California Formally Apologizes to Japanese Americans for WWII Incarceration

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

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Republican Senator Compares Trump Impeachment Hearing to Japanese American Incarceration

Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana.

Republican Senator John Kennedy’s statements earlier this week would be laughable if they weren’t so ahistorical and trivializing of racial trauma.

Earlier this week, the Democrat-turned-Republican junior senator from Louisiana told reporters that the impeachment inquiry was less fair than the forcible relocation and detainment of Japanese Americans at the height of World War II. (See JACL’s Power of Words for a discussion of the language used in this article).

Senator Kennedy’s absurd and ahistorical comments were first reported on by Huffington Post Politics reporter Igor Bobic:

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The Power of Untidy Movements: 30 Years after the Fight for Japanese American Redress

CWRIC hearings in Seattle, Washington, 1981. (Photo Credit: National Archives and Records Administration / Densho Encyclopedia)

By Guest Contributor: Sean Miura (@seanmiura)

My mom was about my age when she testified in support of Japanese American redress.

Fresh out of law school, she had moved to Seattle a few years prior and quickly found herself pulled into the local Japanese American community as a young leader, eventually becoming president of the Seattle Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League. Seattle, beautiful rainy Seattle, is a city of left-leaning intellectuals and artists, organized and ready to mobilize with fiery intent and focused action. The Japanese Americans were (and are) no different.

When communities across the country began the push for recognition of wrongdoing in the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans, Seattle became one of the centers of organizing and strategy-setting.

And there was my mom, alongside so many others who fought to make it happen in a layered, complex, beautifully complicated weaving of people who came together to make it happen.

And happen it did.

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#NeverAgainIsNow: Why the 30th anniversary of Japanese American Redress matters today

President Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act into law. Looking on, left to right: Senator Spark Matsunaga, Representative N (Photo credit: Wikimedia)

By Guest Contributors: Tsuya Hohri Yee, Co-Chair New York Day of Remembrance Committee (Facebook: @nydayofremembrance); and Joseph Shoji Lachman, Co-founder of Never Again (Facebook: @NeverAgain9066)

August 10th marks the 30th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted a presidential apology and monetary reparations to living Japanese American families who had persevered through WWII incarceration for simply looking like the enemy. Over 120,000 people were removed from their homes and imprisoned in concentration camps in remote areas of the country. The majority were US citizens and were children.  While no amount of money could ever undo the damage to Japanese American families and our democracy as a whole, the Act was a landmark piece of legislation, and represented decades of grassroots organizing across the country. Many Japanese Americans, young and old were inspired to join the Redress Movement by the work of Civil Rights Movement activists of the 1960s, and mobilized our communities to come together to fight for an apology and reparations. Allies in the Black and Latinx communities came to the aid of Japanese Americans, recognizing the commonalities of our struggles, and through this powerful coalition work Japanese Americans finally saw some semblance of justice for our families.

What the Redress movement achieved went beyond the Civil Liberties Act.  Our community is not monolithic and there was significant debate about how to “right this wrong,” including the view that demanding compensation would bring negative attention to our community.  Others felt that creating a Commission to study the incarceration, including prisoner testimonies was demeaning and unnecessary.   But those disagreements didn’t stop us from moving forward and when it mattered most, we rallied our support around the Civil Liberties Act.  Painful divides between individuals and groups who had chosen different paths during the war that had once seemed fixed in stone, now see the possibility of eroding.   As part of the healing process the Redress movement started, annual Day of Remembrance programs were organized across the country giving communities an opportunity to reflect, learn, and join together in solidarity around our common history. Japanese Americans also began journeying back to camp sites on pilgrimages to reclaim the stories of their parents and grandparents and to begin piecing together what was lost. Today we look back with admiration at what we fought for and accomplished as a community.

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Ours is a History of Resistance

Asian American protesters at an anti-war march in 1972. (Photo credit: Asian Pacific American Photographic Collection, Visual Communications Archive via LA Times)

By: Karin Wang (@naragirl), Asian Americans Advancing Justice

Since we launched “Write Back, Fight Back” two months ago, we have witnessed the power of words to name our struggles, reclaim our identities, and voice our power. We close out our series by centering the story of Asian immigrants challenging racism through the courts and in many cases, winning and changing the course of American history.

No current narrative of Asian Americans is more closely tied to white supremacy and historic white nativist policies than the model minority myth. First coined and promulgated in the mid-1960s by white Americans, the term referred to Japanese and Chinese Americans, focusing obsessively on their seeming success in the face of discrimination. The model minority myth gets denounced on a regular basis lately, and many journalists, writers, and activists have analyzed and challenged the economic and class implications of the myth and the damage it does less privileged Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

But there’s another insidious side to the model minority myth that needs the same unpacking and deconstructing:  the narrative of the quiet and obedient Asian – the one who works twice as hard and neither complains nor challenges authority. The myth was born at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, deliberately juxtaposing Asians against other racial minorities. It’s an image used not only to keep Asian Americans in their place but one that upholds white supremacy.

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