By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
The annual Los Angeles Day of Remembrance, held Feb. 18 at the Japanese American National Museum, had a much larger turnout than usual — and it wasn’t just because this year marks the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066.
The roundup and incarceration of Japanese Americans has taken on added relevance in the last few weeks as the Trump Administration has issued a series of executive orders targeting Muslims, immigrants and other groups.
Several hundred people — estimates range from 700 to 2,000 — turned out for this year’s program, whose theme was “An Attack on One Is an Attack on All.” JANM’s Aratani Central Hall was unable to accommodate that many people, so the overflow was sent to the foyer and the Tateuchi Democracy Forum, where a live feed of the event was provided.
Organizers of Day of Remembrance events in other cities also reported bigger than normal crowds.
Following an invocation by Maceo Hernandez and East L.A. Taiko, the audience was welcomed by emcees Kay Ochi and Kurt Ikeda, and by Ann Burroughs, acting president and CEO of JANM, who was jailed and charged with treason while fighting apartheid in her native South Africa and became a leader in Amnesty International.
She noted that JANM’s new exhibition, “Instructions to All Persons,” featuring the actual EO 9066 document with President Franklin Roosevelt’s signature, is timely given what is happening today. “We see once again groups of people being scapegoated and targeted in the name of national security, this time because of their religion.”
Burroughs read a statement from former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, who was scheduled to speak but had to cancel. “As Japanese Americans who were directly affected by incarceration, we have a particular moral obligation to remind people that measures like the Muslim ban are not just unconstitutional, they’re un-American,” he wrote. “They threaten to undermine the very thing that sets our country apart, our enduring commitment to freedom and justice for all.
“In 1942, too many people sat quietly by while Japanese Americans were rounded up and incarcerated in camps. We cannot let similar fears and scapegoating lead us down that path again. Whether you call it travel ban, a registry or extreme vetting, exclusionary policies based solely on race, religion, sexual orientation or any other trait are nothing more than bigotry by a different name.”
Former Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) said that few politicians protested the government’s actions against Japanese Americans. One exception was Assemblymember Ralph Dills, who represented the Gardena-Compton-Lawndale area. Another was State Sen. John Shelley of San Francisco, who intervened when legislators tried to ban incarcerees from returning to California. “Shelley went out to a veterans’ hospital and found a couple of [Nisei] veterans who were wounded, brought them the Senate … When the senators saw the faces of these veterans, they were convinced not to do this … When people stand up and speak up on our behalf, things become different.”
In the post-9/11 era, politicians are still targeting specific groups but are less blatant, Honda said, citing the Patriot Act as an example. The attorney general ordered special registration and fingerprinting of young males from 24 predominantly Muslim countries, but because that might be seen as unconstitutional, “they added another country that was not Muslim, North Korea.”
Honda noted that Asians are not exempt from this kind of treatment, as shown by the case of Xiaoxing Xi, a Temple University professor and naturalized U.S. citizen who was charged with selling sensitive U.S. defense technologies to China but was later cleared. Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus spoke out on Xi’s behalf.
“We have to be at outraged … when anybody speaks about incarcerating anybody based on what happened to us, [but] we have to go beyond remembering,” Honda said. “We have to learn, reach out and react and respond … Asian Americans, Japanese Americans specifically, we have no reason not to be standing up for the Muslims.”
Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) helped organize a Day of Remembrance event in Sacramento earlier that week. “We had a similarly great turnout at the California Museum, just a few blocks from the State Capitol,” he said. “We had folks from the Sacramento JACL that helped organize the event. The keynote speaker was the chief justice of the California Supreme Court, Tani Cantil-Sakauye. She gave a great speech … talked about how her in-laws were in camp.”
He added, “This 75th anniversary in particular is being widely recognized not only throughout the state of California but across the country. For me now as the only Japanese American in the California State Legislature … I feel a special obligation to not just represent my district … but we need to make sure that we are supporting and electing people who support our community … not just to be a Japanese name in a political office but to follow in the giant footsteps of people like Mike Honda and Norm Mineta.”
Right after President Trump issued his executive orders on immigration, Muratsuchi introduced a resolution declaring Jan. 30 as Fred Korematsu Day in California. “This is not just a feel-good resolution … There are many [aspects of Korematsu’s story] that tie directly between what happened 75 years ago and what we’re seeing happen here today to our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
In addition, Muratsuchi introduced ACR 1 to declare a Day of Remembrance statewide. “This is for everyone who believes in making sure that we never forget our history … It all started with an executive order and now we’re seeing it happen again. So now more than ever we must rise up to teach our history, defend our Constitution and fight to ensure that no one is targeted because of their national origin or faith.”
Haru Kuromiya, 90, remembered her experiences as a teenager in Riverside after Pearl Harbor. “My father and uncle were picked up by the FBI, leaving my eight-month pregnant mother and six of us children. Why was my father taken from us like a common criminal? … Why was he not allowed to be with my mother when she delivered her baby? … Soon the FBI came to our house and searched every room, taking cameras, a gun, and other items. It was an uneasy and fearful time for all of us.”
At Manzanar, “Each block had a mess hall where everyone ate all their meals community style. No privacy at all. There were no partitions for either the showers or toilets. This was very distressing, especially for the Issei women.
