Lillian Nakano is a third-generation Japanese American from Hawaii and was
active in the redress campaign as a member of Nikkei for Civil Rights and
Redress. She lives in Torrance.
Feb. 19, 1942, was a day that changed the lives of Japanese Americans
forever. I was a teenager growing up in Hawaii when President Franklin D.
Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which set into motion the removal
and incarceration of more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry in
inland concentration camps.
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, a tense atmosphere of suspicion and
hysteria engulfed the West Coast and Hawaii. Decades of anti-Japanese and
anti-Asian legislation and racism had already laid the foundation for the
events that soon took place. We were rounded up without due process even
though we had nothing to do with the attack. Our family was shipped to
California, then to Arkansas and finally to Wyoming, where we spent the
duration of the war.
Upon our release from the camps, Japanese Americans began to pick up the
pieces of wrecked lives, in the face of continuing racism and hostility.
For years, we suppressed our anger, bitterness and shame about the unfair
treatment we got.
Today, many in the Japanese American community will attend the annual Day
of Remembrance events in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities, with
the goal of teaching new generations the lessons from that painful time.
Some of my fellow Americans are now being targeted because they are Muslim,
Arab or Middle Eastern. When the attacks of Sept. 11 happened, I mourned
for the innocent lives that were lost. But I also began to identify and
sympathize with the innocent Muslim Americans who immediately became
victims of the same kind of stereotyping and scapegoating we faced 63 years
ago. They too have become targets of suspicion, hate crimes, vandalism and
violence, all in the name of patriotism and national security…
Some ideologues on the right seek to rewrite history in order to justify
government policy and racial profiling. One example is Michelle Malkin’s
2004 book, “In Defense of Internment: The Case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in
World War II and the War on Terror,” which not only rehashes the untruths
that Japanese Americans have heard for years but also asserts: “The most
damaging legacy of this apologia and compensation package [redress won by
Japanese Americans] has been its impact on national security efforts. The
ethnic grievance industry and civil liberties Chicken Littles wield the
reparations law like a bludgeon over the War on Terror debate.”
There is no justification for racism or denial of civil liberties – not in
1942 and not in 2005