Seventy-five years ago on February 19th, 1942, FDR signed Executive Order 9066. My grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, kin and family friends as well as 120,000 west coast Japanese were deemed “enemy aliens” and incarcerated. Of those 120,000, this included babies, the elderly, the infirm.
The crowd in San Jose was larger than I had ever seen at previous Day of Remembrance events. 2017 and a new populist president, with rumors of a call for a Muslim registries, harkens back to the ugly racism of the past. Former congressman, the Honorable Mike Honda, gave a great talk touching on the past US history of unjust laws against immigrants starting with the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. These series of acts made it nearly impossible for an immigrant to become a citizen via the Naturalization Act. The sadistically named Alien Friends Act of 1798 allowed the president to imprison and deport non-citizens who were deemed dangerous or who were from a hostile nation (Alien Enemy Act of 1798). The Sedition Act of 1798 criminalized making false statements that were critical of the federal government. Not to mention the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Immigration Act of 1924, which affected my grandparents. Laws during the early to mid 20th century disallowed my grandparents from purchasing property or becoming citizens until after WWII. Fast forward to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 which states that the president — and all future presidents — can order the military to pick up and indefinitely imprison people captured anywhere in the world, far from any battlefield. According to the ACLU in 2012, “The breadth of the NDAA’s worldwide detention authority violates the Constitution and international law because it is not limited to people captured in an actual armed conflict, as required by the laws of war. Under the Bush administration, similar claims of worldwide detention authority were used to hold even a U.S. citizen captured on U.S. soil in military custody, and many in Congress assert that the NDAA should be used in the same way.“
Listening to the speakers, remembering all the stories I have heard from my research from my own family members on their experiences with immigration, prejudice, exclusion, incarceration, injustice, assimilation and post-trauma, it made me reflect on that day about all my resources of where I get my “fuel” in making art and writing. I went on a twitter terror listing all the resources of where stories have been documented from former incarcerated Japanese Americans, Canadians and South Americans. I listed resources to learn about the concentration camps, photography archives, and the National Archives database of those incarcerated. I implored people to say names out loud, especially those who are no longer with us, like I did in my installation With Liberty and Justice for Some. I felt then, as I do now, that is important to say their name in the 21st Century air. But now, I feel their names should be shouted out for the world to hear and remembered. I was emotional on this 75th Anniversary, thinking of my late mom and how the experience affected her entire life. I thought about the hardships of my grandparents, my aunts and uncles that they endured. I thought about the stories of those men killed in camps by sentries, the stories Chuck told me of Japanese people being nasty to Japanese people in Tule Lake, the heartbreaking photographs of Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake and Russell Lee.
I think about the stories told to me by numerous others about their own families throughout the years and continuing during my art career. I looked at photographs from my past visits to Manzanar, Gila, and seeing the Heart Mountain barrack at the Japanese American National Museum and the objects associated with the sites. When I first visited Gila River camp where mom and her family were incarcerated, I took photos of myself (pregnant with my eldest son) next to a cactus that I thought looked like one in a photo of my Jichan in 1945 on a picnic outside camp.
I looked closely at small black rocks arranged just so with a small scrubby pine in front of the support beams of a long gone barack and wondered if my mother and grandparents admired this person’s small Japanese styled garden. Could this have been their garden? Did my mom walk the path I walked that day?
When I first visited Manzanar, I found a small, broken tea cup and wondered who’s lips touched this cup? I held the broken cup in my hand and imagined tea being drunk from this cup. Did my uncle’s family hold this cup? Did my art muse/friend Christine’s family members drink form this cup? On my last visit during the Manzanar Pilgrimage, I found two smooth glass pieces obviously from old bottles and wondered if the previous thoughts.
On my 2007 visit to the Japanese National Museum in Los Angeles, upon first seeing the relocated barrack from Heart Mountain where my dad’s family were incarcerated, I was overcome with emotion. The physical presence in proximity to the barrack felt like a powerful force emanating from this object and it was overwhelming.
Attending the Day of Remembrance of the 75th Anniversary of EO9066 was another emotional day for me. I mourn for my ancestors and all the others who had to experience this injustice. I am still mindful and grateful for their existence on this earth at one time and how they shaped my identity and artistic voice. Okage sama de: We are who are because of those who came before us. I am more determined than ever to honor them and fight against injustice.