Three young Japanese American incarcerees peer through a barbed wire fence at Manzanar camp. (Photo credit: Toyo Miyatake)
The California State Assembly voted unanimously today to pass a bill that formally apologizes for its role in the WW2 incarceration of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans in camps throughout the West Coast and the Pacific Northwest. The bill apologized for all of the state’s past actions related to incarceration, including for its passage of anti-Asian land laws and other discriminatory laws that contributed to anti-Asian disenfranchisement and racist hysteria in the state in the decades leading up to Executive Order 9066 and the forcible imprisonment of Japanese Americans in camps in 1942.
The bill, introduced by State Assembly member Albert Muratsuchi, reads:
Resolved by the Assembly of the State of California, That the Assembly apologizes to all Americans of Japanese ancestry for its past actions in support of the unjust exclusion, removal, and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and for its failure to support and defend the civil rights and civil liberties of Japanese Americans during this period
During World War II, 120,000 Japanese and Japanese American civilians — many American citizens by birth — were forcibly imprisoned in hastily-erected American concentration camps (JACL’s Power of Words) located in some of the harshest, most austere, and most isolated parts of the Midwest and West Coast. Enacted through Executive Order 9066, Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were targeted based purely on suspicion that they were disloyal to the US government and posed an existential threat to national security: those suspicions were later shown to be entirely unfounded and predicated primarily on racist stereotypes. WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans remains a major blemish on American history as one of the most prominent violations of American citizens’ constitutional rights, and the government’s rationale for the camps continues to be used to justify anti-Muslim efforts today.
One of the largest and most prominent of the WWII incarceration camps is Tule Lake, a site located in Northern California and currently designated as National Historic Landmark. At its peak, nearly 19,000 Japanese American citizens were forcibly imprisoned at Tule Lake overseen by unusually stringent military guard: the camp had particularly high fences topped with barbed wire and over twenty-five armed guard towers. Tule Lake also became known as a site of particular Japanese American unrest and resistance, and those deemed to be “disloyal” at other camps were removed to Tule Lake for segregation from the rest of the Japanese American community. On November 4, 1943, Tule Lake incarcerees staged one of the few open uprisings against the camps, and on May 24, 1944, Shoichi James Okamoto was shot and killed by a camp guard, who was later fined a dollar for the shooting — a fine for unauthorized use of government property: the bullet. When Tule Lake closed in 1946, thousands of Japanese Americans were once again displaced, with no homes to return to and nowhere else to go.
To remember the painful history of WWII incarceration camps requires that we commemorate the Tule Lake incarceration camp as a site of significant Japanese American WWII-era political and civil resistance. Indeed, the Japanese American community has worked tirelessly to preserve incarceration camp sites across the West Coast and the Midwest, helping to found museums and education centers to teach incarceration history and ensure that the memory of World War II-era camps do not fade with time. Camp survivors also stage annual pilgrimages to camp sites in order to remember this painful episode in our nation’s history.
When I first heard about a planned march to amass the nation’s women to highlight women’s rights and in protest against the Trump administration on the day after his inauguration, I was initially hesitant. In originally billing the event as the “Million Women March” and advertising it as the first street protest of its kind, organizers overlooked the original “Million Woman March” successfully organized by Black feminists two decades ago. When this appropriation of Black feminist history was pointed out by feminists of colour, event organizers were dismissive of (and even hostile to) the critique. Instead, (White feminist) event organizers and early supporters offered the same familiar, callous, and white-washing refrain: that feminists of colour were being divisive in raising the spectre of race, and that we should put aside racial differences to provide a united feminist front in opposition to the misogyny of Trump.
Never mind, of course, that we were being asked to rally in unity under the banner of White feminism, which too often overlooks and deprioritizes women of colour and other marginalized women through its uncritical universalization of the lived experiences of Whit straight abled cis-women. Over the years, I have been lectured at countless times by White feminists who resent and reject my brand of non-white feminism; I had no interest in voluntarily exposing myself to that kind of toxic and intolerant space yet again.
But then, something about the event changed. In response to criticism, event founders re-named the march the “Women’s March on Washington” and invited prominent feminists of colour to organize the event. The Women’s March began to embrace a more intersectional framework for its feminism. Organizers acknowledged the March’s relationship to Black feminist history and took steps to acknowledge and commemorate the earlier work of Black feminists. White feminists were reminded that even within feminist spaces, they should do the work of being better white allies to feminists of colour; and that there is never a time when they can or should stop reflecting (and respecting) more and “whitesplaining” less. When some early White feminist supporters spoke against the efforts to make the event more inclusive of women of colour, they were actually told they were wrong!
With these developments, my fears were (somewhat) assuaged. It seemed increasingly clear that while White feminism still has a long way to go, the Women’s March on Washington (and its many satellite events in local cities) was taking steps to be a safe(r) space for feminists of colour and other marginalized feminists.
And so, I have made the (cautious) decision: I will march on Saturday in the Women’s March in New York City.
Seventy five years after Imperial Japanese Army forces invaded the US-held territory of Guam on December 8, 1941 — leading to the rape, abuse, and killing of many of the island’s residents during the four years of its occupation by Japan — the US federal government is poised to provide reparations to Guam’s World War II survivors. Last week, Congress quietly included a measure to provide reparations to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which establishes military spending for the upcoming fiscal year.
The spending bill was passed by the House in May with bipartisan support, with the vast majority of Republicans and 40 Democrats voting in favour. It was introduced by Senator John McCain and passed the Senate with 92 votes last Thursday. The Act is now headed to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.