Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi is joined by his wife Hiroko Higuchi and teacher Kurt Ikeda at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute on March 18. GVJCI hosts an annual Day of Remembrance program to share the lessons of the Japanese American incarceration. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

Assembly Bill (AB) 491, which establishes $3 million in grants to the State Library for the education of Japanese American incarceration, last week passed the Assembly Education Committee on a unanimous vote of 7-0.

Specifically, the bill will extend funding for the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, run by the State Library, through an appropriation of $3 million in general funds that will be distributed over the next three years.

Speaking March 18 at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute, Muratsuchi said the bill is designed to ensure that one of the worst violations of civil liberties in the nation will never happen again.

“The incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese Americans without due process of law during World War II began with one presidential executive order,” stated Muratsuchi. “Today, we are seeing similar executive orders now targeting Muslims as modern day threats to our national security. Now, more than ever, every American needs to learn the lessons of the Japanese American incarceration to understand that our Constitution should not allow any community to be targeted because of their national origin or faith.”

Muratsuchi explained that the education programs would teach Californians about the Japanese American incarceration and draw parallels to today, particularly the treatment of Muslims and immigrants.

“The intent of the bill is to educate not just the Japanese American community,” Muratsuchi said. “It is the important to highlight that the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans started with one executive order.”

To Japanese Americans, the lessons of 1942 seem especially relevant in 2017.

Barbara Takei of the Tule Lake Committee, a non-profit organization that represents Japanese American survivors and descendants of those imprisoned during World War II at the Tule Lake concentration camp in Northern California and works to preserve the historic site, supports the bill.

“Given the echoes of 1942 and the rising climate of fear and racism targeting Muslims, immigrants and refugees, the work of the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program is more important than ever,” she said. “To ensure the mistakes of the past are not forgotten and not repeated, we are grateful that you have introduced AB 491 to continue the work of this valuable program.”

Kurt Ikeda, a teacher and member of the Greater Los Angeles JACL Chapter, serves on the JACL Education Committee. He noted that JACL conducted educational conferences for teachers through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which is slated for elimination under President Trump’s first budget to Congress. Through the program, titled “Civil Liberties in Times of Crisis,” high school and middle school teachers from around the country visited Little Tokyo and historic sites including Manzanar.

“[For] these teachers who had never seen an American concentration camp, there were many tears,” Ikeda said.

Muratsuchi represents the 66th Assembly District, which includes El Camino Village, Gardena, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway, Hermosa Beach, Lomita, Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, Palos Verdes Estates, Rancho Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Rolling Hills, Rolling Hills Estates, Torrance, and West Carson.  He serves as chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee and the Assembly Select Committee on Aerospace, and is a member of the Assembly committees on Appropriations, Natural Resources, Utilities and Energy, and Veterans Affairs.

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