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November 20th, 2009 by Terry Miller
As we approach the 68th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941, the curators at a local museum have decided to honor thousands of Japanese Americans who were forced from their homes under an order from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The exhibit, at the Ruth and Charles Gilb Arcadia Historical Museum, explores the temporary assembly center at Santa Anita Race track which was used for the detention of Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II. The events that took place nine weeks after Pearl Harbor honors those who were forcibly removed from their homes in the aftermath of the war hysteria and ensuing prejudice.
Japanese American internment was the forcible relocation and internment by the United States government in 1942 of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese residing in the United States to camps called “War Relocation Camps,” in the wake of Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The internment of Japanese Americans was applied unequally throughout the United States.
Japanese Americans residing on the West Coast of the United States were all interned, whereas in Hawaii, where more than 150,000 Japanese Americans composed nearly a third of that territory’s population, only 1,200 to 1,800 Japanese Americans were interned. Of those interned, 62 percent were United States citizens.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt authorized the internment with Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which allowed local military commanders to designate “military areas” as “exclusion zones,” from which “any or all persons may be excluded.” This power was used to declare that all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the entire Pacific coast, including all of California and most of Oregon and Washington, except for those in internment camps.
It took a mere 46 years for Congress to pass, and President Ronald Reagan sign, legislation which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government. The legislation in 1988 stated that government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership”.
About $1.6 billion in reparations were later paid out by the U.S. government to every surviving internee.
In addition, 11,000 people of German ancestry were also interned as were 3,000 people of Italian ancestry, along with some Jewish refugees. The Jewish refugees who were interned came out of Germany and the U.S. Government didn’t differentiate between ethnic Jew and ethnic German. Some of these internees of European descent were interned for a brief time and others were interned for several years beyond the War’s end. Like the Japanese internees, these smaller groups had American born Citizens in their numbers, especially children
According to Stephen Fox’s Uncivil Liberties, Executive Order 9066 also forced uncounted thousand of Italian permanent residents and American Citizens to have to leave their homes through relocation.
Japanese Americans were by far the most widely-affected, as all persons with Japanese ancestry were removed from the West Coast and southern Arizona, including orphan infants. In Hawaii, however, where there were 140,000 Japanese nationals (constituting 37 percent of the population), only selected individuals of heightened perceived risk were interned. Even though such actions would have appeared even more congruent with strategic concerns, the political and economic implications of such a move would have been overwhelming. The Japanese were only vulnerable on the mainland. Americans of Italian and German ancestry were also targeted by these restrictions, including internment. As then California Attorney General Earl Warren
Earl Warren. Warren said of the Japanese internment: “When we are dealing with the Caucasian race we have methods that will test the loyalty of them. But when we deal with the Japanese, we are on an entirely different field.”
“It was a very ugly time in American history,” said one guest as she left the reception in Arcadia: “I’m glad that Arcadia has honored those affected by such hatred and stupidity, I hope learn and never repeat such absurd actions.” Mary “Terry” Mackenzie, from Sierra Madre added that she was glad young people were expressing an interest in meeting some of the people who actually were forcibly removed from their homes. Speaking to these individuals first hand was a “gift” she concluded.
Resplendently, many Japanese Americans who lived through the 1940’s appear to have little to no resentment of what they experienced in the various camps throughout the United States.
A Pasadena couple, Taka and Charles ” Michi ” Nomura, now in their 90’s, attended Saturday’s reception. Charles Nomura said “They ( the camps) were like a vacation really. I didn’t really mind them.” Referring to the time his family spent in camps in TuleLake. The Nomuras’ who also had a small child, were sent to several relocation camps including one in Chicago. Taking everything in their stride was how they got through the relocation. Nomura added that he was glad the government apologized for its actions back then and acknowledged that they did receive a payment for enduring such indignity.
In 1942, Santa Anita Park was used as a temporary assembly center from which people were relocated to various camps across the the USA. There was also an assembly center at Pomona’s Fairplex and sites in Chicago as well as many other spots.
The Arcadia exhibit features several deeply moving still images, film and letters (including one from Bill Clinton apologizing to those affected by the internment)
An opening reception for the exhibit was Saturday. Osamu Miyamoto, Akkiko Nomura and other guests spoke about the Santa Anita Assembly Center and what it was like for Japanese Americans at the time.
“Only What We Could Carry: The Santa Anita Assembly Center” runs through Jan. 16. Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m Tuesday-Saturday. Close on holidays. Open 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Dec. 24 and 31.
The museum is located at 380 W. Huntington Drive in Arcadia. There is no charge to visit the exhibit.