During the Second World War, the United States detained around 120,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps. Many of the victims came from California. Now the state wants to apologize.
February 19 is “Day of Remembrance” for Americans with Japanese roots. On that day in 1942, the then president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, signed executive order 9066, the document that made it possible for 120,000 Americans of Japanese origin on the west coast to be locked in internment camps.
This year the day after this “Day of Remembrance” will have a special meaning: This Thursday, the California legislature is to approve a resolution by which the state apologizes to all victims of racist internment – 75 years after the end of the Second World War.
“I want California’s legislature to apologize while the camp survivors are still alive,” said Al Muratsuchi, a member of the California parliament who initiated the resolution. Muratsuchi, born in Japan, is one of approximately 430,000 people with Japanese roots in California. This makes the “Golden State” on the west coast of the USA the state with the largest Japanese-born population.
Fear of possible Japanese spies
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, panic broke out in the United States. People with Japanese roots were seen as potential spies for the enemy. After President Roosevelt cleared the way for interning Japanese Americans, they were torn from their lives. Those affected were only allowed to take what they could carry and lost their jobs, their businesses, their houses and practically all their belongings. Two thirds of them were US citizens.
The camps to which they were transported are now known in the United States not only as “internment camps” but also as “concentration camps”. There was little privacy here, people slept on straw mattresses. Two of the warehouses were in California, others of the total of 10 plants were located in Arizona, Arkansas and Utah, for example. The last camp closed in 1946. ´
Even after they returned from the camps, those affected still struggled. The xenophobia and fear among the population did not simply disappear at the end of the war. And many Americans with Japanese roots never got back on their feet after losing their family businesses.
Crammed together in the tightest of spaces
Mary Murakami from San Francisco was imprisoned as a 14-year-old with her family in a detention center in Utah. She told her story about Deutsche Welle in 2016. On the evening of December 7, 1941, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, “it became very quiet in San Francisco’s Japanese Town,” Murakami told DW. “When we looked out of our window, we saw the US Army. The men stood shoulder to shoulder on the street, from one sidewalk to the other. You couldn’t get in or out of our neighborhood. We knew it was very bad for us looked. “
In the camps, people were crammed together in the smallest of spaces. “We were housed in barracks of around 200 people. Each family was assigned a number – we were number 22416,” Murakami recalled. “We were lucky because my sister was able to organize two rooms for our family of seven – one for my parents and brothers, one for us girls. Actually, we would only have got one.”
There was a shared latrine for all families in a barrack. The toilets had no doors, nor the showers.
California takes responsibility
The US government apologized for the deprivation of civil rights and inhumane treatment in 1988. It paid each victim compensation of $ 20,000. The California apology does not include monetary compensation. However, it is intended to be a sign that California recognizes its role in the processes that have caused so many people suffering.
Author: Carla Bleiker