Monday, September 24, 2007

Legacy of Internment

This is my last day in the Pacific Norhtwest. It has been a fruitful research trip, and an even more fruitful recharging the batteries trip. And unlike my recent excursion in West Virginia, nothing on this trip has really sent me into the realms of racial discomfort and paranoia, although there have been moments, in reading and researching about the Japanese America internment/incarceration, and in looking through the archives and handling original documents related to this piece of history, when I have been filled with a sense of deep sorrow and sadness.

I don't know why the Japanese American internment/incarceration has this effect on me--but I've always felt a strong pull to make sure people know the details about this period in U.S. history--that one of the worst flauntings of the constitution happened with Executive 9066--that Japanese Americans experienced the worst brunt of institutional racism and discrimination--one whose legacy is felt to this day, not only within the Japanese American community but in terms of our own governmental policies with respect to post-9/11 and Iraqi and Afghani detainees.

It always amazes me that more people don't comprehend the ramifications of EO9066--that the constitutional rights of ALL PEOPLE, INCLUDING U.S. CITIZENS, WERE SUSPENDED ON FEBRUARY 19, 1942 and the U.S. military chose to only incarcerate people of Japanese descent. Sure there were a few Italian and German men (almost all were immigrants and had not been naturalized) who were detained, but there was never a forced, en masse removal of German or Italian American people on the West Coast. And there was never a case of espionage by any Japanese American--so the conceit of "military necessity" was a myth that many historians have since proved in the aftermath of internment.

And again, as I wrote in an earlier post, the internment was never only about the Japanese American community. There have always been allies of various races who protested the internment. And there were certainly plenty of people of all races (including some self-hating Japanese) who probably thought it was a good thing. But I guess the thing to remember is that like it or not, we're all in here together. I'm not trying to plead a Rodney King "Can't we all just get along" mantra, but I do think that we need to remember the past and to understand that it's never just about one group--the legacy and ramifications of internment (like slavery and like the displacement and genocide of American Indians) affects us all.

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