Monday, February 23, 2009

Day of Remembrance 2009 for Japanese Americans

The 30th anniversary of the Day of Remembrance for Japanese Americans who were evicted from their homes and sent to American internment camps during World War II was held yesterday afternoon.

Over 200 people gathered to commemorate the fateful day of February 19, 1942, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that allowed for the exclusion, eviction and imprisonment of about 120,000 Japanese American citizens and residents who were living in Hawaii state and the West Coast.

Yesterday's memorial service included rough cuts of a new documentary of the event, poetry, speeches and a candle-lighting ceremony with inter-faith rituals and prayers.

Afterwards, people spilled out of the Sundance Kabuki Theater in Japan Town and onto the rainy streets for a short procession to the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California for a reception.

The keynote address was given by Congressman Mike Honda who said that 'the genius of this country is that we can correct our mistakes', but that it was a 'greater genius not to make those mistakes.'

Participating in the event and in the audience were people who had lived in the camps as children. The camps had been set up immediately after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor with special Department of Justice camps for those most feared as an 'enemy within', for example, religious and business leaders and newspaper editors among the Japanese community, and ten other camps that President Roosevelt referred to as 'concentration camps.'

With many human rights activists also there, the Day of Remembrance was not only to reflect on the past, but to continue a fight for what they called 'unfinished business', seeking redress for over 2,200 Japanese Latin Americans who were forcibly deported during the War and used in prisoner of war exchanges between America and Japan, and to pursue a 'Never Again!' campaign against internment, focussing on post 9/11 attitudes to Arabs and Muslims living in America.

With little or no notice, Japanese Americans had had to leave their homes and businesses, sometimes selling up in haste at reduced value. Some families were separated and when they were released, were not allowed to return to certain areas. The trauma also had a long-term effect on health.

In 1988, after a long political campaign, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Known as the Japanese American Redress Bill, this awarded $20,000 to every internee and was sent with a signed apology by President Ronald Reagan on behalf of the government. Money was also awarded for an educational fund to provide education about the internment but, it was said yesterday, little of this has been given.

According to the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, the internment had been 'motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.'

For reports on the afternoon and interviews with former prisoners in the camps, see next blogs

pic shows posters with photos of the internment; and some of the candles representing the ten concentration camps and total of over 110,000 Japanese Americans who were held in government camps

No comments: