Saying no community should be singled out for violations of constitutional and human rights, the Board of Supervisors proclaimed February 19, 2017, as a Day of Remembrance to mark the 75th anniversary of a presidential decree that authorized the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, forced more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent – including children and the elderly – from their homes and businesses and incarcerated them without charge or trial under the pretext of national security. None were ever found to have committed sabotage or espionage.
“We should never forget this dark period in our nation’s history,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, principal author of the motion, said. “The civil liberties of the County’s most vulnerable communities continue to require vigilant protection from infringement justified by national security.”
“We cannot forget the injustice that Japanese-Americans endured at the hands of our government during World War II,” the motion’s co-author, Supervisor Janice Hahn, added. “While we can never take back what victims went through in the internment camps, we can tell their stories and pledge that this will never again happen in the United States of America.”
About a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Board at the time adopted a resolution urging the federal government to remove Los Angeles County residents of Japanese ancestry from their homes and hold them, involuntarily, in remote areas. The motion passed on January 27, 1942, as federal and state officials were weighing the merits and legality of detaining West Coast residents without criminal charges. Executive Order 9066 was issued two weeks later.
The violations inspired three generations of Japanese-American leaders and families across the nation to seek redress, which resulted in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, providing for a government apology and reparations for over 82,000 survivors.
On June 6, 2012, the Board rescinded and revoked its previous resolution endorsing the internment of Japanese-Americans. The historic action followed testimony from those who had been held captive or their relatives.
In declaring a Day of Remembrance, the Board emphasized that “no community (should) suffer such violations of constitutional and human rights.” It also encouraged County employees to voluntarily participate in Day of Remembrance events to be held through October, as listed on the websites of the
Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute; the Japanese American National Museum; and the Japanese American Citizens League.
“Even after 75 years, we choose to remember and commemorate this event because we believe that what happened to the countless number of people during World War II – when many were Americans – is something no one should have had to go through,” said Nicole Sato, program coordinator of the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute. “We believe by continuing to teach the next generations, we can educate those to come that something like the Japanese American incarceration cannot not be tolerated.”
“In the light of todays’ events happening around the world and in our country, we believe even stronger that what happened to the Japanese American community 75 years ago should not happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or religion. Civil liberties should not be taken away or denied to anyone by Executive Orders or such actions,” she added. “We should be celebrating and accepting our differences, cultures, heritages, and traditions – not letting it divide us.”
Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said, “We should take stock of our moment in time right now, with respect to others who are under the hammer of unconstitutional behavior. I did say it, I meant it, and I will not retract it.”
He presented a scroll to the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute for its work to educate and inform the community of this dark period in the nation’s history. On February 25, the institute will host a panel of former internees who will share their experiences of life at the camp in Tule Lake. On April 15, it will host an exhibit showcasing artwork that depicts life in the internment camps.