On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the removal of 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent from the West Coast of the U.S. to concentration camps. Despite not a single case of espionage by Japanese Americans, they were removed en masse by a combination of what has been called “war hysteria, racial prejudice, and a failure of political leadership” under the guise of national security.
30 years later, Japanese Americans mobilized around a movement for redress and reparations. The American-born children of Japanese immigrants (the Nisei) joined with their children’s generation (the Sansei) to fight for and win an official government apology and monetary payments, the two goals of the movement. Despite the move to the right during the Reagan administration, the Japanese American community was able to combine grassroots protest, a broad united front of Japanese American organizations and individuals, as well as allies among African Americans, Chicanos and Latinos, and progressive whites to win victory after a more than ten-year fight.
More than 15 years ago, Japanese Americans were among the first to rally to side of American Muslims who were targeted by the federal government with a special registration of people from majority-Muslim countries. Right-wingers in and around the Bush administration openly spoke of the need to get over the World War II concentration camps in order to clear the way for more persecution of American Muslims.
Now the xenophobia of Donald Trump is going far beyond the bad times following the passage of the so-called Patriot Act in 2001. His travel ban on people from seven Muslim majority countries included not only refugees but legal permanent residents and even American citizens with dual citizenship. But his executive order was met by massive protests at airports across the country where people were being denied entry to the U.S. and has now been put on hold by afFederal judge.
Today, Feb. 17, I just learned of a memo being circulated in the Trump administration that proposes to mobilize up to 100,000 National Guard to carry out another executive order by Trump that targets up to 8 million undocumented immigrants for deportation. The use of military force to carry out the mass removal of immigrants would be an unprecedented step not seen in the U.S. since the dark days of the World War II concentration camps.
Now more than ever Japanese Americans need to step up their resistance to Trump’s attacks on Muslims, Mexicans and others. We need to share not only our suffering and resistance in the concentration camps, but also the hope and knowledge gained from our fight for redress and reparations.
Gambatte Kudasai! (Please Struggle!)
Masao Suzuki is a member of the San Jose Nihonmachi Outreach Committee (NOC), which is sponsoring their 37th Annual Day of Remembrance event on Sunday, Feb. 19.