I recently wrote in another blog that our president shouldn’t have to spell out why it is in the US best interests, not to resort to rhetoric like “radical Islamists,” because these words conflate a large, sophisticated group of cult- like thugs with the billions of peaceful Muslims around the world who practice their Islamic religion with respect for others; or why it is important for us to welcome them onto our shores, if we are to win in the war of ideologies by comparing our US practices of tolerance, generosity and fairness over theirs of hatred, cruelty and intolerance.
Part of being an American patriot is by demonstrating our courage to overcome any fears and by NOT letting the face of evil destroy what is great about our country, a land where people coming from different cultures, can flourish to have a future with no limits. Giving into anxious doubts against refugees can only result in future regret and heartache.
Recent rhetoric reflecting these fears has prompted older Japanese-Americans to step forward to respond by discouraging us from acting in a way that will not reflect well on ourselves, as they remind us of their history.
John Eligon wrote a 11/26/15 NY Times article, titled, “For Japanese-Americans, Resistance to Syrian Refugees Recalls Long-Ago Fears.” The following are excerpts from this report:
“What really disturbed Japanese-Americans was when the mayor of Roanoke, Va., David Bowers, a Democrat, suggested that barring Syrian refugees was prudent in light of the Japanese internment. “It appears that the threat of harm to America from ISIS now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then,” he said. He has since apologized.”
“For Japanese-Americans of that era, it was a reminder of the days when the government forcibly removed them and their families from their farms, boarded up their businesses, put them on trains with the blinds drawn and shuttled them to remote prisons where they were held behind barbed wire, under the watch of armed guards.”
“It was a time, several said, when the news media propagated fear by reporting conspiratorial rumors — such as that Japanese farmers were plowing their fields in a certain manner to send messages to the enemy.”
“Such blatant lies started to turn the tide against us,” recalled George Ikeda, 93, a California native who was sent to an internment camp on Independence Day in 1942.”
“By order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, about 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast, most of them born in the United States, were detained without charges during World War II. People shouted slurs at them. They were forced to fill out questionnaires to test their loyalty to the United States. The government set a curfew for people of certain foreign ancestries, but it was mostly enforced against the Japanese because they looked different.”
“Several people said they recalled being held on fairgrounds in smelly animal stables before being sent to permanent camps. Some remembered sweltering temperatures in their barracks. At Tule Lake, Ms. Fujikura said, she lived in a tar paper dwelling, and the walls between the units did not go all the way to the ceiling, so everyone could hear what was going on in the neighboring dwellings. The communal toilets and showers did not have doors.”
“By the time the last camp was closed in 1946, many families had lost their homes, land and all their belongings. They were generally discouraged from returning to the West Coast, so many settled elsewhere.Several people said they recalled being held on fairgrounds in smelly animal stables before being sent to permanent camps. Some remembered sweltering temperatures in their barracks. At Tule Lake, Ms. Fujikura said, she lived in a tar paper dwelling, and the walls between the units did not go all the way to the ceiling, so everyone could hear what was going on in the neighboring dwellings. The communal toilets and showers did not have doors.”
“By the time the last camp was closed in 1946, many families had lost their homes, land and all their belongings. They were generally discouraged from returning to the West Coast, so many settled elsewhere.
“Ms. Fujikura said that she was accepted at the University of Oregon, but that the university sent her a letter warning she could “return at her own risk,” she said.”
“The camps left lingering anguish for some. Marielle Tsukamoto, 78, who lives in suburban Sacramento and was interned with her family for about two years, recalled the complete darkness of the camps at night, but for the occasional spotlight check. She had a hard time getting over her fear of darkness, she said, even after adulthood.”
“When one of her cousins, a star basketball player, returned to high school for his senior year after internment, teachers and students no longer looked him in the eyes, smiled at or acknowledged him, Ms. Tsukamoto said.”
“She does not want the United States to ever make the same mistake again, she said.”
“In 1952, internment camp survivors successfully lobbied Congress to allow people from Japan to become naturalized citizens. Ms. Tsukamoto was among many who fought for greater redress. The result was a congressional commission convened in 1980 that concluded that the mass incarceration was not done out of national security, but out of “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”
“And they won their biggest victory in 1988 when Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act, requiring an apology and payments of $20,000 each to survivors. In all, the government paid about $1.6 billion to internment camp survivors.”
“We thought that would prevent it from happening to another group in the future,” Ms. Tsukamoto said.
Mr. Yasui’s family noted that the Supreme Court’s 1944 ruling in Korematsu v. United States, which endorsed the executive order requiring Japanese detention, has never been formally overruled. And there is great concern among some Japanese-Americans that the sentiment regarding Syrian refugees has the country headed down a grimly familiar path.
“It’s people reacting in hysteria because of fear,” Ms. Tsukamoto said. “We’re better than that. This is a country that is based on welcoming immigrants.”