[Editor’s note: The following statement was issued by JACL Executive Director David Inoue and Public Affairs VP Sarah Baker and was lightly edited only to adhere to AP Style.]
Today marks the 79th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, which paved the way for the mass incarceration of nearly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry in the United States. Based on then flimsy, and now fully disproved, claims of national security, the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans is now fully recognized for the racism that served as the foundation for the policy and has been repudiated by our government in the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.
While we remember Feb. 19 as the point in time when EO9066 was signed, we acknowledge that this was one point in a stream of policies intended to oppress and exploit minority communities. The policies against Japanese Americans followed the forced removal of Native Americans from their lands, the enslavement of Africans, and Chinese and Irish worker exploitation in the construction of the railroads followed by the exclusion of Chinese immigration. In the past year, we have seen an escalation of hate incidents targeting Asian American communities not dissimilar to the hate that preceded incarceration.
Today, we continue to exploit new immigrant communities for cheap labor under the cloud of what we pejoratively call illegal immigration. We want the cheap labor, but do not want to afford the rights of personhood through legal immigration status, let alone citizenship. Today we continue to use incarceration as a weapon against communities, disproportionately against immigrant and minority communities.
We also remember the resistance to the false narrative that Japanese Americans were a security threat. Nowhere was this better countered than with the exploits and wartime achievements of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service. Victory in the war would have likely been significantly delayed without the participation of Japanese Americans in the war effort. We remember the court cases of Mitsuye Endo, Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, and Min Yasui who challenged the incarceration in the courts. We remember the resistance in the camps, individually and collectively, and the segregation of resisters to the Tule Lake segregation camp and federal prisons.
We also remember our government’s capacity to apologize and seek to right a wrong. The passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 acknowledged the wrong and sought to provide reparations. While no amount of money would truly and fully compensate incarcerees for their economic losses nor the emotional scars of trauma upon them and their families, the cost to the country affirmed the deep recognition that we as a nation had to share some of the pain that the Japanese American community had felt, to take responsibility.
It is with this sense of recognizing our wrongs and seeking to make them right that we as a country might continue to aspire to the formation of a more perfect union.
Watch the JACL’s Day of Remembrance event with the Smithsonian National American History Museum here.