On Sunday, Feb. 19, a standing-room only crowd of more than 700 packed the San Jose Day of Remembrance event. Every year the San Jose Nihonmachi Outreach Committee (NOC) organizes this event to commemorate Executive Order 9066. Executive Order 9066 paved the way for the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II.
Before the event, organizers labored to reconfigure their venue at the San Jose Buddhist Church hall to cope with the expected record turnout. Outside, a number of Japanese Americans held signs and marched through Japantown, comparing Executive Order 9066 with President Trump’s Executive Order 13769 that banned the entry of people from seven majority-Muslim countries.
The theme of the program was “Stand Up to Hate.” Many of the speakers – including Athar Siddiqee, president of the South Bay Islamic Association, and Samina Masood, a Pakistani American and executive director of Silicon Valley Faces – addressed how immigrants from majority-Muslim countries faced inequality and persecution in this country. Other Japanese American speakers such as Jimi Yamaichi, a long-time community leader, and former Congressman Mike Honda linked their experience in the World War II concentration camps with the targeting of American Muslims and immigrants today.
Masao Suzuki of the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee also addressed Trump’s immigration policy. Suzuki criticized the proposal circulated in the Trump administration to mobilize up to 100,000 National Guard troops to carry out the what could be deportations in the millions, saying, “The use of military force to carry out the mass removal of immigrants would be a step not seen since the dark days of the World War II concentration camps.”
The program also including a performance by Aswat, an Arab American ensemble, and ended with the San Jose Taiko. After the lighting of candles for each of the concentration camps, a lighted procession went through Japantown.
The audience was almost triple the size of a typical year. There was a much larger number of families with children than in previous events. One mother explained that her ten-year-old daughter was struggling to cope with recent events since President Trump took office. Another member of the audience said that the record turnout was a referendum on President Trump.