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From the Executive Director: Japanese American History Is American History

By May 21, 2021May 28th, 2021No Comments

David Inoue

On May 27, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands will hold a hearing on HR 1931, the Japanese American Confinement Education (JACE) Act.

This bill will do two very important things: 1) it will permanently reauthorize the Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grant program with an additional $38 million in funding until spent, and 2) it will establish a new educational program with an additional $10 million in funding over the next five years. Together, this will mean at least $5 million in federal funding for programs promoting education on the Japanese American experience.

The JACS program first came into being over 15 years ago when Floyd Mori was serving as JACL executive director and as a result of his longtime friendship with Rep. Bill Thomas, then chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

The congressman represented a sprawling district in Central California, which happened to also include Manzanar. As a result, he shepherded the bill through Congress to passage with overwhelming bipartisan support. Even today, the JACE Act continues to garner significant bipartisan support with six Republican co-sponsors on HR 1931, even in a hyperpartisan political climate.

Over the course of the past 12 years of funding, beginning in 2009, $35 million has been provided to 269 projects. The impact on scholarship and the preservation of sites has been tremendous.

Funding goes not only to further the scholarship and preservation of the 10 WRA Relocation Centers, but also to more than 60 Civilian Assembly Centers, Relocation Centers and Department of Justice, Army and Federal Prison sites that also served to incarcerate Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II.

Unfortunately, with the extensive support that has been provided, the JACS program will soon exhaust its original funding of $38 million. It is imperative that we re-fund the JACS program with an additional $38 million to continue its work of ensuring the American public continues to learn in different ways and through the lens of the incarceration sites about the Japanese American experience.

The JACS program has been and will continue to be effective in funding projects as small as $5,000, but as large as $800,000. And yet, these projects are all conducted independently.

The JACE Act will continue the funding of the many independent projects but will also introduce an additional element of $10 million in funding to also bring coordination to our broad community-based efforts.

Modeled on the Never Again Education Act, passed by Congress last year, the goal of the JACE Act would similarly be to promote broader education on the Japanese American experience.

This could include promoting inclusion of our story in public education and will be dependent upon the collaborative relationships fostered by the Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium (JACSC). This coordination and community collaborative factor has been the one missing component from the JACS grant program and will serve as the ideal addition.

With the hearing on May 27, this is your opportunity to be heard. The committee will accept public testimony in support of the JACE Act up through five business days following the hearing.

For information about how to submit your letter of support for the JACE Act, visit the JACL website at Letters will be due on June 4.

As we close out Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, there is no better way to celebrate than with this hearing to recognize our history as American history.

David Inoue is executive director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.