I am here as a member of the Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress (NCRR) which is made up of people who hold regular jobs and volunteer their time to work on redress and civil rights issues. I am also here as a schoolteacher with students from Central High/ All Peoples, so I would like to speak as a teacher. In 1988 this government apologized and paid reparations, money, to all Japanese Americans who were put into places like Manzanar and whose rights had been violated by the Roosevelts Executive Order 9066. This did not happen by magic or through the kindness of Congress and the President but through a long, almost 10 year campaign by the Japanese American community to win redress and reparations. During this struggle we learned many lessons:
We heard many stories. We heard about railroad workers who were fired from their jobs and about children who were shipped to Japan with their parents as part of a hostage exchange program.
We learned that Japanese Latin Americans had been kidnapped and interned in Crystal City, Texas and then, after the war, they were labeled illegals and told to leave.
We also met people who challenged the evacuation and curfew orders and even resisted the draft.
We learned about other communities who were facing discrimination and supported them. We understood that apartheid in South Africa, the forced removal of African people to the badlands was the same as the evacuation of Japanese into camps.
We identified with Koreans in Japan who hid their Korean identity and many times did not even know they were Korean until they had to be fingerprinted. We supported their efforts to end this policy.
We learned that sometimes it takes a long time to win justice but that it is worth fighting for. We wrote the letters, went to Washington D.C. , passed out flyers, held programs to educate people about the camps and rallied and marched when we needed to. And when we finally won we celebrated because we believed that by winning redress we had ensured that the camps would never happen again
We thought that our government leaders had learned a lesson too because they admitted they had made a mistake and that they failed in leading the country and the people by allowing the hysteria of war and race prejudice to rule. But did they really learn that lesson? It doesnt seem that way if we look at what is happening today.
Immediately after September 11, Muslim and Arab Americans were rounded up and held without charges, trials or representation by lawyers. Somewhere between 1000 and 2000 people were arrested and many were deported due to minor visa violations. Right after Pearl Harbor the FBI rounded up 736 within 48 hours and in the months that followed the numbers grew to 1291. Japanese were targeted and attacked by the media and were victims of hate crimes just as Muslims, Arabs, South Asians and Sikhs are today simply because of their race or religion. And today Congressman Howard Coble of Nouth Carolina has stated that the camps were for our own protection and that they were justified. Did he learn the lesson of redress? It is up to people like yourselves who are here today and to people, like Japanese Americans, who experienced the loss of their rights, to teach our government leaders about these lessons. It is up to us to write the letters to Congress to repeal the Patriot Act which violates due process by allowing people to be held without counsel or knowing the charges and allows the government to search personal computers, conduct secret wiretapping and obtain information from libraries and bookstores. It is up to us to call for the removal of Congressman Coble from his position as chair of the Subcommittee on Crime, Homeland Security, Terrorism , and it is us to us to speak out and support Muslims, Arabs and South Asians today.
Japanese Americans were alone in 1942 except for the Quakers and we understood the fear that Muslims, Arabs and South Asians were feeling after September 11. NCRR formed the NCRR September 11 Committee to help build understanding and support with these communities. We held Break the Fast events during the month of Ramadan and shared our foods and talked about Buddhism and Islam. We have gotten to know each other as people over the past two years, putting on educational programs, having picnics and monitoring the INS during their special registration of men over 16 from mostly Arab and Muslim countries.
You dont have to be Japanese American to stand up for what is right. Ralph Lazo was a high school teenager from Belmont who saw his Japanese friends being taken away to camps and decided to go with them because they were his friends and because he believed that the camps were wrong. You dont have to go to camp but you can write letters to Congress, you can join some of the peace and justice vigils in different neighborhoods and you can get to know Muslims, Arabs and South Asians as people. Visit a mosque and learn whatever you can about Islam, the fastest growing religion in the world. Join us on May 31 for the First pan- Asian Peace and Justice Festival in Los Angeles. Support the film about Ralph Lazo by donating to the Stand Up for Justice project. And speak up wherever you are at. Thank you.