Imagine for a moment – that your government issues an executive order stating that all citizens of your ethnicity has 3 DAYS to pack what you can in ONE SUITCASE and sell your possessions (home, cars, businesses, clothes, heirlooms, photos). You have no idea where they’re going to take you or how long you’re going to be there. This happened in 1942 to 120,000 Japanese Americans who were US citizens.
As a 3rd generation Japanese American, I still have difficulty wrapping my head around this gross injustice that happened simply because of our ancestors’ affiliation with Japan. Not one Japanese American was found to be a “spy” – the reason the US government incarcerated JAs along the west coast for over 3 years.
I talked with my grandparents about their experiences in these internment “relocation” camps. They never wanted to speak out against America because they loved being in America. But my uncle told me stories about the vitriol and hatred people had for anyone who looked Asian. While standing on a corner at 5 years old, holding his father’s hand, people called them “Japs!” and spat at them.
My family lost their business, vehicles, and trust. After WWII, they had to rebuild their lives while being subjected to hate crimes they never reported. Because we look different from Caucasian Americans, we became the easy target of misplaced anger. This was clearly discrimination by the government and the public.
While Germany and Italy were also clearly the enemies during WWII, German Americans and Italian Americans were not incarcerated like the Japanese Americans. JAs from Washington, Oregon, California, and Arizona were forced to relocate to 10 relocation camps. If the government was concerned about spies on the west coast, then why did they NOT incarcerate JAs in Hawaii?
I write this to help us see one piece of discrimination and hate against Japanese Americans. It’s happening against Chinese Americans (and Asians) today because of the fear and unknowns about the coronavirus. Unhappy and insecure people often seek what they consider “underdogs” to pick on just the way bullies do on the school yard, social media, and the workplace.
Don’t be complicit. Stand up and speak out against hate crimes.