HomeAsian AmericansWe must remember February 19

We must remember February 19

By Ed Diokno, Views from the Edge

Years ago – before Trump had his reality show – I had just written a column on the anniversary of Executive Order 9066. I distinctly remember a co-worker asking me if “I really thought” the US could incarcerate people on the basis of race again.

I said “Definitely.” My belief that it could happen again is stronger now than it was then. Under the Trump administration, we are witnessing the rise of White supremacists coming out of the dark corners of our nation. Attacks on Muslims and people of color are more commonplace. So are the administration’s racist policies against immigrants. Unfortunately, separating children from their parents and then putting them in cages is no longer on the front pages and the outrage is fading. 

As if the actions of ICE and custom agents isn’t bad enough, the creation of so-called elite forces of the border patrol to overcome sanctuary policies of some states and cities is … well, I’ll say it, gestapo-like.

February 19 is observed as the Day of Remembrance for Japanese Americans. On this day in 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which gave the U.S. Army the authority to remove civilians from the military zones established in Washington, Oregon, and California during WWII. 

This led to the forced removal and incarceration of some 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast, who had to abandon their jobs, their homes, and their lives to be sent to one of ten concentration camps scattered in desolate, remote regions of the country.

The day is significant today because there are forces in the US that would like to repeat history, using EO 9066 as the precedent for incarcerating other ethnic minorities.

“It is not enough for today to be a Day of Remembrance. It must be a day that we say no more to separating families and imprisoning children, no more spreading lies about immigrants, no more targeting of people because of where they come from or what religion they follow, and no more using the census as a weapon,” says the JACL statement.

Undocumented immigrants and refugees are already being placed in detention centers.

The Trump administration is trying to enforce a ban on Muslims traveling to this country and there is a real fear that people originally from Muslim-dominated countries could be rounded up and placed in camps.

The Japanese American Civic League, which in recent years has become more active in raising its voice against actions against ethnic minorities, issued this statement about Feb. 19, a significant date for the Japanese American community. 

The JACL statement reads:

On this 77th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, we do more than just remember the Presidential order that enabled the incarceration of nearly 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans.

We remember the racism and xenophobia against Japanese and other Asian communities that led up to the issuance of Executive Order 9066.

We remember how our government lied about the national security threat that we imposed, simply because of our Japanese heritage.

We remember how our community leaders were targeted by the FBI because of the groups they were in, members of Buddhist and Shinto churches, martial arts instructors, Japanese language school teachers, and many others.

We remember how the census was used against us to identify who was Japanese and needed to be rounded up and imprisoned.

Most of all, we remember the lives impacted: the dreams ended, the families torn apart, the lives destroyed.

We remember that Japanese Americans were forced to prove their allegiance to our Constitution through the dedication of military service for a country that was imprisoning their families with no guarantee of release. We remember others who showed their patriotism by choosing to defy unconstitutional orders in support of Constitutional ideals. These are choices no one should ever have to make.

We remember all these things especially because they are now repeating today.

It is not enough for today to be a Day of Remembrance. It must be a day that we say no more to separating families and imprisoning children, no more spreading lies about immigrants, no more targeting of people because of where they come from or what religion they follow, and no more using the census as a weapon.

Just over thirty years ago, we as a country formally recognized the wrongs we had done and offered an apology to those incarcerated during the war. We should not have to make another apology for what we do now. We can correct ourselves, we can do better.

Feb. 19 shouldn’t be observed only by Japanese Americans. EO9066 is a dark chapter in American history, but it is American history, nonetheless. It is a chapter that needs to taught in schools and remembered by all Americans so we can resist it and fight the hysteria behind it.

As the Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in WWII grow older and fade away, we can’t forget the normal everyday Americans who imprisoned them were their neighbors who thought the actions were well-meaning. It is human nature and too easy for people to forget other peoples’ rights when they act out of fear.

Witness Charlottesville. See the men with their automatic rifles take over national parks and government buildings. Watch the self-appointed vigilantes patrol the border.  Listen to the changes of “Lock her up.” It doesn’t take much to turn ordinary people into uncaring thugs.
For a listing of some of Day of Remembrance events scheduled around the country, please refer to the JACL website at https://jacl.org/events/day-of-remembrance/

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