“I remember our parents telling our family that we had to leave our home within hours. We could only bring one small bag and everything else had to be left behind. We brought warm clothes and the only food we were allowed to bring was the formula for my baby brother. All our belongings were left behind, and all our possessions, including our home, was sold by the government… I hope the government has learned from this racial discrimination and that history will never repeat itself.”
In my family, “camp” does not mean swimming in a lake or roasting marshmallows over the fire. “Camp” is shorthand for “internment camp,” the prison and labor camps the government of our country sent my grandmother and others of Japanese descent to during WWII.
On the 75th Day of Remembrance of the authorization of Executive Order 9066, I am thinking about my family, fear, and resistance. EO 9066 set in motion the mass evacuation and subsequent imprisonment of Japanese-Americans, a move followed on February 24, 1942 by the government of Canada.
The above quote is from my grandmother, an 8-year-old Canadian citizen of Japanese descent at the time of the internment. She and her family were uprooted from their home on Vancouver Island and held in animal stables in Vancouver, before being transferred to New Denver Internment Camp. In the United States and Canada, approximately 140 000 people (an estimated 50-60% of whom were citizens), had their property seized, and were placed in internment camps in the interior of the continent. Inside the camps, conditions were terrible. There were food shortages, outbreaks of diseases like mumps, and bitter cold or heat without adequate shelter or supplies. There was a sense of having been betrayed by a country you chose and worked to make your home—that would never see you as anything other than an “enemy alien” because of your race. There has never been proof that even one person of Japanese descent was involved in the war efforts for Japan, before or after the internment orders.
This fear mongering sounds all-too familiar. Today, in the face of an administration that has shown itself to be hostile to communities of color, and in particular, to Muslim immigrants and refugees, we must prepare ourselves. The President of the United States has issued an Executive Order that is tearing apart lives and families, and has stated his intent to continue pursuing exclusionary policies and systematic denial of human rights. Conservative news pundits have appeared on Fox News, proudly claiming the internment of people of Japanese descent sets a precedent for Trump’s proposed “Muslim Ban.” A notable American newspaper published columns and letters to the editor that claim the internment was justified and understandable during a time of war.
As a Yonsei, a fourth-generation member of the Japanese diaspora, I have always been aware of this dark moment in our history. Unfortunately, there is a silence around this historical moment that pervades history textbooks, public discourse, and, sadly, fills many Japanese-Canadian and Japanese–American homes. On the 75th anniversary of the day that led to my grandmother being held in animal stables, I urge you to remain vigilant. When I hear the political rhetoric swirling around us today—the blatant Islamophobia, or the calls to “think of national security”— I think of my family. Their lives were uprooted and their rights stripped by those who were driven by hate and fear, and they were failed by those that knew what was happening was wrong, but stayed silent. In remembrance of this dark period in history, it is critical for us to raise our voices to face the upcoming challenges to civil liberties.
By Alexandra Tamiko Da Dalt