Nikkei Student Union sponsors events

    The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is an unforgettable part of American history. On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, effectively suspending the civil liberties of Japanese Americans by relocating them to internment camps. Every year on this day, Japanese Americans across the United States come together for a national Day of Remembrance for the internment, finding power in the collective memory and consciousness.

    When Roosevelt signed the Order, Japanese Americans were forced to evacuate from their homes and moved to internment camps located in California, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Arkansas. Within six months of Roosevelt’s order, over 120,000 people of Japanese descent had been relocated. About 70,000 of those relocated were U.S. citizens by birth.

    This year, Nikkei Student Union at UCSD will honor the Day of Remembrance. NSU hopes to use the day to promote awareness, to honor those who suffered, and to warn against future injustices against anyone.

    “”We hope that the Day of Remembrance will help educate the UCSD campus of the struggles and hardships that Japanese Americans had to face during the war, and that we can learn from the past,”” said NSU president Stacy Toyota.

    This year, NSU will hold its events at Price Center Plaza from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Feb. 19. The event will feature information exhibits complete with photos, accounts and artifacts from different internment camps. The event will host guest speakers George Wakiji, president of the Ventura Club chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, and Peter Irons, UCSD political science professor and practicing civil rights and liberties attorney.

    Wakiji was interned at the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona during WWII. In the 1980s, Irons was the lead counsel in a successful Supreme Court case to reverse the criminal convictions of three Japanese Americans ó Gordon Hirabayashi, Minoru Yasui and Fred Korematsu ó who challenged curfew and relocation orders.

    “”The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is often overlooked in most American history curriculums, so one of the main goals of this year’s Day of Remembrance is to increase the awareness of the civil rights violations that took place from 1942 to 1945,”” said Kristen Iwata, NSU chair for this year’s event. “”We also hope to show that, although it was only those of Japanese descent that were affected then, the rights and freedoms of any group could be taken away in a similar fashion.””

    According to Wayne A. Cornelius, UCSD political science professor and director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, the internees included 30 University of California faculty and research assistants, as well as 400 undergraduate students. The internment was the largest forced migration in United States history.

    “”There is a long history of anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States dating back to the late 19th century, which is why we had a ëJapanese exclusion clause’ included in the 1924 immigration bill,”” Cornelius said. “”But the wartime hysteria of 1942 was clearly the catalyst for the forced relocation.””

    Over 40 years later, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, in which Congress declared the internment “”a grave injustice”” and offered a national apology. Executive Order 9066 was reversed and reparations were made to living survivors from the camps. According to Irons, about 60,000 people of Japanese descent came forward to claim reparations, and each received $20,000 from the government.

    “”The reparations were not the result of a groundswell of public remorse about the relocation,”” Cornelius said. “”Congress acted only after years of prodding by some of its own members who had been sent off to relocation camps themselves.””

    The question of whether such monetary reparations are enough, however, still remains.

    “”I remember my grandpa telling me once that the compensation check they got back from the government would never repay what they lost when they went to the camps: their homes, lives [and] jobs were all taken away from them in a matter of days,”” Toyota said.

    For many Japanese Americans, the day is also a time to personally reflect on the wartime experiences of family members. For Toyota, the day has personal significance because two of her grandparents were interned, one in Arkansas and the other in Wyoming.

    “”I have seen the pictures and heard stories about their times in the camps, but it still amazes me how they endured it,”” Toyota said.

    Brent Mori, a Thurgood Marshall College sophomore and NSU member, has grandparents who were forced to relocate.

    “”[My grandmother] and her family had to move to different places in the United States, including Utah, somewhere in the Midwest and multiple places in California,”” Mori said. “”She also used to tell me about the ëJ-town’ that used to be in Sacramento, but it was gone by the time the war was over. It was sad hearing about the uprooting of the entire community.””

    In addition to the relocation, many Japanese Americans lost their homes, businesses and personal possessions, and put their education and careers on hold. Many imprisoned families had relatives who served or were serving in the U.S. military during the war. For example, the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team that fought in Italy was entirely Japanese American and received over 18,000 individual decoration honors, becoming the most decorated unit in U.S. military history.

    “”One of the most important lessons that I’ve always been taught is that even though most of the Japanese Americans got interned, many of the men that still went to war as Americans proved their patriotism,”” Mori said. “”My grandfather was in the army along with a lot of his close friends, and they remained true to America despite what was going on. So to remain true to the country, and be united by being American, rather than being separated by race, is an important concept.””

    For some, the Day of Remembrance also has an especially poignant meaning in the aftermath of the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

    “”As we have seen from 9/11, we as Americans still have a long way to go in terms of accepting different cultures and not being so quick to point fingers and pass judgements,”” Toyota said.

    According to Cornelius, the government’s post-Sept. 11 actions have revived the issue of racial groups’ rights in the United States.

    “”Immigrants’ rights are always at risk in time of war or other threats to national security, and the blatant discrimination in the U.S. government’s post-9/11 detentions and ëspecial registration program’ is a potent reminder,”” Cornelius said.

    The Day of Remembrance events are meant for anyone who is interested in learning about Japanese American history.

    “”We are targeting all members of the UCSD community in this event,”” Toyota said. “”We hope we can get as many people as possible to come check out our events for the day. We want to educate and spread awareness of this sometimes forgotten event in American history.””

    As an organization, NSU promotes awareness of Japanese American culture and history within the UCSD and San Diego communities.

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