Day of Remembrance – Real History, Real People: A Reflection by JACL Executive Director Priscilla Ouchida

Contact: Priscilla Ouchida, Executive Director,

Washington, D.C. – Manzanar. Tule Lake. Topaz. Granada. Rohwer. Jerome. Most people would see these words and not know their meaning. For Japanese Americans, these places are seared into their collective consciousness. These are the places where my family was imprisoned during World War II.

Seventy-four years ago on February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The Order occupied three legal-size pieces of paper. It is disturbing how something so unassuming could disrupt the lives of 120,000 people, uproot entire communities, decimate the economic fiber of families and businesses, and psychologically wound generations of Japanese Americans.

The Army came for my family in the spring of 1942. Some went as babies. Some went as grandparents. Some were born in these isolated concentration camps. Most, like my mother and father, were American citizens. Over three years later, almost all were released. Others, like my uncle, died before his release.

It bothers me that 70 years after the end of World War II, there are still political leaders who point to the devastation of the Japanese American community as justification for the incarceration of others – Muslim Americans, Arab Americans, Syrian refugees. Not because of anything they have done, but because of their national origin or their religion.

Forgotten are the heroic actions of the Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service who proved their loyalty with their own blood. Forgotten is the decision in Ex Parte Mitsuye Endo which found that the government could not detain a citizen who is loyal to the United States. Forgotten is the report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians which found in 1983 that there was no military necessity for the incarceration of Japanese Americans, and that the decision for the confinement was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

In 1942, anyone that was 1/16 Japanese heritage was targeted. We were the “enemy du jour.” I don’t know who the emotional “enemy” of the future will be, but when constitutional protections are suspended without cause, it is time for all Americans to speak up.

Today is a day of reflection. Today I remember Pedro Ouchida who fought in the “Lost Battallion” campaign to save the lives of the 141st Texas Regiment. Today is a reminder that mistakes should not be repeated, and that our constitutional rights are fragile unless we, as a nation, make the effort to protect them.

Priscilla Ouchida
Executive Director

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