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La Liga de Las Americas

Executive Order 9066 will live in infamy
By Precious Vida Yamaguchi, Special to La Prensa

Latino comedian Carlos Mencía is known for his blatant jokes about African-Americans, Asians, whites, and Middle Easterners.  His famous line about how every race has their “turn” in being discriminated against and now it’s Middle Easterners’ turn has been delivered as, “Why are the American people messing with me? Because Achmed, it’s your turn!”

Precious Vida Yamaguchi with Toshiko Tabata

Uproar of laughter from the audience displays a nonchalant approach to accepting certain acts of injustice the United States has placed on different minority groups, but does this laughter convey our true feelings that injustice can be sugar-coated with humor or does it display our discomfort that we live in a country that tries to protect its population through acts of segregation or national discrimination? 

Mencía jokes ‘every minority group has their turn,’ but what does it mean for a country to forcibly place its own citizens behind (1) barbed wire, as was done in the 1940s, or (2) a double-layered Wall on 35 per cent of the United States/México border, as is being constructed now—all in the name of ‘protecting and securing’ its citizens from identified ethnic groups which the government has targeted?

Note that in the latter case, a Wall is not being built separating the U.S.-Canadian border, a border twice the length than that with México. Moreover, the discrimination of Japanese-Americans in the United States in the 1940s relates to the ways in which many groups are targeted against today—be they Latinos or so-called Arabs.  

Executive Order 9066 and Internment Camps
On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. On Dec. 8, 1941, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his infamous “Day of Infamy” speech. On
February 19, 1942, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, forcing all people of Japanese ancestry in the United States (one-eighth of Japanese blood or more) to be placed in “internment camps.”

The War Relocation Authority was created to administer the assembly centers and camps and relocation of Japanese-Americans began in April 1942. Internment camps were scattered all over the interior West, in isolated desert areas of Arizona, California, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, and Wyoming, and Japanese-Americans were forced to carry on their lives under harsh conditions.

During this bleak period, over 120,000 people were forced to leave their homes, businesses, and all their belongings, except for one suitcase. They were placed in barbed-wire camps, patrolled by armed guards. Subsequently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that ‘internment camps’ were constitutional. See photos at: www.lib.utah.edu/spc/photo/9066/9066.htm

When World War II began, immigration from Japan to the United States was not permitted and immigration from Japan did not take place again until 1952 when the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act took place.  Due to the previous laws forbidding Japanese men to immigrate to the United States, in the 1950s eighty-six percent of the Japanese-American population consisted of women. 


Toshiko Tabata, Fumi Ito, and Reiko Nimura

A former Japanese-American internee, Toshiko Tabata, 82, recalled her experience of relocating to her internment camp; she said, “When we were evacuated, we were only allowed to take one suitcase.  I was just a little girl at the time, so I stuffed as much clothes as I could into the suitcase.


“At the train station, the hinges on my suitcase broke and all my clothes spilled out everywhere. I started to cry, but my father stayed very calm and helped me with my clothes. Everything around me seemed so chaotic and scary.”


Most of the Japanese-Americans living in Southern California were evacuated from their homes and relocated to the Santa Anita Horse Race Track, California, where they and their families were forced to stay in horse stables. 


As Fumi Ito, 78, recalled, “We had to stay in horse stables and there was no privacy. We stuffed the leftover straw and made mattresses to sleep on.”  From Santa Anita, California, they were then relocated to different internment camps throughout the Midwest. 


Another Japanese-American internee, Reiko Nimura, 79, whose family participated in the U.S. – Japan Hostage Exchange Program stated, “The U.S. soldiers threatened to separate our family. My parents didn’t want our family to get separated because who knows how we would find each other again or what would happen to us?


“The only option they gave us was to participate in the U.S. – Japan Hostage Exchange Program. The Japanese had captured some U.S. soldiers so the U.S. decided to take Japanese-Americans, who were U.S. citizens, as hostages and exchange them for the white U.S. hostages. Our country was exchanging Japanese-U.S. citizens for white U.S. citizens.” 


The internee, who experienced the Hostage Exchange program, was only 15 years old when she and her family left the internment camps, and was shipped off to Goa, India. The ship was not allowed to cross the Pacific Ocean so they sailed around South America, Africa, and arrived in Goa, where the exchange took place. The Japanese-Americans were then taken to Japan.


Although many of them were Japanese by origin, most of them did not speak Japanese, know anyone in the country, nor have Japanese citizenship. She and her family lived in Japan as outsiders because they were U.S.-Americans and not Japanese citizens. 


After the United States twice nuclear-bombed Japan in August of 1945, they were located in a city between the two bombing sites (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and she recalled how frightening and traumatic that time in her life was for she and her family.  She wanted to go back to the U.S. and she met a U.S. soldier, who helped her and her younger brother return to the United States. Her parents were not allowed to come back to the U.S. during that time and she and her brother were not reunited with their parents until several years later.


On Dec. 17, 1944, the U.S. War Department revoked the internment camps but all Japanese-Americans had to demonstrate their loyalty by signing affirmatively on a loyalty oath questionnaire before they were released.   


This must never happen again

Carlos Mencía may speak a bit of truth when he states that every minority group has their turn and now Middle Easterners and Latinos are facing the unjustifiable amount of discrimination which other minority groups may have previously faced. But do the people in power ever treat any minority group without prejudice even if that group has been here for numerous generations?


African-Americans have been in the U.S. for several centuries now, but will most of them ever know their true African surnames, which they were robbed of during the times of slavery, which was likewise sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court?


Some Latinos may have immigrated to the United States before Middle Easterners, but are they treated as any more of a citizen if there is a Wall being built to keep Latinos out of the United States? The irony is that over 90 per cent of Latinos are indigenous to North and South America for thousands of decades, whereas the vast majority in U.S. citizens trace their ancestry from Europe by a mere 100-500 years.


So-called “Native Americans” have been on this land the longest, but time can’t redress the genocide of their people that once took place by the invading Europeans. 


In a time of war, people may have prejudices against those who are identified as the enemy, through irrational and inhumane acts of genocide, hate speech, Wall-building, and internment camps. The responsibilities of these acts of injustice by the United States cannot be redressed through money and apologies alone, but must be identified as significant in present day laws, policies, and actions so we can stop creating new events in which our country later regrets with the statement “this should never happen again.”


Our country has said that too many times and yet politicians and their supporters are still enacting legislation to build a double-layered Wall today at the expense of our freedoms, civil rights, and at a cost of over one-billion dollars.  

“This Must Never Happen Again” has been said too many times.





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