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Japanese internment survivors call for closure of immigrant detention centers

By February 15, 2020 No Comments
Survivors of the World War II Japanese American internment camps tell their stories during a forum at the National Japanese American Historical Society in San Francisco. The speakers see parallels between their ordeal and today's immigrant detention centers. (Photo by Daniel Montes)

Members of San Francisco’s Japanese American community recently spoke about their experiences being interred in camps during World War II, while standing in solidarity with present-day immigrants being detained at the U.S.-Mexico border.

During a Feb. 7 speaking engagement at the National Japanese American Historical Society at 1684 Post St. to commemorate the internment of Japanese Americans in the 1940s, several survivors shared their stories.

“It was really hard, because your country tells you you’re no good. So, you reject your language, your food, your culture,” said Sadako Kashiwagi, who was sent to the Tule Lake interment camp in Northern California along with her family.

A Japanese American businessman strung a banner proclaiming his citizenship on his Oakland shop the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. Photographer Dorothea Lange took this image in March 1942, the day before the man’s internment. (Library of Congress photo/Wikipedia)

More than 120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to internment camps, mostly located along the West Coast, after President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942. The order essentially labeled Japanese people living in the U.S. as possible spies.

“All I can say is know your language, be proud of who you are, be strong, be kind and so on. And that is important because you need a base,” Kashiwagi said.

“When Pearl Harbor happened, it was like, I didn’t even know where it was or anything. It seemed very distant, or at least it didn’t seem to have anything to do with me. But, of course, they rounded us all up,” said Chizu Omori, who lived on a farm near San Diego before her family was sent to a camp.

Kaz Naganuma, who was detained with his family for more than three years, said the main message he wants people to take away from his story is that people are continuing to be detained by the U.S. government unjustly, referring to the detainment of thousands of Mexican and Central American families at the border.

“We have to stop repeating history,” he said. “It must change, not just what’s happening with the administration (of President Donald Trump), but at the border.”

He added, “It’s hard to imagine after 75 plus years this is still happening.”

Jon Osaki, whose father was interred in a camp, recently produced the film “Alternative Facts: the Lies of Executive Order 9066,” which explores reasons for the incarceration of Japanese Americans.

“I believe that one of the greatest lessons that must be remembered from the incarceration of our community, is that in 1942, no one stood up for us. There were no protests. There was no organized effort to insist that incarcerating an entire group of people was wrong.

“Unlike 1942, today we have an opportunity to make a stand, to speak out and send a message to the so called leaders of our country that we will not allow an injustice like the incarceration of Japanese Americans to continue,” he said.

As part of the 78th interment anniversary, several members of the city’s Japanese American community are taking part in rallies this month. On Feb. 16, community members will take part in a day of remembrance, starting with a 2 p.m. candle lighting ceremony, followed by a procession through Japantown.