The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday proclaimed Feb. 19, 2017 as a Day of Remembrance to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.
The motion, co-sponsored by Supervisors Janice Hahn and Mark Ridley-Thomas, passed with unanimous support.
“We cannot forget the injustice that Japanese Americans endured at the hands of our government during World War II in the name of national security,” said Hahn. “While we can never take back what victims went through in the internment camps, we can tell their stories and recommit ourselves to standing up for the rights of all communities so that history does not repeat itself.”
Hahn recalled the history of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II: “These were men who went to fight for this very country [while], at the same time, their families were being interned. One of the greatest moments for me in Congress was … [the presentation of] the Congressional Gold Medal to the survivors who served in the 442nd … the most decorated regiment in our United States military at that time … We can never forget. We must always remember.”
“We should never forget this dark period in our nation’s history,” said Ridley-Thomas, principal author of the motion. “The civil liberties of the county’s most vulnerable communities continue to require vigilant protection from infringement justified by national security.”
Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942, forced more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent – including children and the elderly – from their homes and businesses and incarcerated them without charge or trial under the pretext of national security. None was ever found to have committed sabotage or espionage.
About a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution urging the federal government to remove Los Angeles County residents of Japanese ancestry from their homes and hold them involuntarily in remote areas. The motion passed on Jan. 27, 1942, as federal and state officials were weighing the merits and legality of detaining West Coast residents without criminal charges. Executive Order 9066 was issued two weeks later.
The violations inspired three generations of Japanese American leaders and families across the nation to seek redress, which resulted in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, providing for a government apology and reparations for over 82,000 survivors.
On June 6, 2012, the board rescinded and revoked its previous resolution endorsing the detention of Japanese Americans. The historic action followed testimony from those who had been held captive, or their relatives.
In declaring a Day of Remembrance, the board emphasized that “no community (should) suffer such violations of constitutional and human rights.” It also encouraged county employees to voluntarily participate in Day of Remembrance events to be held through October, as listed on the websites of the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute, the Japanese American National Museum, and the Japanese American Citizens League.
“Even after 75 years, we choose to remember and commemorate this event because we believe that what happened to the countless number of people during World War II – when many were Americans – is something no one should have had to go through,” said Nicole Sato, program coordinator of the GVJCI. “We believe by continuing to teach the next generations, we can educate those to come that something like the Japanese American incarceration cannot not be tolerated.
“In the light of today’s events happening around the world and in our country, we believe even stronger that what happened to the Japanese American community 75 years ago should not happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or religion. Civil liberties should not be taken away or denied to anyone by executive orders or such actions. We should be celebrating and accepting our differences, cultures, heritages, and traditions – not letting it divide us.”
Ridley-Thomas said, “We should take stock of our moment in time right now, with respect to others who are under the hammer of unconstitutional behavior. I did say it, I meant it, and I will not retract it.”
He presented a scroll to the GVJCI for its work to educate and inform the community of this dark period in the nation’s history. On Feb. 25, the institute will host a panel of former internees who will share their memories of the Tule Lake camp and screen Konrad Aderer’s documentary “Resistance at Tule Lake.” On April 15, it will host an exhibit showcasing artwork that depicts life in the camps. More information is available at www.jci-gardena.org.