Nisei renew call for society free of all discrimination

by Jun Kaminishikawara

Kyodo

A leading group of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent, including some who suffered internment during World War II, are using their community’s experiences to campaign for a society free of discrimination and prejudice.

The Japanese American Citizens League renewed its call for the protection of all civil rights in the United States during a recent press event, held to mark the 25th anniversary of an act that sought redress for nisei who were discriminated against even after the war.

On Aug. 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act stipulating that one of its purposes was to “apologize on behalf of the people of the United States for the evacuation, relocation, and internment” of wartime Japanese-Americans.

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans in Hawaii and the West Coast were forced to abandon their homes and assets and taken to inland internment camps and similar sites.

The National Archives in Washington exhibited the original text of the act this summer, holding the event with the league to commemorate the act’s enforcement. Terry Shima, a 90-year-old nisei, recounted the wartime hardship he went through in an interview after the event.

“Nisei had only one mission — that is, going to combat” to prove their loyalty to the U.S., Shima said.

Shima joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the U.S. Army, a unit of Japanese-Americans that was sent to battlefields in Europe during the war, earning great distinction.

After the war ended, President Harry S. Truman commended the squad’s contribution and told its members at the White House, “You fought not only the enemy but you fought prejudice — and you won.”

But Truman’s statement was not enough to restore the honor of Japanese-Americans who had suffered incarceration and internment.

Phil Shigekuni, 79, who worked as a counselor at a high school in California, said he and other nisei had to face “a great deal of prejudice” even after the war.

“We had the same kind of prejudice. So we had to work through that,” Shigekuni said.

He recalled his delight at seeing the act implemented by the Reagan administration nearly a half century after Pearl Harbor.

“The signing by President Reagan of the redress bill was one of the high points in my life. It felt like being reborn as an American,” he said.

Shigekuni added: “Our government felt that we were the enemy. They put us away in camp. They couldn’t separate us from the enemy.”

Priscilla Ouchida, executive director of the JACL, is urging the United States to draw on the lessons of history, referring to concerns shared among many Japanese-Americans about prejudice and discrimination against Muslims, among others, following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Today, our government can still pick up someone suspected of terrorism and detain that person indefinitely, even without formal charges,” Ouchida said in a statement.

“This is chillingly similar” to the military authority used to incarcerate Japanese-Americans during the war, she said, calling on people to “work together to protect all communities’ civil rights.”

  • Guest

    Has Ouchida never heard of the daiyo kangoku system? I sure love being held for 23 days without charge and subjected to psychological (and often physical) abuse by the Japanese police!

    • Whirled Peas

      Why should Ouchida know of the system you mention? Do you know if she has even been to Japan? She is fighting against discrimination in the US, because that is her country. Why are you expecting her to be aware of and solve problems in Japan? Do you feel responsible for what happens in the country of your distant ancestors?

  • Ron NJ

    Discrimination should be eliminated wherever it rears its ugly head. I hope these Japanese Americans are also using their energies to petition the government of Japan to enact anti-discrimination legislature, given their first-hand experience suffering discrimination abroad. Who better to lecture the Japanese about the need for such legislation than their own people?

    • Whirled Peas

      I don’t know what your nationality or ethnic background is, but if you’re an American and your ancestors came from the UK or France, or Germany (just for example), do you feel you would be effective petitioning David Cameron or Francois Hollande or Angela Merkel to enact anti-discrimination legislature in their countries? My understanding is that many Japanese Americans have roots in the US going back to the early 1900′s. Why would Shinzo Abe listen to them? They are not Japanese citizens. They are Americans!

      • Ron NJ

        I’d get far more of Merkel, Hollande, or Cameron’s ear on discrimination-related issues than I’d ever get from Kan, Aso, or Abe, regardless of my nationality or ethnicity, and that’s a fact.

      • Toya

        Ron, stop BSing. Whirled Peas is right, they are Americans not Japanese citizens.

      • Ron NJ

        That’s one way to completely avoid the issue at hand. Well done!