carries deep scars from being treated this way. There is always this feeling that all of your earthy belongings can be taken away from you by the U.S. government — because they lived through that reality. I always wondered why, after they were released from Poston, they did not return to California, the only American home that they had known. But who would want to return with all the prejudice and hatred and racism that was still in California? Everything was gone — the house and all of their belongings. California was not welcoming the Japanese Americans back — and California was a hostile territory for Japanese Americans … especially to those people who were in agriculture, like my grandfather, who had been a successful farmer in Spreckles. Thanks be to a Quakers who could see the injustice in all of this. It was a Quaker family who sponsored my family out of the camp. They brought the whole family to live in their extra farmhouse and work the land in NJ. The family had to completely start over in NJ, but the Quakers gave them a chance to start over. They encouraged a good education. The American Society of Friends is small (compared to other Christian religious groups) … but their actions speak louder than words, especially in matters of peace and justice. As we celebrate Easter, I personally will be thinking on the good work of these Quakers … and what a difference it meant in the lives of my family. I do find it interesting to find this apology … that really should have been delivered to the people who were directly affected by the actions of this racism, prejudice, and hatred (most of whom have passed away long ago) … but now it is being delivered to their children and grandchildren. Better late than never, I suppose.