Friday, March 17, 2017

Discrimination Sucks

‘Nikkeijin,’ citing history, blast Trump’s travel bans

The Asahi Shimbun  by ARI HIRAYAMA/ Correspondent March 17, 

A monument marks the spot where the Heart Mountain internment camp once stood. (Daisuke Nakai)

LOS ANGELES--The words of U.S. President Donald Trump have prompted Japanese-Americans to take action.

Never again, they insist, should the United States repeat the discrimination based on fear that led to the mass internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Through executive orders, Trump has twice tried to impose a travel ban on Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East and Africa.

Each time, federal courts have issued rulings halting implementation of the ban. And each time, Japanese-Americans have voiced their objections to Trump’s measure.

An executive order signed by President Franklin Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942, forced about 120,000 Japanese-Americans and their immigrant parents from their homes on the U.S. West Coast to 10 internment camps in seven states.

Tohru Isobe still serves as a volunteer at the Japanese American National Museum, where he talks about his experiences at the Heart Mountain internment camp. (Ari Hirayama)

Tohru Isobe, 90, still bitterly remembers being taken to such a camp despite being a U.S. citizen born in San Francisco.

Isobe now volunteers once a week at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, where he explains to visitors his experiences at the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming.

Isobe lived for a time in Shizuoka with an aunt and uncle before returning to the United States when he was 12. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, his parents were operating a hotel in Los Angeles.

The FBI detained Isobe’s father principally because he had once served in the Japanese military. But Isobe, his mother and siblings were taken to Heart Mountain.

He recalls the frigid winters when temperatures dropped to minus 20 degrees as well as the barbed wire that surrounded the camp. His family did not have the freedom to eat meals together, and he remembers the boredom of camp life with little to do.

Isobe now works as a volunteer because he feels that too many people are unaware of what Japanese-Americans went through. He believes that it is his duty to relay his experiences.

Isobe was especially disturbed by the Trump administration’s travel ban because the targeting of specific ethnic groups and religions was the same tactic deployed against Japanese-Americans during the war.

Japanese-Americans have long held events on the day that Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 to pass on the history of what happened 75 years ago.

This year’s event at the Japanese American National Museum on Feb. 18 attracted so many people that another meeting room had to be quickly arranged.

But the audience, many of whom were not Japanese-Americans, was so big that some people had to sit on the floor to listen to participants talk about their experiences during World War II.

Norman Mineta, a former U.S. Congressman and transportation secretary (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Norman Mineta, 85, is another individual who was interned at Heart Mountain and who clearly understands the importance of transmitting that history.

Mineta became the first Asian-American to serve in a Cabinet position when he was appointed secretary of transportation by President George W. Bush.

In March 2001, shortly after taking the post, Mineta said he had the opportunity to talk directly to Bush for about two hours to relay his experiences at Heart Mountain.

Six months later, the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred, and the sentiment that all Muslims were dangers to national security spread throughout the United States.

Bush, however, stated at a Cabinet meeting that the United States should not do anything that would lead to a repeat of what Mineta and his family went through.

Nowadays, Mineta is concerned that comments made by Trump and high-ranking members of his administration show a lack of understanding about history. According to Mineta, any discrimination against Muslims would go against U.S. principles.

The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center now provides visitors to the internment camp site in Wyoming with a historical record of what occurred there.

Shirley Higuchi serves as chair of the board of directors of the foundation that operates the center. Her parents met at the Heart Mountain camp and later married.

Higuchi contributed a piece to USA Today soon after Trump won the presidential election in November. Around that time, an individual connected with a political action committee that supported Trump said a registry of Muslim immigrants would have a precedent, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

"Trump ... would be well served by a visit to Heart Mountain to see firsthand the consequences of unchecked fear,” Higuchi wrote.

She has yet to receive any feedback from the White House.

But Higuchi said it is the role of Japanese-Americans to raise their voices whenever specific religions or ethnic groups are being targeted.

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