Sunday, January 02, 2005

Feel the Love

Ms. Maglalang says:

While I disagreed strongly with Matsui's stance on the WWII evacuation/relocation/internment...

Does anyone really wonder what Malkin's views about internment would have been if she had been born Robert Matsui:

I'd like, if I may, to take a moment to read something that I was able to get through the Freedom of Information Act in 1992. Individual number, 25261C. File number 405986. Your birth, '41, relocation center Tule (?) Lake, assembly center Pinedale. Home address, Sacramento, California.

Country of birth of father U.S. mainland, country of birth of mother, U.S. mainland. Birthplace, California. Year or arrival, American born, never in Japan. Marital status, single. Languages, not applicable.

Race, Japanese and no spouse. Highest grade, no schooling or kindergarten. Military service, no military nor naval service and no physical defects, and no public assistance or pension program.

Alien registration and Social Security number, none. Did not attend Japanese language school. Has neither alien registration number, nor the Social Security number.

Length of time in Japan, none. Age in Japan, never in Japan. Schooling in Japan, and number of years, none.

That happened to be my file that is still in the defense Department of the United States government. I was six months old at the time that I was taken, with my mother and father, from Sacramento, California, and placed in internment camps in the United States.

I was never given a trial. I never went before any magistrate, nor did my parents. To this day, I do not know what the charges that were lodged against me or my deceased parents at this time.

I spent approximately three and a half years of my life there, although I have no personal memory of it. I do know that many of my friends of Japanese ancestry suffered a great deal.

My mother and father refused to talk about it with me until they were nearing their death, separately, obviously. I remember when I was in the fourth grade at William Bland School in Sacramento, California, I was asked by a very well intentioned teacher, because we were studying American history and World War II. She said, "Bob, weren't you in one of those camps, those camps for Japanese during the war? And maybe you can describe this to the classmates."

I'll never forget it. I shuddered. I must have turned color and I said "I don't know what you're talking about." She says, "Are you sure? You were in one of those camps. I know your mother and father were." I said "I don't know what you mean."

Then we went out later in the playground and I remember one of my friends, a very good friend, going like this to me as if it were a gun or something, and saying, "Were you a spy? Was that why you were in jail?"

What our problem was was that there was this specter of disloyalty that hung over us as Americans of Japanese ancestry, those of us that were interned during World War II, 115,000, Americans, basically, of Japanese ancestry.


And the U.S. general, John L. DeWitt, who was in charge of the internment and incarceration of the Japanese Americans, stated a few months later "The Japanese race is an enemy race, and while many second and third Japanese born in the United States soil possessed of U.S. citizenship have become Americanized, the racial strains are undiluted. It therefore follows that along the virtual Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies of Japanese extraction are at large today."

And the reason I call your attention to this, and what happened in the comments and before December 7, is because there was an anti-Asian sentiment. There was a strain throughout the West Coast, and particularly the state of California. Pearl Harbor merely triggered the sentiment to become a sign of action. It is my believe that the internment was for that reason. It was the triggering event of deep seated feelings that existed in the state of California, and Washington, and the entire west coast of the United States.

As I said, this was something that we had a very difficult time talking about, and it wasn't until 1981 when the Congress of the United States actually set up a commission to look into the causes of the internment, and also whether anything should be done, such as apologies, or redress, or reparations for those that were interred.

I was personally stunned, because of the seven or eight hearings throughout the United States, many Americans of Japanese ancestry who at that time were in their 60's, began to speak out. And it was stunning because as they were testifying, they would immediately break down and begin to describe their ordeal; the fact that they were isolated and ostracized from their own communities, their own state, and obviously the nation.

I recall going back and finally having the opportunity to talk with my parents. And my mother, who was at that time dying, said that yes, she woke up all of the time in the middle of the night thinking that she was in one of the camps.

My dad finally began to speak about it. It was an event that kind of opened up for us the opportunity to begin to discuss what had actually happened. Instead of saying that it was our fault, we were then able to finally say that it wasn't our fault. It was the government, a failure of leadership in the United States that caused the internment.


Let me conclude, and then we'll have questions and a discussion, if I may make one other observation, if I may. This is a great and wonderful country, because what happened in 1987 is that the House, the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate passed legislation for a presidential apology for the internment for the surviving Americans of Japanese ancestry who were interned, plus compensation of $20,000 per survivor.

President Reagan signed the legislation, and I have to say that I brought the letter from the president, by that time President Bush, Sr. had signed the letter and given it to my father, who was 21 years old at the time of the internment, and he broke down and cried, and he indicated what a great country we had.

I have to say that it's very few countries that are willing to look back at its past and apologize for its act, or make amends for its act, as the United States had one. Hopefully as a country, that we learn from our mistakes of the past.