By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Moving forward from prejudice-motivated exclusion of Japanese Americans and American Muslims requires change.
Seattle’s Day of Remembrance provided a public opportunity to reflect on the actions of U.S. military commanders against those born of Japanese ancestry living in Washington, Oregon, and California.
It was standing room only for almost 1,500 people at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion on Feb. 19, the same day 75 years ago when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. Washington state has recognized Feb. 19 as the Day of Remembrance since 2003.
The Seattle Public Library hosted the public conversation about the mass incarceration of 120,000 Japanese American men, women, and children during World War II.
Billed as “Never Again: Japanese American World War II History and American Muslim Rights Today,” the presentation featured four speakers — Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Densho Executive Director Tom Ikeda, and Arsalan Bukhari, executive director of the Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Moderator Michele Storms, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, opened the program by acknowledging the presence of incarceration survivors and their family members. “Being here today is an opportunity for us to remember so that those things will never happen again,” she said.
“The incarceration of Japanese Americans is a historical tragedy and a stark lesson that our country should never single out any group of people and restrict their rights because of ethnicity, race, religion, or any other reason.”
She introduced Filipino Japanese American writer, performer, and law school student Troy Osaki, who delivered an original poem.
Murray spoke about the city’s history. “Today reminds us that we have been here before,” he said.
“We have been here before at the end of the 19th century when Chinese Americans were expelled from the city of Seattle. … Today marks not just a memorial about the past, but a message that we are never going there again.”
He announced the State of the City address would be given on Feb. 21 at a local mosque, not at City Hall.
Rep. Jayapal, the first Indian American woman in the U.S. House of Representatives, represents Washington’s seventh district and was sworn in to the 115th Congress in January.
She said, “Let’s be very clear that Executive Order 9066 was a terrible, terrible mistake with enormous consequences for people in the United States and across the world, and we will never let that happen again.”
About 12,000 Japanese Americans in Washington state were bused to temporary assembly centers (such as Camp Harmony at the state fairgrounds in Puyallup), before moving on to their final stop: concentration camps (such as the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Minidoka, Idaho).
Her first piece of legislation, introduced last week and developed with U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, is the Access to Counsel Act, “which essentially allows for all immigrants who are in detention of customs and border protection or of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to have access to an attorney.”
“And today, as we stand on this stage for this Day of Remembrance, I want you to know that it is only us that can make a difference. There is nobody else that is going to make the difference,” Jayapal said.
“Just know that if you do not stand up, then nobody else can stand up to form that collective voice. We need every single one of us in the struggle.”
A third generation Japanese American born and raised in Seattle, Ikeda shared a personal story about his grandfather Suyekichi Kinoshita, who immigrated to Seattle in 1908. That year, there was a treaty (the Gentlemen’s Agreement) with Japan that banned the immigration of further Japanese immigrants to the United States.
“If my grandfather had come on maybe the next ship to the United States, he would have been denied entrance,” he said. “And that just rings so much of what’s happening in our country today, where a person, if they’re on a plane one day, the next day they may be denied entrance or sent back.”
Bukhari spoke last about American Muslims in today’s society. He says more than 10,000 serve in our nation’s armed forces. During World War II, more than 33,000 Japanese Americans served in the U.S. military.
Despite the negative media coverage of American Muslims, he said, “The good news is, again as I mentioned, every one of us have the power to change and influence millions of hearts and minds across the country.”
He then offered suggestions on what to do to help prevent discrimination of American Muslims in their community, such as sending e-mails to newspaper editors.
“Every one of you has the power to influence editors who are making decisions that tarnish the reputation, that malign the lives of children and families, and cause real, physical harm to happen,” Bukhari said. “You have the power to change their minds.”
Storms said, “We have to acknowledge our shared humanity, care for each other, and take a stand for each other.”
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.