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Japanese Americans Commemorate Remembrance Day

People leave a Buddhist church at Manzanar Relocation Center, California, in 1943. From

Japanese Americans commemorated Remembrance Day on 19 February. During this time, they reflected on the unjust detention of Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II as a result of Executive Order 9066, enacted by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, which stated that all American citizens with Japanese heritage were to be incarcerated in the name of national security.

Duncan Ryuken Williams, professor of religion and East Asian languages and cultures at the University of Southern California, has explored the role of Buddhism in the lives of many of those who were interned across the United States.

“While it has become commonplace to view their wartime incarceration through the prism of race, the role that religion played in the evaluation of whether or not they could be considered fully American—and, indeed, the rationale for the legal exclusion of Asian immigrants before that—is no less significant,” Prof. Williams writes. “Their racial designation and national origin made it impossible for Japanese Americans to elide into whiteness. But the vast majority of them were also Buddhists. . . . The Asian origins of their religious faith meant that their place in America could not be easily captured by the notion of a Christian nation.” (Smithsonian Magazine)

This action took place after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and more than 100,000 people were forced to leave their homes before being shipped to internment camps all over the US. After the war ended, many of them were unable to reclaim the real estate and personal property that they had owned prior to their internment.

Dr. Duncan Ryuken Williams. Image courtesy of Duncan Ryuken Williams

As part of the internment, Japanese Americans in the states of California and Washington were required to visit control stations and register with the federal government.  After their names and the names of their family members were collected, they were given a time and place to go so they could be transported to a camp.

Many people tried to challenge the internments in the court of law. A 23-year-old welder by the name of Korematsu refused to report to the camps. In the Supreme Court, he questioned the constitutionality of the internment of Japanese Americans. However, the court upheld Executive Order 9066, deeming it an important part of national security.


Once Japanese Americans arrived at the camps, they faced challenging conditions: they lived in barracks that did not have insulation, they slept on cots and used coal-burning stoves for heat, bathroom and laundry facilities were shared among large numbers of people, and the barracks were surrounded by barbed wire.Armed guards walked the perimeters of the camps, and they were instructed to shoot anyone who tried to escape.

Several members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) released statements in response to Remembrance Day. CAPAC Chair Judy Chu (Democrat representative, Pasadena) said:

This Sunday marks the 81st anniversary of President Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, which led to the wrongful incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese Americans on the basis of xenophobia and racism. This Day of Remembrance continues to be significant as xenophobia and fear-mongering are once again leading to anti-Asian hate and racist policies which infringe on the civil rights of Americans.

(The Rafu Shimpo)

CAPAC Second Vice Chair Mark Takano (Democrat representative, Riverside) commented on Remembrance Day:

On this Day of Remembrance, we reflect on the pain and suffering Japanese Americans endured in internment during World War II with the signing of Executive Order 9066. More than 120,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry, including my parents and grandparents, suffered because of unjust fear and discrimination combined with a failure of political leadership. We are a nation that celebrates diversity and equality, and we must remain committed standing as one union, free of prejudice, intolerance, and xenophobia.

(The Rafu Shimpo)

Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, released a proclamation to commemorate Remembrance Day, which described the internments:

A decision motivated by discrimination and xenophobia, the internment of Japanese Americans was a betrayal of our most sacred values as a nation that we must never repeat. This stain on our history should remind us to always stand up for our fellow Americans, regardless of their national origin or immigration status, and protect the civil rights and liberties that we hold dear.

(The Office of Governor Gavin Newsom)

In 1988, Congress stated that the incarcerations were “motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership,” and they authorized payments of US$20,000 to Japanese Americans who had suffered as a result of the internment camps. (Britannica)

See more

CAPAC Members Observe Day of Remembrance (The Rafu Shimpo)
What the U.S. Did to Japanese Americans Could Happen Again (MSN)
The Complex Role Faith Played for Incarcerated Japanese-Americans During World War II (Smithsonian Magazine)
Governor Newsom Proclaims A Day of Remembrance: Japanese American Evacuation 2.19.23 (The Office of Governor Gavin Newsom)
Japanese American Internment (Britannica)

Related news reports from BDG

Rev. Marvin Harada, Bishop of Buddhist Churches of America, Reflects on the Rise of Asian Hate Crimes
Buddhist Scholar Duncan Ryuken Williams Wins Prestigious Grawemeyer Religion Prize
Tsuru for Solidarity Takes Peaceful Action to Protest Mass Detention of Immigrants in the US

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