“I missed my father every day. My father was my hero. During the year we were in Manzanar, my father was moved to five different locations: the Riverside County Jail, Tuna Canyon Detention Station, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Lordsburg, New Mexico, and then finally to Crystal City, Texas.”
Reunited with her father, the family was held at the Justice Department’s internment camp for “enemy aliens” at Crystal City until June 1946. They returned to their farm, but their house was trashed and the community was hostile.
Kuromiya said, “Looking back to those years, the hardest part was losing our freedom … Looking up and seeing the ubiquitous tall guard towers, guns pointed toward us. Wondering when we can go home again. Not knowing what lay ahead was painful.
“I sincerely hope no one will ever be imprisoned like that again because of the color of their skin or their religion.”
Statements of Support
Kahllid Abdul Al-Alim, president of the Park Mesa Heights Community Council, drew parallels between EO 9066 and government actions that have impacted the South Central L.A. community, such as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which resulted in “loss of civil liberties, forced incarceration, systemic racism, discrimination and the inability to redeem oneself once released from that hell called the U.S. criminal justice system.”
Al-Alim said that he was assaulted by police at his home and accused of being a gang ringleader. Having been through the justice system, he said, “The rule of law … like back then in the ’60s down south, simply means the same thing as it does today … Those who rule make the law … If you protest, if you whistle-blow, you’re a threat to order.”
He added, “We must never let our heritage be told from the eyes of our oppressors but expressed only from the strength and character of the men and women who endured.”
Samara Hutman, director of Remember Us, an organization dedicated to the memory of children murdered in the Holocaust, said, “History, particularly devastating, heart-breaking and traumatic history, can illuminate our path forward if we allow it … to ignite righteousness in our souls in the names of our own loved ones who suffered and to extend that compassion care and love to all who suffer anywhere and everywhere.”
She read poems written by three children — “The World” by Jessica Hoshino and “My Plea” by Mary Matsuzawa, both students at Butte High School at the Gila River camp in Arizona, and “On a Sunny Evening” by an unknown child at the Terezin concentration camp in the Czech Republic, where only about 100 children out of 15,000 survived.
“Let us together hold the tender optimism of young poets … close in our hearts in the days months and years ahead,” Hutman said. “It is within our power to resist, to know, to say … to shape and bend the culture and our standards away from the cruel and toward the just, away from fear and toward courage, away from indifference and toward connection … Tonight there’s a Muslim child and a child of an undocumented family who’s saying a prayer, who’s writing a poem, and we must not let them down.”
Sahar Pirzada of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Greater Los Angeles Area Chapter, and the Vigilant Love Coalition, shared her feelings about recent events as a Pakistani American Muslim. “Will I be able to pray in public when I need to? Will I be able to attend my mosque without fear of disruption or surveillance? Will I be able to wear my scarf as a visible Muslim and go to the airport through customs and border patrol without being stopped and questioned about my loyalty to America?”
At the same time, she felt “blessed” to be working with Japanese American leaders like traci kato-kiriyama, traci ishigo and Kathy Masaoka through Vigilant Love, which started after the San Bernardino attacks in 2015. “I know their love for me is real and I know if anything were to go down, they would be by my side without question. I am grateful for them and for all the allies who have stepped up to lead this movement … I’m enraged by the attacks on our community and I will continue to show up alongside my fiercely beautiful allies.”
Two scheduled speakers were unable to attend: Nah-Tes Jackson of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, who participated in the Standing Rock protest, and Adriana Cabrera, a community organizer, daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants, and candidate for Los Angeles City Council.
The program included performances by Dan Kwong from “It’s Great 2B American” and by Jully Lee, traci kato-kiriyama, Kennedy Kabasares, Takayo Fischer, Kurt Kuniyoshi and Greg Watanabe from PULLproject’s “Tales of Clamor.” Sean Miura read a poem, “Start,” and Kyoko Takenaka performed a song, “If We All Wait.”
Camp survivors and veterans were asked stand up to be honored, and a there was a procession of banners — carried by members of Boy Scout Troop 738 and Girl Scout Troop 12315 at Nishi Hongwanji — representing the 10 War Relocation Authority camps and the Justice Department camps.
After a performance by Marcie Chan, Junko Goda, Leslie Ishii, Richard Katsuda and Brando Miyano, who were dressed as incarcerees and carrying suitcases, members of the audience were asked to come forward. Each attendee had a name tag like those issued to Japanese Americans 75 years ago, and everyone symbolically tore up the tags and threw them into the empty suitcases.
The final song was “We Are the Children,” an anthem of the Asian American movement in the early 1970s, performed by Nobuko Miyamoto, “Atomic Nancy” Sekizawa, Carla Vega, Quincy Surasmith, Maceo Hernandez and Taiji Miyagawa.
The program closed by the unfurling of a banner with the words “registry,” “internment” and “deportation” crossed out and a statement that read, “We unite to oppose executive orders and laws that attack our civil and constitutional rights, such as parts of America’s defense bill which let the president indefinitely detain U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism and start wars without congressional approval. We stand united for justice, equality and peace.”
Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo