LOS ANGELES — The 2016 Presidential election has unleashed thoughts, feelings and acts that are antithetical to our democracy. Blatant racism and xenophobia are on the rise, including a dramatic increase in anti-Asian racism, and hundreds of hateful incidents, along with unconstitutional calls to ban or deport immigrants and Muslims—all of this grips our country. At the same time, an emboldened alt-right, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, among many other hate-based organizations, threaten our society and our democratic traditions.
Today, calls to exclude people based on religion or to refuse refugees and immigrants entry from certain countries emanate from our elected officials, while racist vigilantes attack people of color and brazenly display despicable racist symbols such as the Confederate flag. There are also growing demands for government action against immigrant communities, the LGBTQ community, or religious institutions that test the limits of Constitutionality.
This is all too familiar to the Japanese American community.
It is important to remember Executive Order 9066 and the resulting unjust incarceration of the more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry in American concentration camps was accompanied by vicious anti-Japanese racism and violence. Perpetuated by business interests and many in our government, few spoke out against this vigilante violence. The violence and the forced removal were justified by religious persecution, xenophobia and were fueled by political opportunism with no real opposition.
Historically, anti-Asian racism was codified in laws including alien land laws and exclusion acts. Again, too many in our country remained silent as these laws were passed.
In light of all this, the Japanese American community must speak out. Having had our Constitutional rights revoked by our government not that long ago, we have a special duty to do so. The long history of anti-Asian racism in our country continues to this day and it challenges us to stand up and fight for our rights now more than ever. We must remind our nation of the fragility of our democracy and of our Constitutional rights. The self evident and universal democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution must be defended at all times, especially in times of crisis. The rights to worship freely, to habeas corpus, and to freedom of speech assume greater importance in this current climate.
Indeed, the Japanese American community, who had virtually no one speak in our defense in 1942, has a moral responsibility to speak out now. In particular, we must stand with those civil rights and civil liberties groups speaking out against Islamophobia and the persecution of the Muslim people, and that includes recent calls to create a “Muslim registry” in the name of national security because “we did it during World War II with Japanese…”
The spectre of such a registry reminds us that immediately following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, many leaders of our community were arrested and detained in Department of Justice Internment Camps, well before their families were incarcerated in American concentration camps. The United States Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation compiled lists, or a registry, of religious leaders, priests, teachers, community and business leaders. Held without charges, denied habeas corpus and other basic Constitutional rights, our government’s only “justification” for their actions was that they immigrated from another land.
Nearly 75 years later, the persecution of the Muslim community, and of immigrant communities, is unmistakably similar to what our families endured during World War II, and its aftermath. Seemingly unaware that our country redressed the unjust incarceration of our families and community through the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, some candidates, elected officials and others have claimed that this unconstitutional treatment of our community is a precedent for denying Muslim refugees entry, and for persecuting Muslim Americans.
To be sure, Japanese Americans and their immigrant parents were labeled “non-aliens” and were forcibly incarcerated simply for looking like the enemy and were denied their basic Constitutional rights—freedom of religion, assembly, speech, protection against unreasonable search and seizure—they lost their freedom. Our community, American and foreign born, lost years of their livelihoods, stolen by their own government because of racism, economic greed and political opportunism.
We cannot and will not allow this to happen to anyone else ever again.
As Sue Kunitomi Embrey. co-founder of the Manzanar Committee, once wrote, “Democracy is only as good as those who practice it. It is the practice that is important.”
The Manzanar Committee is dedicated to educating and raising public awareness about the incarceration and violation of civil rights of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II and to the continuing struggle of all peoples when Constitutional rights are in danger. A non-profit organization that has sponsored the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage since 1969, along with other educational programs, the Manzanar Committee has also played a key role in the establishment and continued development of the Manzanar National Historic Site. For more information, check out our web site at https://manzanarcommittee.org call us at (323) 662-5102, and e-mail us at email@example.com. You can also follow the Manzanar Commitee on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube.
The Manzanar Committee’s Official web site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Manzanar Committee Official web site – Licensing and Copyright Information.