As we come to the close of 2019, we look back on 90 years of JACL. When founded, JACL was a response to the discimination against Japanese Americans and their Japanese parents who were denied the opportunity for citizenship by the immigration laws of the time. Little did they know the depths to which the discrimination they would face in the coming years, which would define their generation and JACL as an organization.
It is without doubt that the incarceration was inevitable for the majority of Japanese Americans. Efforts at resistance through the courts were met with what are now condemned as the worst decisions in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court.
JACL chose to counter the false charges of Japanese and Japanese American sedition and espionage with unabashed displays of patriotism and obedience to our government, regardless of whether the government was perceived as being just or right.
As a result, the Japanese American community is often recognized as exemplary for our displays of patriotism.
The accomplishments of the 100th/442nd have built an immense credit of goodwill and admiration from all Americans, even in the most-fractured political climate.
The achievement of redress just more than 30 years ago was a watershed for our community and our country. That our country would take the step to apologize for the great wrong it had committed was momentous and groundbreaking. It sets a precedent and a model for more work to be done in the area of social justice.
The recent years have been quite challenging for our country and JACL. After 9/11, President George W. Bush was emphatic that the lessons of World War II had been learned, and Muslims would not be subject to unjust detention or suspicion.
Publicly, efforts were made to ensure that the Muslim community was embraced in a way Japanese Americans had not. However, policies such as the Patriot Act have taken their toll.
Just as Executive Order 9066 never explicitly stated it was targeting Japanese Americans, we continue to pass laws and policies that result in the discriminatory targeting of people because of their religion or immigration status.
The Muslim Ban not only exemplifies this round-about methodology, but the Supreme Court’s validation of the law perfectly mirrored the court’s rulings in the Korematsu, Hirabayashi and Yasui cases that the government’s claims of national security outweighed the overwhelming evidence that the real basis of the law was racist in intent.
Our own story is not unique but is one of many stories of discrimination in our nation’s historic arc.
The Chinese exclusion act targeted the Chinese, and it was then Japanese workers that came in to work on the railroads that had just been built by the Chinese.
Today, we demonize the immigrants seeking to come across our southern border as Japanese immigrants were once targeted.
Although for many Japanese Americans, our family’s immigration story occurred more than 100 years ago, it was not unlike the immigration sought by those crossing the border today.
We must continue to remember our own history and inform others how we treat those who are today in the shoes of our ancestors.
When we speak of injustice, what frustrates me more than most anything are when some use the excuse that they do not discriminate against people, so why should they be made to support programs to address inequality.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated about slavery reparations, “I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea.”
At 77 years old, Sen. McConnell may not have lived during slavery, but he was alive and likely remembers the Jim Crow laws that existed well into the latter half of the last century.
The evils of slavery did not end with the Civil War, the underlying racism and dehumanization continue on even today, whether it is the devaluation of the lives of black men or the caging of brown immigrant children at the border.
Where this leaves us for the future is that the lessons of our past are directly relevant to what happens today. There is a growing recognition in the Japanese American community of the need to bring our experience to bear in the fight for broader civil rights protections for all.
The other lesson to be learned from the incarceration experience is that when no one stood for us, the incarceration was possible.
Redress was possibly only with the support of a broad coalition of communities standing up with us to say what had happened was wrong and needed to be addressed.
Together, in solidarity with other groups, we can be a strong force for change and help other communities achieve the much-needed apology and reparations from our nation.
Elsewhere in this issue, you will read about Tsuru for Solidarity. JACL has also been engaged in forming the Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) Consortium.
Both of these groups will be coming to Washington, D.C., in the spring to advocate on behalf of our Japanese American community, and you can be a part of this movement.
The JACS Consortium will be coming to Washington, D.C., from March 31-April 2 to meet with members of Congress to emphasize the importance of the JACS grant program in preserving our Japanese American history and its relevance today.
Tsuru for Solidarity will be in D.C. from June 5-7 in what we expect to be the largest assembly of Japanese Americans and our allies since incarceration imprisoned us together in the camps as we speak out in opposition to our cruel and inhumane immigration policies.
There is much to be done to preserve our history, but with an eye on what is happening in the here and now. JACL can be a force for change. A force for good.
I hope that you will join me in Washington, D.C., to show that Japanese Americans will be a voice for justice — we can and will make a difference going forward into our next decade.
David Inoue is executive director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.