Day of Remembrance: It's been 80 years since Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps

Julian Glover Image
Sunday, February 19, 2023
80 years after Japanese internment, community vows to remember
It's been 80 years since FDR signed Executive Order 9066 that put 120,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- It's been 80 years since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that incarcerated 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Decades later, the Japanese American community is vowing to never forget the atrocity and who helped them win reparations.

Feb. 19, 1942, is a day that will forever live on in infamy - a notch in America's ugly past of hatred, bigotry, and xenophobia.

"It is a story that, unfortunately, not everybody still knows about," said David Inoue, Japanese American Citizens League executive director.

On that day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. It called for the incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry.

VIDEO: Japanese Americans reflect on World War II-era concentration camps, racism today

About 120,000 people of Japanese descent, most of them American citizens, were forced into concentration camps following an executive order signed by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942 in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces.

The vast majority were American citizens.

The order was in response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the catalyst for the United States entering World War II.

In the months that followed, racist hysteria reached a fever pitch stemming from fear of another possible Japanese surprise attack.

"It's a really dark chapter in American history of systemic racism that incarcerated my father, my mother, and all of my aunts and uncles," said Jon Osaki, a documentary filmmaker.

His newest release, "Reparations," will be screened at the 2022 Films of Remembrance the weekend of February 26 and 27.

The 11th annual Films of Remembrance will be held virtually.

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For Osaki, Day of Remembrance is personal.

He shared photos with ABC7 News of his father while incarcerated at the Tule Lake Relocation Center just outside the California-Oregon border.

His father was sent with thousands of other Japanese Americans in 1942.

In many cases, they were ripped from their homes with few belongings and forced to live in inhumane conditions.

The Tanforan Race Track in San Bruno, on San Francisco's Peninsula, was used as a detention facility.

American citizens of Japanese ancestry were forced to sleep in horse stables.

80 years later Japanese Americans are vowing to never forget.

"It's also a means of healing and remembrance for members of the community who experienced the injustice of mass incarceration during World War II," said Inoue.

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Physical attacks against the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community are top-of-mind following brutal attacks across the country. Yet the AAPI community is also victim to invisible slights inflicted by microaggressions that happen every day.

After years of lobbying under a veil of multi-racial solidarity, the U.S. Government apologized to Japanese Americans in 1988 with the passage of the Civil Liberties Act signed by President Reagan.

And with that apology came reparations for $20,000 to surviving Japanese Americans.

"Our families did receive reparations for the World War II incarceration of our entire community," said Osaki. "Many of us feel a certain amount of responsibility to speak out for other injustices that have yet to be atoned for."

Today, the San Francisco-based filmmaker uses his voice to call for multi-racial solidarity once again - this time for African Americans to receive reparations for the country's original sin of slavery and decades of Jim Crow.

"Japanese American communities all across the country are having these events and many of them are talking about the topic of Black reparations. They're using this as an opportunity to create awareness," said Osaki.

San Francisco attorney Don Tamaki is familiar with this work.

He serves on the first-in-the-nation California Reparations Task Force created by AB 3121 and signed into law by Governor Newsom.

VIDEO: California's Reparation Taskforce tackles racial wealth gap

CA's first-in-the-nation Reparations Task Force met for the fourth time to discuss several important topics including the racial wealth gap.

Tamaki is the only non-Black member of the nine-person task force directed to study historical harms and recommend potential reparations for African Americans in California.

"We as Japanese Americans know something about prejudice," said Tamaki.

"As we mark Feb. 19 to remember our community we're reminded that each time America has owned up to its wrongs, repaired them, and become more inclusive, it has become stronger as a nation."

As the California Reparations Task Force prepares to release the first of two reports on its findings of historical harms faced by the African American community, the movement gains support from a familiar ally.

"I believe we can make the greatest progress in addressing systemic racism in this country together," said Osaki.

The Japanese American Citizens League is hosting events across the country in observance of Day of Remembrance.

Many of the events remain virtual because of COVID.