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California To Officially Apologize To Japanese Americans Over Internment

Feb 20, 2020
Originally published on February 20, 2020 7:09 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

How do you atone for holding more than 100,000 American citizens in detention camps? Today the state of California is going to try. The state legislature will officially apologize for holding Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II. Few of those people are still alive to appreciate the apology, but the California lawmaker who proposed it says the wartime experience of Japanese Americans is more relevant than ever. NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: Wartime propaganda put a patriotic gloss on the relocation of Japanese Americans.

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MILTON EISENHOWER: The many loyal among them felt that this was a sacrifice they could make in behalf of America's war effort.

JAFFE: This is from a government film narrated by Milton Eisenhower, director of the War Relocation Authority.

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EISENHOWER: We are protecting ourselves without violating the principles of Christian decency.

JEFFREY MOY: We are talking about folks who were American citizens who were forced to leave their homes, forced to leave most of their possessions behind - to leave their pets behind.

JAFFE: Jeffrey Moy is the national president of the Japanese American Citizens League, a civil rights organization. He says, just imagine...

MOY: How much of a shock it was for people's rights to just be stripped from them.

JAFFE: The resolution of apology was introduced by Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi.

AL MURATSUCHI: We need to remind ourselves of what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II and to see the parallels to what we see happening to Muslim Americans and to immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

JAFFE: What happened to Japanese Americans has long been seen as wrong. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, apologizing to camp survivors for, quote, "racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and a failure of political leadership." The act also provided $20,000 in restitution to each survivor.

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PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: Yet no payment can make up for those lost years. So what is most important in this bill has less to do with property than with honor - for here we admit a wrong; here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.

JAFFE: But California owes survivors a separate apology, says Muratsuchi.

MURATSUCHI: Because California was really at the forefront of fanning the flames of racism and immigrant scapegoating against Americans.

JAFFE: As far back as 1913, California passed laws preventing them from owning or leasing land. The California Legislature also urged Congress to strip American citizenship from Japanese Americans who were dual citizens and urged that the property of those who were interned be distributed to other Americans.

MURATSUCHI: So I felt that it was important to document this uniquely Californian history of racism and immigrant scapegoating against Japanese Americans.

JAFFE: Most of the survivors at the camps have now passed away. But Jeffrey Moy, president of the Japanese American Citizens League, says California's apology is not too late.

MOY: There is intergenerational trauma. All right? It's not just the trauma of those who were incarcerated themselves.

JAFFE: And the apology, he says, can comfort those still carrying the pain of their parents and their grandparents.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ZOE KEATING'S "FERN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.