By Sherlock Ortiz
Presidential Executive Order 9066 aimed to grant “protection against espionage and against sabotage” and led to the creation of internment camps for Japanese Americans. Feb. 19 marked the 76th anniversary of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signing the order into effect. The order was enacted in 1942 and internment did not end until 1945. 2018 is also the 30th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act, which publicly apologized to Japanese Americans and granted each surviving internee $20,000 in reparations, as well as a $50 million education fund.
However, the Civil Liberties Act did not right all wrongs. The Act did not compensate 2,264 Japanese Latin Americans from 13 different countries who were interned in the US as well, as reported by campaignforjusticejla.org.
Gabriela Nakashima ’18 is a SOAN major and ethnic studies minor working with the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project (OHP) and the Campaign for Justice movement, which are based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Two of Nakashima’s grandparents were interned in US Camps run by the Immigration and Naturalization Services, which stripped all Japanese Latin Americans of their passports and declared them illegal aliens on US soil.
“I am trying to understand my family’s place in this history of internment and incarceration,” Nakashima said.
OHP is working to maintain and record the stories of Japanese Latin Americans.
“We are trying to preserve their histories and family legacies before they’re gone,” Nakashima said.
Cofounder of OHP Grace Shimizu presented “We Are Not The Enemy!” on campus on Feb. 25. Shimizu, a daughter of a Perukai (Japanese Peruvian, an informal term used by Shimizu), began OHP in 1991 after noticing that some of the older internment victims had not shown up to a yearly reunion, either due to sickness or their passing. Shimizu began collecting testimonies and memories from people like her father, who survived the extradition from Peru to the US and then lived in an internment camp for years. In 1996, she founded Campaign for Justice.
“Justice, it’s in the name,” Shimizu said. “We want to hold the US government accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity that were perpetuated against citizens and residents of Latin American countries during WWII.”
Not only were Japanese immigrants taken from Latin America, Germans and Italians were also included in this internment program. The plan, Shimizu stated, was to take Axis nationals and use them as bargaining chips for civilian hostage exchanges with the Axis countries that the US was fighting. Latin American countries cooperated with the US because they could gain from what was left behind by the immigrants, seizing property and bank accounts. In some ways, internment could be better than staying in Latin America. Seven of Shimizu’s family members were killed in Peru, four adults and three children, after her father had been taken to the US.
Campaign for Justice’s main demands are full disclosure of crimes, with some redress.
“Our struggle is for our democracy, for international justice,” Shimizu said. “We don’t want more Abu Ghraibs, we don’t want more Guantanamos.”
In 1998, the Campaign for Justice’s lawsuit “Mochikuzi v US” succeeded in gaining some ground. The US would pay each petitioner, some 200 Japanese Latin Americans, $5,000 and deliver an apology letter.
“The apology letter, when it came out, did not mention the word ‘Japanese,’ didn’t mention Latin America, didn’t mention the scope of violations that occurred, but it said ‘Sorry’!” Shimizu said.
This was considered unacceptable by most of the Japanese Latin American community, since the aim was to try and maintain a standard for government accountability for war crimes. Shimizu stresses the necessity of visibility and knowledge of the crimes committed.
“We need to promote our right to government accountability and redress. We need to say no to government impunity. Somebody has to be held accountable for these violations. And then that raises the question: what’s proper redress for something we should have already learned the mistake from?”
Lauren Krumholz ’18, who is writing her history thesis on the internment of Latin Americans in the US during WWII, attended the event.
“While it is a very specific instance of internment, it can be very easy to forget that it happened to people who are still alive,” Krumholz said. “Making reparations involves really explicitly stating that this was done with these intentions that were malicious, unjust and extralegal.”
The US government will most likely never admit to these violations.
“It was very much done through loopholes and non-official processes,” Krumholz said. “It wasn’t visible, it wasn’t known.”
The way for the US government to win respect is to address their mistakes and pledge to never commit them again.
“Otherwise when does a mistake stop being a mistake?” Shimizu asked, “When does redress of crimes become a mere cost of doing business?”