By now most of us know that Allegiance, a musical portraying the Japanese American incarceration and that starred George Takei, ran on Broadway for a few months in 2015–16. And you have also likely seen that a live theater version of that play has screened across the country, with an encore performance scheduled for February 19 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066.
Statement from Densho Director Tom Ikeda
For decades, “Never Again” has been a rallying cry for many Japanese Americans. Invoking these words reminds us of the trauma of our own community’s persecution and unlawful detention. It channels that trauma into action to defend the rights and liberties of other marginalized groups, including our Muslim friends today.
“Don’t let history repeat itself,” implores a widely-shared and well-received PSA published by pop star Katy Perry this week. The film short, funded by Perry and directed by Aya Tanimura and Tim Nackashi to raise awareness about the dangers of Islamophobia, opens with 89 year old Haru Kuromiya and her memories of being herded into a concentration camp during WWII–except that it doesn’t. Haru, as we learn halfway through the video, is in fact Pakistani actress Hina Khan.
Earlier this month, community leaders, including Densho director Tom Ikeda, gathered at Redmond’s Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) mosque to dedicate a new sign, replacing one that had been destroyed in a hate crime. The leaders pressed their hands into cement at the base of the new sign, symbolizing their commitment to stand by MAPS and its congregation of some 5,000 families.
On Sunday, The Los Angeles Times published two reader letters that employed racial stereotypes, misinformation, and logical fallacies to argue in favor of the World War II-era mass incarceration of Japanese Americans. The backlash from readers was swift and loud, so The Times published an acknowledgment that they’d exercised poor editorial judgement to their Readers Rep blog on Monday. But we think they needed to do more, so we decided to help them out with this corrected version of the post. (The original text by Times reporter Deidre Edgar is in plain text, our corrections appear in bold.)
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese navy launched a surprise military attack against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor located on the island of O’ahu. The attack not only brought America into World War II, but raised suspicions of citizens and immigrants of Japanese descent. The full repercussions of the attack would not be known for months to come, but the immediate aftermath brought catastrophic changes for Japanese Americans who had built lives in Hawai’i and on the West Coast.
As a chronicler of American race relations, writer Chester B. Himes was deeply impacted by the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. In his 1945 debut novel, “If He Hollers Let Him Go,” — the “greatest L.A. novel ever written” — Himes spoke candidly about racism and the Black experience in wartime Los Angeles. He wrote the novel while living in the Los Angeles home of Japanese American writer Mary Oyama Mittwer, who was imprisoned along with her family at the Heart Mountain concentration camp.
It’s been a week since Carl Higbie came under fire for citing Japanese American incarceration as a precedent for Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim registry. Densho staffers joined the chorus of voices in condemning the idea that WWII incarceration stand as a model for anything at all. There’s a clear moral argument against using this black mark on American history as a precedent for future governance. And indeed there are distinct parallels between the treatment of Japanese Americans of the 1940s and American Muslims today.
Throughout this year of 20th anniversary celebrations, we have been invigorated by the accolades and warmth we felt from our community. But we know we have a lot of work to do. Your donation will help us carry on the important work of using Japanese American history to stand for social justice today.
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