In case you were thinking that it doesn’t get any worse for non-white U.S. Citizens under the Trump administration, think again.
He’s still one step away from what our neighbors did on February 19th, 1942. This past week was the anniversary of what was termed by some as one of the the darkest moments for Civil Liberties in our nation’s history.
Under Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, (yes, the country’s greatest President!) somewhere between 110,000 and 120,000 Japanese Americans – about 2/3rds of which were U.S. Citizens – were rounded up and sent to “Relocation Centers” in such romantic places as Gila River, Arizona; Manzanar, California; and Jerome, Arkansas. Ten places in all, surrounded by guard towers and machine guns -- through a roundup that made the Nazi definition of who should go their concentration camps look like child’s play.
Anyone in the targeted areas with at least 1/16th Japanese ancestry was subject to incarceration. And it didn’t matter if you were a citizen or not. You went.
Racists in the neighborhoods where this took place took it as an opportunity to steal and loot people’s homes, confiscate their farms and businesses, settle old grudges.
In fact, they didn’t do it in Honolulu where my Mother lived at the time. They did round up local leaders of political, church and social groups. But with a third to half the islanders of Japanese ancestry living there, it was the Chamber of Commerce that stepped in to implore the government not to do it. Where would they put them? And, they said, it would be “economically devastating”.
An interesting lesson. Maybe if we could prove that today’s racism is economically dangerous, it would help stem the tide.
My Grandmother on my Mother’s side was full-blooded Japanese. My Mother half. That makes me a quarter Japanese.
That would mean if it happened again today, they would round up me and I might be spending this day in sunny Arkansas along with my daughter and my grandchildren.
Because of all this, I kind of take the whole racism discussion a little more seriously than some, and use my own ancestry as a reminder that we are ALL immigrants in one way or another.
You see, I’m not a white guy, though I guess you wouldn’t know it to just glance at me. But when I tell people I’m part Japanese, they usually respond with, “I knew there was something different about you”.
A subtle, but pointed way of saying I’m not like them. That indeed there is a difference. Not normal. Not of them. And questionable at best.
Makes me wonder what they were thinking was “different” all this time. Was it my eyes? Was it my smell? Was it the tint and hue of my skin? My attitude?
It’s as though I mentioned in casual conversation that I was part Martian.
I carefully hid my heritage under a blanket of shamrocks by highlighting the Irish side of my history; hanging around in Irish bars, drinking Guinness, and being a little two-fisted. But as time went by and the chasm between the present and my Mother’s death grows wider, I have begun to embrace my Japanese side as if to capture a lifeline to a past that is now long gone.
It’s why I get my hackles up when I’ve been accused of not knowing what it’s like to be a minority. I am one. I have distinct memories of our family being asked to leave restaurants in the South on a camping trip to Florida when I was a kid. And having waitresses not serve us in Brockport where I grew up. Of my mother having problems getting a job.
In fact, the bullying my brother got when he was a kid was so bad (he looks like m Mother, I look like my Father) that he moved away for college and never really returned. Even now I get chastised for calling myself an “Oriental” (the word is ASIAN don’t you know?!) even though that’s what my Mother taught us we were. One of the jobs I had refused to count me as a minority and laughed at me when I told them I was.
The prejudice didn’t fall far from the tree. It was in my own family as well. When my father brought my Mother back to the Mohawk valley after WWII, his sister – my Aunt and her husband, didn’t speak to him again for about 30 years because of his “war bride”.
That’s what makes me so scared about Trump and his version of disguised fascism. He’s all too quick to call something or someone “Un-American”.
So I thought that on the anniversary of 9066, I would remind you that some 3,600 Japanese-Americans from the camps joined the armed forces in WWII, as did over 22,000 others, many of whom were from Hawaii where my Mother was born. The all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team was highly decorated for bravery and actions against the Nazis in Europe.
Doesn’t sound “Un-American” to me.
Yeah, there is something different about me. Because the more I learn about the history of Executive Order 9066, the more I realize that it would be my neighbors – the ones who are real do-or-die, “he can’t do anything wrong” Trump supporters would be the ones condemning me to prison if the clock turned back.
Not likely, I’m told. But then, like I said, today we have Donald Trump and U.S. Senators and members of Congress who think nothing of separating families, incarcerating children, deporting people who came here as youngsters, and running our own modern version of concentration camps for people who are “Un-American”.
His target happens to be Latinos, these days. But it could be me … or you for that matter. So just as some food for thought, I want to re-publish these words from a German Lutheran Pastor who said it in speeches he gave throughout post-war Europe.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.