Seventy-five years ago this week, Japanese Americans in War Relocation Authority (WRA) concentration camps were being asked to fill out the notorious “loyalty questionnaire.” After throwing them into these camps nearly a year before, with no attempt to determine individual “loyalty,” the WRA was now attempting to do just that. But the hastily designed questionnaire and its heavy-handed administration led to many unintended consequences, most of them bad for both Japanese Americans and their jailers.
Most of the discriminatory laws passed during the early 20th century to discourage Japanese immigrants from settling permanently in the United States have been repealed—but did you know that there is still one state that has an alien land law on its books? That state is Florida, and Asian American community leaders there are trying to get it removed.
January 30th is Fred Korematsu Day! Here in California, we’ve been celebrating it since 2011, and now it has been adopted in several other states (shout-out to New York where they’ll be celebrating their first Fred Korematsu Day this year). A Nisei man who defied the exclusion order in 1942, Korematsu’s case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately upheld the legality of the forced removal of Japanese Americans. Later in life, Korematsu became a civil right activist who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.
Join us this February 19th for a Day of Remembrance event to honor Japanese Americans of World War II and stand in solidarity with American Muslims today. During World War II,120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly incarcerated against their will for the sole “crime” of their Japanese ancestry. Today, American Muslims are being similarly targeted because of their faith. We’ve been here before, and it is our responsibility to ensure that we do not continue down a path that values prejudice and a false sense of security over liberty and justice.
Mary Mon Toy (1916-2009) was many things. Singer, showgirl, Broadway performer, activist, thespian. The New York City based actress is best remembered for her break-out role as Minnie Ho in The World of Suzie Wong. She was also one of several Nisei entertainers to adopt “Chinese” names in the years just before and/or after World War II. But while Mon Toy was not alone in hiding her ethnicity to avoid anti-Japanese discrimination, she was notable for perhaps carrying the ruse further than any of her peers.
Let’s face it, 2017 has been a real kick in the teeth for woke folks everywhere. Whether you’re suffering from bad news blues or worn out from the seemingly endless calls to action, the year has us all feeling a little weary. But we keep returning to Megan Ming Francis’s words from the recent Densho Dinner. Despite all that we’re up against, she told the audience: “I’ve never been more hopeful.” And as strange as it may seem, we totally get it. That’s because we’ve seen more people awake and mobilized than we can remember in recent history. And we’ve proven time and time again that when we organize, we get sh*t done. As we gear up to be our best social justice warriors (…and worriers) in 2018, let’s take a look back at all the times in the past year Japanese Americans and allies stood up and said, “HELL NAW!”
Here at Densho, we often draw parallels between the forced removal and subsequent incarceration of Japanese Americans from the West Coast and the treatment of marginalized groups today. Sadly, the need to do this has only increased in recent months. However the current crackdown on and scapegoating of immigrants—particularly those deemed “illegal”—should remind us about an earlier period of Japanese American history: that of the Issei pioneers who came to the U.S. over one hundred years ago and laid the foundation of today’s Japanese American community. But did you know that a good number of those pioneering Issei came came over illegally?
December 5, 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of the best known instance of mass unrest in the one of the WWII concentration camps. The Manzanar Riot, as it was called, was also one of a handful of times in which military police killed inmates in the camps and was a key event in leading the War Relocation Authority down the road of the “loyalty questionnaire” and segregation. Coming one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, sensationalist coverage of the event inflamed anti-Japanese sentiment outside the camps. And the episode exposed deep divisions within the inmate population and with the camp administration.
There is a certain narrative of “success” that punctuates the history of the Japanese American incarceration camps. Whether it is in books or at pilgrimages to these sites, or the museums that commemorate them, stories of perseverance, fortitude, and “making it” against this terrible backdrop are always there. And it is necessary, this narrative, because it gives folks pride. But at the same time, we must ask ourselves, especially as Asian Americans, what does a history and community built on pride of “success” leave out, and more importantly, who does it forget?
The Vietnam War, which officially commenced on November 1, 1955 and lasted for nearly twenty years, cost the lives of over 58,000 Americans and more than 3 million Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Lao soldiers and civilians. The peace movement that gradually turned public opinion against the war is often remembered as an affair led by white college students, white flower children, white pastors, and white mothers, with perhaps a smattering of black and brown faces somewhere in the background. But Asian Americans and other people of color played an integral, and frequently independent, role in the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
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