“Don’t let history repeat itself,” implores a widely-shared and well-received PSA published by pop star Katy Perry this week. The film short, funded by Perry and directed by Aya Tanimura and Tim Nackashi to raise awareness about the dangers of Islamophobia, opens with 89 year old Haru Kuromiya and her memories of being herded into a concentration camp during WWII–except that it doesn’t. Haru, as we learn halfway through the video, is in fact Pakistani actress Hina Khan.
Earlier this month, community leaders, including Densho director Tom Ikeda, gathered at Redmond’s Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) mosque to dedicate a new sign, replacing one that had been destroyed in a hate crime. The leaders pressed their hands into cement at the base of the new sign, symbolizing their commitment to stand by MAPS and its congregation of some 5,000 families.
On Sunday, The Los Angeles Times published two reader letters that employed racial stereotypes, misinformation, and logical fallacies to argue in favor of the World War II-era mass incarceration of Japanese Americans. The backlash from readers was swift and loud, so The Times published an acknowledgment that they’d exercised poor editorial judgement to their Readers Rep blog on Monday. But we think they needed to do more, so we decided to help them out with this corrected version of the post. (The original text by Times reporter Deidre Edgar is in plain text, our corrections appear in bold.)
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese navy launched a surprise military attack against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor located on the island of O’ahu. The attack not only brought America into World War II, but raised suspicions of citizens and immigrants of Japanese descent. The full repercussions of the attack would not be known for months to come, but the immediate aftermath brought catastrophic changes for Japanese Americans who had built lives in Hawai’i and on the West Coast.
As a chronicler of American race relations, writer Chester B. Himes was deeply impacted by the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. In his 1945 debut novel, “If He Hollers Let Him Go,” — the “greatest L.A. novel ever written” — Himes spoke candidly about racism and the Black experience in wartime Los Angeles. He wrote the novel while living in the Los Angeles home of Japanese American writer Mary Oyama Mittwer, who was imprisoned along with her family at the Heart Mountain concentration camp.
It’s been a week since Carl Higbie came under fire for citing Japanese American incarceration as a precedent for Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim registry. Densho staffers joined the chorus of voices in condemning the idea that WWII incarceration stand as a model for anything at all. There’s a clear moral argument against using this black mark on American history as a precedent for future governance. And indeed there are distinct parallels between the treatment of Japanese Americans of the 1940s and American Muslims today.
Throughout this year of 20th anniversary celebrations, we have been invigorated by the accolades and warmth we felt from our community. But we know we have a lot of work to do. Your donation will help us carry on the important work of using Japanese American history to stand for social justice today.
We are deeply concerned about the state of our nation. In the aftermath of the presidential election, there has been a spike in hate crimes against people of color, Muslim Americans, women, and other vulnerable groups. The stories posted by Shaun King and tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center are painful reminders that America’s racist past is very much a part of our present. We hurt to know how many are feeling afraid and threatened.
“No loyal citizen of the United States should be denied the democratic right to exercise the responsibilities of his citizenship, regardless of his ancestry….Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.” Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote these words on February 3, 1943, just one year after he signed Executive Order 9066. Even though their families were unjustly incarcerated precisely because of their “race and ancestry,” thousands of young Nisei joined the U.S. Army between 1940 and 1945.
Following a blueprint laid out by the Depression-era Mexican Repatriation, Japanese Americans were subjected to deportation during WWII as a punitive measure for their supposed disloyalty. This practice has been making a quiet comeback, with nearly three times as many immigrants deported since 1996 as in the rest of U.S. history combined.
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