Front row, from left: Monnee Tong, San Diego Public Library; Kay Ochi, Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego; Linda Canada, JAHSSD. Back row, from left: Marc Chery, SDPL; Steve Rhodes, SDPL, Jennifer Jenkins, SDPL; Mitsuo Tomita, San Diego JACL. (Courtesy SDPL)

Rafu Wire and Staff Reports

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego City Council has apologized for supporting the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

The San Diego Public Library said in a Facebook post, “Back in 2021, SDPL discovered that San Diego City Council Resolution 76068 — one designed to expel San Diego residents of Japanese ancestry — was still on the books. Working with the San Diego Japanese American Citizens League and Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego, it was brought back to the city.

“Today (Sept. 20), by unanimous decision, the City Council has officially rescinded this racist remnant of the past and has issued an apology ‘to all people of Japanese ancestry for its past in support of this unjust exclusion, removal & incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII.’

“We’re so proud to support this historic and momentous occasion. Listening to the touching words of Kay Ochi, Linda Canada of JAHSSD and Mitsuo Tomita of JACL and seeing the City Council united in this was inspiring!”

San Diego City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera

The council’s Jan. 27, 1942 resolution read as follows: “The Council of the City of San Diego hereby respectfully calls the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the fact that there are in San Diego and vicinity many enemy aliens, especially Japanese, whose continued residence here is considered inimical to the best interests of this vital defense area.

“It is urged upon said Federal Bureau of Investigation that said enemy aliens be removed from this vicinity, since their presence here is cause for great concern on the part of the City of San Diego due to existence of known subversive elements.”

City Council Resolution No. 76068 was passed unanimously shortly before the Feb. 19, 1942 signing of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the removal of all people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast, to be held in concentration camps in California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming and Arkansas.

The new resolution reads, “The Council of the City of San Diego apologizes to all people of Japanese ancestry for its past actions in support of the unjust exclusion, removal, and incarceration of Japanese Americas and residents of Japanese ancestry during World War II, and for its failure to support and defend the civil rights and civil liberties of these individuals during this period.”

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the government’s actions in **Korematsu v. United States** in 1944, described by Councilmember Marni von Wilpert as “one of the most reviled decisions in the Supreme Court’s history.”

Councilmember Jennifer Campbell said that while rescinding the old resolution was well past due, it was vitally important to learn from the past as the Supreme Court “strips rights” in the present day.

“It is incredibly important that we identify the racist acts of the past and injustices of the past and address them head-on,” Council President Sean Elo-Rivera said. “We can acknowledge the wrong that the city committed.”

He added, “This isn’t simply a matter of looking backwards, but also hopefully recognizing how quickly political ploys can turn into real harm and how important it is that we take a stand against that.”

Councilmember Chris Cate, who is of Filipino descent, said the current iteration of the City Council is extremely supportive of the Asian and Pacific Islander community and is the “antithesis” of the council that held power during World War II.

Japanese American community leaders welcomed the City Council’s actions. They noted how the 1942 resolution had taken away the property and dignity of thousands of Japanese Americans.

“The trauma of that racist act, the shame that it brought upon the Japanese American community to be targeted as spies, was deep and painful. You are reaffirming your commitment — the city’s commitment — to the promises of the Constitution,” said Kay Ochi, president of JAHSSD, whose parents were incarcerated from 1942 to 1945.

Ochi told The Rafu Shimpo that the SDPL staff “became ‘librarian activists’ by taking the information that their research revealed and gave time and effort to write a resolution to rescind 76068. We in the Japanese American community are very grateful to them.”

Jennifer Jenkins, deputy director of customer experience, was part of the SDPL team that “found the resolution, wrote the original draft of a resolution to rescind 76068, contacted us at the JAHSSD and JACL to get our input and feedback,” said Ochi, who also worked with Elo-Rivera to get the item on the council agenda.

The team also included Steve Roman, Librarian II, Humanities Service Area, Central Library; Sarah Hendy-Jackson, Librarian II, Sciences Service Area, Central Library; Marc Chery, Librarian IV, Humanities Service Area manager, Central Library; and Monnee Tong, supervising librarian, SDPL.

Kay Ochi’s Statement to City Council

My name is Kay Ochi. I’m a third-generation Japanese American, born and raised in San Diego in what is now Barrio Logan. I am currently the president of the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego. Japanese Americans have been a contributing and vital part of this community since the early 1900s.

The City Council’s Resolution 76068 is a reflection of the race prejudice and fear of the council members who voted unanimously in 1942 to pass this hateful resolution. It reflected the failure of leadership by then Gov. Earl Warren and President Franklin Roosevelt, who signed wartime Executive Order 9066 – the order that authorized the military to remove Japanese Americans from the entire West Coast.

My mother and father, Ichiye and Akiji Ochi, were born in San Diego in 1920, and were amongst the 2,000 Japanese Americans forced to leave in April of 1942 and incarcerated at Poston, Arizona (a hot desert prison) for three very long years – for no reason other than their ancestry. The trauma of that racist act – the shame that it brought upon the Japanese community was deep, painful. It took most in the community 40 years to begin to talk about the pain and harms of the racist actions.

Importantly, it was because of the kindness, the humanity of people like Clara Breed, the San Diego librarian who befriended and supported the Japanese American children who frequented the library, and my parents’ neighbors in Barrio Logan, the Nava family, who protected their neighbor’s home and small market, that we and many others were able to return home to San Diego.

Fortunately, Resolution 76068 failed to keep our community from coming home when the war ended.

And although in 1988 they received the U.S. government’s apology from then-President Ronald Reagan and token compensation as reparations, no amount of money could replace the loss of three years of their lives, the loss of property, education – most importantly – they lost their dignity and, as U.S. citizens, they lost their freedom!

Today, with your action to rescind 76068, you are reaffirming your commitment, the city’s commitment, to the promises of the Constitution and to every person’s right to due process of law and human dignity.

I, too, thank the amazing librarians at the San Diego Public Library with whom the JAHSSD has had decades of collaborations and with whom we have created excellent exhibits — and I thank all of you, council members, for your principled support. I especially thank Council President Elo-Rivera for your leadership in this decision and your compassion. The JAHSSD is very proud to reside in District 9 – the City Heights community.

This year, 2022, also marks the 30th anniversary of the Japanese American Historical Society’s founding; your action today is a historic marker in our history and in our city’s history. We will be celebrating.

From 1942, when this resolution was passed, to today, 2022, it has been 80 years. It reminds me of the great civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who often said, “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” And today’s council action is an important step in that same direction.

Thank you!

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  1. Great story! Thank you to the diligent work and commitment to principle that led the team of librarians and others, including the city council to acknowledge the wrong that was done and to rescind the original resolution! Thank you to Kay Ochi for her eloquent statement!