On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing the displacement and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast. With this order, the U.S. government uprooted the Japanese community from their homes and businesses, and incarcerated them for years in concentration camps, termed “War Relocation Authority Centers.”
Even before Executive Order 9066, the U.S. government targeted the Japanese community. Following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the FBI arrested and detained thousands of Japanese immigrants they deemed a security threat to the United States. Japanese Latin Americans were kidnapped from their communities and brought to the U.S. concentration camps as well to use in prisoner-of-war exchanges exchanges with Japan.
For their crime of looking like the enemy, these Japanese immigrants—fathers, husbands, leaders in their communities—were separated from their families and incarcerated in prison camps run by the Department of Justice and U.S. Army for anywhere from a few months to several years. Some were paroled to WRA Centers and able to rejoin their families, others were deported to Japan.
It is impossible to quantify the losses of family, friends, and community incurred from this mass incarceration, or the toll this trauma took on Japanese American prisoners’ mental and physical health. The Japanese American community endured all of this due to the United States’ racism and “war hysteria” that made the camps a reality in the first place. This pain of family and community fracturing is our lived experience, history, and inheritance. We know what happens when people are rounded up and imprisoned in “detention centers.” We speak from our past with all the weight of our community’s experience to say: stop repeating history.