By Ed Diokno
It took 78 years, but the state of California finally acknowledged its role in the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans by starting the process of issuing an official apology.
The California Assembly unanimously passed the resolution Thursday afternoon. The Senate will vote on its companion measure soon and then the resolution will go to Gov. Gavin Newsom for his signature.
Even though the US Congress issued a similar apology in 1983, Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, who sponsored the resolution, felt it important for the state to issue its own formal apology.
“Unfortunately, during the years leading up to World War II, California was at the forefront and led the nation in so many ways in fanning the flames of racism and immigrant scapegoating against Japanese Americans,” said Muratsuchi, who was born in Japan.
The Golden State has the largest population of people of Japanese descent of any state, numbering around 430,000.
The resolution came a day after Newsom declared Feb. 19 a Day of Remembrance. That’s the date in 1942 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order that led to the imprisonment of Japanese Americans across 10 camps in the West and Arkansas.
“This stain on our history should remind us to always stand up for our fellow Americans, regardless of their national origin or immigration status, and protect the civil rights and liberties that we hold dear,” Newsom said on Wednesday.
Japanese Americans also felt it was important to have the resolution because of the current anti-immigrant climate fueled by Trump administration policies such as the Muslim travel ban and the harsh treatment of asylum seekers at the southern border with Mexico.
The Japanese American Citizens League has also been outspoken against the separation of infants and children from their parents as well as detention centers that house thousands of refugees.
“Given recent national events, it is all the more important to learn from the mistakes of the past and to ensure that such an assault on freedom will never again happen to any community in the United States,” the Assembly resolution states.
“Nearly 80 years later, I’m glad that my home state of California is passing a resolution to formally apologize to the Japanese American community for the role it played in perpetrating these atrocities,” Rep. Mark Takano said. “This apology is long overdue, but necessary.”
According to Takano, there is a responsibility to speak out against fearmongering that targets innocent communities and prevent history from repeating itself. He said this starts by Congress passing the Korematsu-Takai Civil Liberties Protection Act – legislation he introduced with Senator Mazie Hirono to prevent the unjust imprisonment of people on the basis of race, religion, nationality, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability.
Rep. Doris Matsui added that a profound sense of togetherness will continue “bending the moral arc of this country,” as well as prevent the repetition of past mistakes.
“Our country’s strength is its diversity,” Matsui said, “and Japanese Americans, as well as all immigrant communities, will continue to make that American tapestry that much more vibrant.”
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