On February 16th, 2017, the Nikkei Student Union and Muslim Student Association at UC Davis held a Day of Remembrance event in recognition of the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, allowing the internment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans. The event not only sought to further educate others about Japanese internment but also related the similarities of WWII-era exclusion with the increasing negative sentiment toward Muslim-Americans.
Speakers on the panel included (from left to right) Marielle Tsukamoto, a former incarcerate and former president of the Florin Japanese American Citizens League; Barbara Takei, CFO of the Tule Lake Committee; Dr. Isao Fujimoto, a former incarcerate and founder of the UC Davis department of Asian American Studies and Community and Regional Development and Maheen Ahmed, a UCD alum and student director of the National Muslim Student Association. The topics covered ranged from personal struggles they faced as incarcerates to the work they are doing to support various groups and projects. A summary can be found here.
Regarding the internment, Kristi Lin, Nikkei Student Union Vice President said:
"Two-thirds of the incarcerees were American citizens. Born in the US, they should have been entitled to life, liberty, property, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures and a speedy and public trial. Instead they were denied those rights under the justification of war-time hysteria and xenophobia. The strength of the constitution is only as strong as the public protecting it, and so we must protect the civil rights of all Americans today."
As the panelists spoke, it was apparent how similar the struggles of Japanese-Americans in the 40's are to today's political climate. Tsukamoto said, "we seem to be turning the clock back" and Takei referred to today's "echoes of 1942." According to Breana Inoshita, Nikkei Student Union President said:
"During WWII, Japanese Americans were assumed disloyal solely because of their race and they were incarcerated. Today, Muslim Americans are assumed terrorists solely because of their religious beliefs and practices and this administration is issuing policies that target Muslims. We must recognized that not all Muslim's are terrorists and the dangerous logical fallacy of believing so."
Still, the event and the large number of people who attended — more than the room could seat — attested to the many resources and areas for support around the country, especially on college campuses. According to Inoshita, students should continue to be informed and engaged:
"I think all college students should take an Ethnic Studies class to learn about the real histories of people of color in America. Learning this history is paramount to understanding today's political climate."
For Lin, the diversity of college campuses is also an important factor, especially when paired with many resource centers here at UC Davis.
"There are few places as diverse as a college campus. When you can literally walk into the Student Community Center and find diverse groups like the Cross Cultural Center, LGBTQIA center, AB540 center, and Student Recruitment and Retention Center all within a few feet, it is such a gift and a privilege to have places dedicated to helping you stay informed on social, cultural, and political issues. On a large scale, the university is all about intersections; over 30,000 people each with their unique cultural and religious traditions and meeting in a designated learning environment. As a graduating senior, I am worried about ever being able to spend my days in a place that is so diverse again. Do your best to take advantage of all of the opportunities to learn about different groups while you can."
The Day of Remembrance event proved to be a thoughtful and moving event. It showed the need to learn about and understand history so that current topics can be addressed more fully. The clubs and organizations involved in this event really stood to show how important unity and activism are in today's political climate.
Lead Image Credit: Katerina Roth