California Will Finally Apologize For Putting Japanese Americans in Concentration Camps During WWII

japanese concentration

California is preparing to say sorry for its role in mistreating Japanese Americans during World War II.

On Thursday, lawmakers in the state will vote to pass a resolution issuing an official apology, which follows the 78th anniversary of the Japanese concentration — also known as the Day of Remembrance.

A concentration notice posted in San Francisco. Image via U.S. Department of the Interior

President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 9066 (E.O. 9066) on Feb. 19, 1942, marking the beginning of forcing more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent into 10 concentration camps in the western part of the country.

Of these camps, two were built in California, namely Manzanar and Tule Lake.

Japanese grade school students in recess at Tule Lake Relocation Center in Newell, California. Image via U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Introduced by Japanese-born Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), House Resolution No. 77 (H.R. 77) aims to make California apologize “for its past actions in support of the unjust exclusion, removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and for its failure to support and defend the civil rights and civil liberties of Japanese Americans during this period.”

At the time, not only did California house two concentration camps, but state officials also led the crackdown on Japanese Americans.

Newspaper headlines of Japanese relocation. Image via U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

“Every year during the years I’ve been in the California Legislature, I’ve introduced a resolution to commemorate the Day of Remembrance, that I know many communities across the country observe to remember the lessons of Executive Order 9066,” Muratsuchi told the Pacific Citizen.

“While our nation’s capital is hopelessly divided along party lines and President Trump is putting immigrant families and children in cages, the California Legislature, with H.R. 77 will be issuing an official, bipartisan measure for its own actions taken that led to the incarceration of over 120,000 loyal Americans of Japanese ancestry behind barbed wire.”

The resolution also describes racist laws that preceded the incarceration, such as the California Alien Land Law of 1913, which prohibited immigrants of Japanese descent — and other Asians — from purchasing or leasing land and other properties.

In 1945, lawmakers approved a $200,000 grant to the attorney general’s office to investigate and prosecute those who may have violated the law, many of whom ended up in prison.

Dr. Juichi Soyeda, of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Japan and the Japanese American Society of Tokyo, and Tadao Kamiya, chief secretary of the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce, visit the U.S. to lobby against the proposed California Alien Land Law of 1913. Image via U.S. Library of Congress

The federal government, under President Ronald Reagan, already issued a formal apology (Civil Liberties Act) in 1988, which also compensated survivors $20,000 each. H.R. 77, on the other hand, offers no compensation but serves as an official acceptance of accountability of the state of California.

“We like to talk a lot about how we lead the nation by example,” Muratsuchi said, according to the Associated Press. “Unfortunately, in this case, California led the racist anti-Japanese American movement.”

A Japanese American in Oakland, California put up a banner declaring his American identity ahead of his incarceration. Image via U.S. Library of Congress

“Star Trek” actor George Takei, who was interned as a child with his family in Tule Lake, praised the move but called it “overdue.”

“Welcome, yet long overdue,” he wrote on Twitter, adding a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.

Feature Images via U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (left) and U.S. Department of the Interior (right)

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