Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Opera received a California Liberties Public Education grant to stage “The White Bird of Poston,” a 50-minute children’s opera, as part of its Voices for Tolerance In-School Opera program.
Muratsuchi legislation links Japanese American incarceration experience and Trump’s Muslim travel ban.
Rafu Staff Report
SACRAMENTO — A grant program that teaches the lessons of the Japanese American incarceration was given a renewed life and purpose as Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed Assembly Bill (AB) 491, which will provide $3 million over the next three years in education grants on the incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.
Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) introduced the legislation, which updates the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program (CCLPEP), established in 1998, by expanding the scope of the grant program to include content linking the Japanese American mass incarceration with current civil liberties challenges, including President Trump’s Muslim travel ban as well as his calls for a national Muslim registry.
“I am excited to deliver $3 million in education grants on the World War II Japanese American incarceration. Now more than ever, every American needs to learn these lessons,” Muratsuchi said in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo. “The California Civil Liberties Public Education Program will continue to educate all Americans to defend our Constitution. We need to fight to ensure that no one is ever targeted again because of their national origin or religion.”
The original version of AB 491 also included a $3 million appropriation request for the grant program, but Muratsuchi removed the request from his bill after he successfully negotiated for the $3 million in funding through the Budget Act of 2017 (AB 97).
“AB 491 will help educate more Americans not only about the mass incarceration of innocent Japanese Americans during World War II, but also about what is happening today, with loyal Muslim Americans and others similarly being treated as national security threats,” he said.
AB 491 updates the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, which was established through legislation authored by then-Assemblymember Mike Honda (D-San Jose), who went on to serve in the U.S. Congress. The state grant program was patterned after the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund, a federal board created when President Reagan signed H.R. 442 into law in 1988, granting redress to Japanese American incarcerees.
“I would like to acknowledge and thank Congressman Honda for being the original architect of the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program. I am honored to be able to carry on his work,” said Muratsuchi.
Since 1998, CCLPEP has provided funding for the gathering of oral histories, books, plays, websites, documentaries, conferences, as well as preservation and digitization projects. The program received funding as high as $1 million annually from 1998 through 2011, when the Great Recession led to the grants being eliminated from the state budget.
At the request of Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), Gov. Brown approved $1 million in one-time funding for the program in the 2016-2017 fiscal year. Twenty-nine organizations received grants through the program this past fiscal year, including the California State University Japanese American Digitization Project, Go For Broke National Education Center, L.A. Opera, Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, and the Korematsu Institute.
Dale Shimasaki, who served as executive director of the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund and has been on the advisory board of the CCLPEP, welcomed the governor’s decision and praised legislators past and present, including former Assemblymembers George Nakano (D-Torrance) and Wilma Chan (D-Oakland), for nurturing the program over the years.
“It’s a positive step in the right direction,” Shimasaki stated. “Unfortunately we’re living in an era where we need to be more vigilant about sharing the story than ever on what happened during World War II to the Japanese American community, so the lessons learned from that experience need to be not only shared as we have in the past, but taken to a greater level.
“The key thing on the third phase is we want to tie it to contemporary issues — what is happening to Muslim and immigrant communities — to really put the point home that this is a violation of civil rights and it’s inappropriate to have the kind of backlash we’re experiencing.”
The program will continue to be administered by the State Librarian. The advisory committee, once appointed by the State Librarian, will now be selected as follows: five members will be appointed by the governor, two by Speaker Anthony Rendon, and two by Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon.
Shimasaki said that the process will start with the selection of candidates to serve on the advisory commission.
“The bill takes effect Jan.1, then the State Librarian will start to put up the guidelines for the next round of funding. He will be mindful of trying to tie projects to contemporary events and lessons learned in the incarceration.
“It will be interesting to see who applies. Muslim groups might be interested in partnering with the Japanese American community as well, I hope the process will encourage that.”
AB 491 also amends Section 13000 of the Education Code to include the following language:
“The Legislature further finds and declares that, just as in 1942 when President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 calling for the exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans as national security threats, so in 2017 President Donald Trump has issued executive orders calling for a travel ban for immigrants and refugees from Muslim-majority countries on the basis of national security.
“Moreover, during the 2016 presidential campaign, President Trump called for a ‘total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,’ as well as for a national Muslim registry. These actions and proposed actions made 75 years after the issuance of Executive Order 9066 highlight the ongoing need for public educational activities and the development of educational materials to ensure that the exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans will not only be remembered, but also properly understood, so that no group or community is ever again unjustly targeted as Japanese Americans were during World War II.”
Barbara Takei of the Tule Lake Committee, a nonprofit organization that represents Japanese American survivors and descendants of those imprisoned during World War II at the Tule Lake concentration camp in Northern California and works to preserve the historic site, supports the bill.
“Given the echoes of 1942 and the rising climate of fear and racism targeting Muslims, immigrants and refugees, the work of the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program is more important than ever,” Takei said. “To ensure the mistakes of the past are not forgotten and not repeated, we are grateful that you have introduced AB 491 to continue the work of this valuable program.”