The Japanese American Citizens League held a “Day of Remembrance” at Sebastopol’s Enmanji Buddhist Temple on Feb. 18 in Northern California. Around 200 people marked the 75th anniversary of the incarceration of over 120,000 innocent West Coast Americans of Japanese ancestry in internment camps during World War II.
“They were accused of a crime, sentenced without trial and locked up,” wrote organizer Jodi Hottel in the local daily newspaper. We “hope this reminder of the fragility of our civil liberties will prevent anything like this from happening again.” The event was titled “Protecting Human Rights: Solidarity in Diversity.”
“We are firm in our resolve that this will never happen again,” declared Marie Sugiyama, now 81. She was interned and opened the panel of six speakers of diverse ethnicities. She described the guard towers, barbed wire, and searchlights of her childhood.
“A great injustice was done to Americans,” Sugiyama added. Over 30,000 Japanese Americans served in the U.S. military, helping defeat German fascism and the Imperial Japanese Government.
That Japanese Government had spies in the US, who failed to recruit any Americans of Japanese ancestry. No Japanese American was ever tried for being a spy. The internment was based on racist fears and lies, which the new president continues to propagate, especially against immigrants and Muslims.
“We need to be guided by those ‘better angels’ President Lincoln spoke about,” said journalist and historian Gaye LeBaron, the panel moderator.
“We have an important task—to protect civil rights,” declared African American attorney and civil rights pioneer Charles Bonner. He detailed three ways to do so: direct action, legal action, and legislative action. “We need to sue people who hurt people. This is the beginning of a movement.”
“Our community is experiencing real fear,” said panelist Denia Candela, a dreamer and community activist who emigrated from Mexico. She described the uncertainly created by Trump deporting people, often separating parents from their children, and his positive references to the internment camps. “We need to have each other’s backs,” she contended.
“Mother Earth feels what we are going through. She’s shaking and saying ‘Wake Up!’” said 66-year-old Native American public health administrator Cecilia Dawson. “It feels as if we are fighting again for what we were fighting for in the sixties.”
The final speaker, Mubarack Muthalif of the Islamic Center of North Marin, began with the Islamic blessing and greeting: “May peace be upon you.”
“I tremble about what this administration might do,” he continued, voice choking with emotion. “The Muslim registry is like the Nazis making Jews wear the star of David. We moved from being citizens to being suspects. Our mosques are attacked.”
“How many of you are willing to break a law to protect a Muslim, immigrant, or other threatened person?” asked David Hoffman of the Interfaith Council of Sonoma County from the audience.
Attorney Bonner responded, “Any unjust law needs to be broken. We have to organize. When we do so, Trump will fall.”
“We Jews and Muslims must work together. There are more of us than them,” added another member of the lively audience, to much applause.
“We have to resist with love and compassion. Like hornets, if they attack one of us, we need to swarm,” attorney Bonner declared.
“We are all Americans—no matter what color or faith we are. An attack on one person is an attack on all of us,” added another person.
Participants were informed of future meetings in the California towns of Sebastopol, Petaluma, Cotati, and Santa Rosa, where City Councils and faith groups are discussing issues such as sanctuary cities, the Standing Rock water protectors, and how to work together to build a mass movement of resistance and defiance.
Before and after the Enmanji Temple meeting people conversed and collected signatures on petitions, thus helping build a community of resistance. The “It Won’t Happen Here” petition already has over 4000 churches, other groups, and individual signers.
“This has been an amazing afternoon,” concluded moderator LeBaron.
Such events occurred around the West Coast in Japanese American communities. “I was at the Remembrance Day dinner, an annual event put on by the Merced/Livingston Japanese American Citizens League,” Cynthia Kishi of Sebastopol wrote.
“Mas Matsumoto, the farmer who wrote the book Epitaph of a Peach and nine other books, spoke. He talked about how important it is to speak about the incarceration in light of Trump. He addressed the power of personal story,” Kishi added.