By Louis Chan
AsAmNews National Correspondent
The current political climate casting a suspicious eye on Muslims and refugees is all too familiar to Sadako Kashiwagi.
At just 10 years old, she was rounded up and imprisoned along with more than 18,000 Japanese Americans in Tule Lake in California, one of ten concentration camps set up by the federal government.
When asked if history was repeating itself, Sadako’s eyes began to well up. She cupped her hand and raised it to cover her mouth. Nodding affirmatively, she simply said “I can’t speak.”
Sadako was one of a nine people who spoke at a news conference at the Japanese American National Historical Society in San Francisco. As the country celebrates President’s Day this weekend with sales and a three day weekend, many are also pausing to remember Sunday’s 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066. The order by President Franklin D Roosevelt set the stage for the incarceration of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.
“It really has an impact on children,” she would later say to AsAmNews following the news conference. “You’re made to feel ashamed of who you are . You forget about your language. You won’t eat food. That’s not right, that’s not right. You are who you are.”
Her husband Hiroshi Kashiwagi was also imprisoned at Tule Lake, although the two didn’t meet until after they were released. His memory of his experience is still vivid.
“The fence, and the guard tower,” Hiroshi responded when asked about his strongest images from Tule Lake. “The fact that we were penned in, that we couldn’t go near the fence. And we would be warned to not go too close. If you continued to go on your way, they might shoot you. There were cases like that where person got maybe unknowingly close to the fence and he was shot.”
The news conference Friday took place just a few hours after the Associated Press reported on a draft memo which called for 100,000 National Guard troops to augment border security.
The White House quickly said the memo was never seriously considered and never made it up the chain of command.
“How much of this is about direct impact and targeting and how much is about creating a culture of fear,” asked Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Council of American Islamic Relations, Bay Area. “Even if 10 percent of that rumor with the Associated Press is true, that’s still a frightening idea that we maxed out on custom and border protection agents and ICE agents, so now we’re going to bring up the National Guard.”
Hiroshi Shimizu was just 5 when he also was a Tule Lake. The AP report reminded him of 1943, when authorities at Tule Lake declared martial law out of fear of rioting. He remembers 2,000 soldiers at Tule Lake, many with tanks and jeeps mounted with machine guns. He says Tule Lake was under martial law for five months.
“That is very similar of a military action that happened then and could happen today,” he said about reports of the National Guard. “That’s what we need to keep guard about.”
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act which approved a formal apology and $20,000 to each Japanese American incarcerated in the incarceration camps. The movement continues to win redress for 2,200 Latin Americans of Japanese descent who were forcibly deported to concentration camps in the United States.
“What we’re seeing too is more normalization of trying to identify an enemy and vilify an enemy and right now it looks like anybody can be the enemy,” said Grace Shimizu; Campaign for Justice: Redress Now.
The news conference was part of a series of events taking place in cities across the U.S. that has commonly become known as a Day of Remembrance.
“I see the Day of Remembrance as a way of bringing light to what people are capable of doing to each other and from that become a little aware of how as human beings we can become example of Hitler or a Mother Teresa,” said Rev. Ron Kobata of the San Francisco Buddhist Church.
“Know your history, be strong, and don’t be ashamed,” concluded Sadako.
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