L.A. Day of Remembrance Draws Huge Crowd

Banners represented the 10 War Relocation Authority camps and the Justice Department camps where Japanese Americans were held during World War II.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

The annual Los Angeles Day of Remembrance, held Feb. 18 at the Japanese American National Museum, had a much larger turnout than usual — and it wasn’t just because this year marks the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066.

The roundup and incarceration of Japanese Americans has taken on added relevance in the last few weeks as the Trump Administration has issued a series of executive orders targeting Muslims, immigrants and other groups.

Several hundred people — estimates range from 700 to 2,000 — turned out for this year’s program, whose theme was “An Attack on One Is an Attack on All.” JANM’s Aratani Central Hall was unable to accommodate that many people, so the overflow was sent to the foyer and the Tateuchi Democracy Forum, where a live feed of the event was provided.

Organizers of Day of Remembrance events in other cities also reported bigger than normal crowds.

Attendees symbolically tore up their name tags — like those worn by Japanese Americans being shipped off to camp — and threw them into old suitcases.

Following an invocation by Maceo Hernandez and East L.A. Taiko, the audience was welcomed by emcees Kay Ochi and Kurt Ikeda, and by Ann Burroughs, acting president and CEO of JANM, who was jailed and charged with treason while fighting apartheid in her native South Africa and became a leader in Amnesty International.

She noted that JANM’s new exhibition, “Instructions to All Persons,” featuring the actual EO 9066 document with President Franklin Roosevelt’s signature, is timely given what is happening today. “We see once again groups of people being scapegoated and targeted in the name of national security, this time because of their religion.”

Burroughs read a statement from former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, who was scheduled to speak but had to cancel. “As Japanese Americans who were directly affected by incarceration, we have a particular moral obligation to remind people that measures like the Muslim ban are not just unconstitutional, they’re un-American,” he wrote. “They threaten to undermine the very thing that sets our country apart, our enduring commitment to freedom and justice for all.

Nobuko Miyamoto (left) and friends sang “We Are the Children,” an anthem of the Asian American movement in the early 1970s.

“In 1942, too many people sat quietly by while Japanese Americans were rounded up and incarcerated in camps. We cannot let similar fears and scapegoating lead us down that path again. Whether you call it travel ban, a registry or extreme vetting, exclusionary policies based solely on race, religion, sexual orientation or any other trait are nothing more than bigotry by a different name.”

Former Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) said that few politicians protested the government’s actions against Japanese Americans. One exception was Assemblymember Ralph Dills, who represented the Gardena-Compton-Lawndale area. Another was State Sen. John Shelley of San Francisco, who intervened when legislators tried to ban incarcerees from returning to California. “Shelley went out to a veterans’ hospital and found a couple of [Nisei] veterans who were wounded, brought them the Senate … When the senators saw the faces of these veterans, they were convinced not to do this … When people stand up and speak up on our behalf, things become different.”

East L.A. Taiko opened the program.

In the post-9/11 era, politicians are still targeting specific groups but are less blatant, Honda said, citing the Patriot Act as an example. The attorney general ordered special registration and fingerprinting of young males from 24 predominantly Muslim countries, but because that might be seen as unconstitutional, “they added another country that was not Muslim, North Korea.”