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.
This weekend, a group of scholars working on World War II Japanese American incarceration history convened in Seattle for a roundtable event hosted by Densho and co-convened by Eric Muller, Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law. Here, Densho content director Brian Niiya recounts the origins of this event and some of the weekend’s highlights.
Minoru “Min” Yasui was one of four Japanese Americans who fought the legality of exclusion and/or detention during World War II all the way to the Supreme Court. While he is best known for his own legal battle, Yasui remained deeply committed to advancing civil rights and justice until his death in 1986. In November 2015, he was posthumously awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his actions. On the October 19, 2016 centennial anniversary of his birth, we take a moment to honor Yasui’s life and legacy.
During WWII, Japanese Americans were stripped of many civil rights but maintained their right to vote, leaving states to make mass provisions for civilian absentee voting. Even so, many accounts point to widespread race-based voter disenfranchisement, echoes of which are anticipated in the 2016 election.
By Brian Niiya, Densho Content Director
I had intended to contribute to this blog a lot more, and one of the types of pieces I hoped to do were essays on prominent figures in Japanese American history on the 100th anniversary of their births. By 1916, we see the start of the peak period of Nisei births, so there are many to choose from. But alas, my ambition out-stripped my ability to do these, and most of the anniversaries have come and gone. But since Densho is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary, I thought I’d dust off this idea and quickly note those who would have turned 100 this year.
This weekend, Seattle lost two pioneering figures in the city’s civil rights history, Robert Santos and Charles Z. Smith. Densho Executive Director Tom Ikeda pays tribute to them both.
What I will remember most are the bright smiles each of them had when they greeted friends. Even as their bodies aged, their faces would light up when they saw you, showing their passion and joy for life.
And the stories they could tell.
There are now literally a couple of hundred documentary films about some aspect of the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Unfortunately, many of them are difficult to view, requiring some effort to track down a DVD or even VHS, with few available through streaming services. This is particularly true some of the older films that were made in the 80s and 90s, many of which are among the best such films. Thankfully, there are some good ones that can be viewed online without charge.
“Nineteen forty-two, how full of events it has been. So many turning points, crisises [sic], days of anxiety and disappointment, yet some happy moments, too. It was like a goodbye to carefree days and a hello to reality.” Fifteen-year-old Amy Mitamura wrote these words in a school essay, “A Review of 1942,” during her fourth month of incarceration at Minidoka concentration camp.
- More Japanese American Incarceration Documentaries You Can Watch Online For Free
- Exceptions to the Rule: How Caretakers Helped Some Japanese American Families Minimize WWII Property Losses
- Sold, Damaged, Stolen, Gone: Japanese American Property Loss During WWII
- Photo Essay: Exclusion Order No. 1, Bainbridge Island
- 4 Bad Ass Issei Women You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
- book review
- current events
- Densho statement
- film review
- hidden histories
- In memoriam
- oral history
- Pacific Northwest
- photo essay
- popular culture