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Matinee: A Day of Remembrance Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

22 February 2020

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 242nd in our series of Saturday matinees today: The University of California at Berkeley Library production titled A Dark Chapter in U.S. History.

This week some Americans observed a day of remembrance for an atrocity committed 78 years ago. While it was easily overlooked in the current whirlwind of outrageous daily news, we suspect more of us will have to remember if we're never to forget.

Fortunately institutions like libraries are particularly well-suited to days of remembrance. In this particular case, the University of California at Berkeley Library dug into its photo archive from War Relocation Authority housed at the Bancroft Library to accompany alumnus John Tateishi's memories of his internment during World War II.

Seventy-eight years ago publicly posted orders announced the evacuation of "all Japanese persons, both alien and non-alien" by a certain time on a certain date. "You have to report and only bring what you can carry," Tateishi describes the order that applied even to him as a child.

Roughly 120,000 Japanese Americans were interred in Arizona, California, Idaho and Utah. California had two camps, Manzanar, which housed Japanese Americans from Los Angeles, and Tule Lake. Ansel Adams photographed the camp at Manzanar, in fact.

Tateishi recalls his mother walking him around the camp so he wouldn't get lost. "What I remember of that first day is my mother taking me to the fence." As he was looking up at a guard with a rifle, she knelt next to him and told him never to go beyond the fence. "She was really scared," he remembers.

The irony was that many of younger Japanese Americans interred in the camps voluntarily enlisted in the armed forces to defend the freedoms denied their own families.

Enlisting. Captioned: 'A serious moment for this 21 year old Japanese-American, for he has just signed voluntary enlistment papers which puts him into a special combat team in the Army of the United States. Mitsuma Yokohari, a former resident of Red Bluff, California, was evacuated from the west coast defense areas and had been a resident at the Granada Relocation Center for several months before enlistment. The enlisting soldier is Sergeant Robert I. Bischoff, a member of the special recruiting crew sent to the project for enlisting the Japanese-American Combat Unit.' Photo by Tom Parker, Feb. 10, 1943. Yokohari died in 1955 at the age of 34.

They seemed to have a better grasp of what it meant to be American than many of their fellow citizens.

"The thing about this country is that it's just an idea. It's a concept. And it's easy to destroy," Tateishi says. Democracies require vigilance, he concludes. "It's really true."

The same point was made in Congress this week when Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) released a statement on Wednesday marking the Day of Remembance. We reprint it here in its entirety.

Seventy-eight years after Executive Order 9066 was signed, we reflect on the pain and suffering endured by Japanese Americans in internment during World War II. On this Day of Remembrance, we must not forget the injustices perpetrated on more than 120,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry, including my parents and grandparents or be indifferent to the tactics used to violate the civil liberties of these innocent Americans. With a few exceptions, political bodies -- Congress and state legislatures -- failed to stand up for their fellow Americans and resist allowing fear and discrimination to dictate government policy. This failure of political leadership led to the unjust policy of Japanese American internment and its effects are still being felt today.

Families like mine still bear the scars and pain incurred during this dark time in our nation's history. The severe damage Executive Order 9066 inflicted on the Japanese American community was undeniable and while President Ronald Reagan issued an apology to our community and reparations to survivors, we must still grapple with the inhumanity the Japanese American community endured at the hands of our government.

I am proud that my home state of California will be passing a resolution issuing a formal apology to Japanese Americans for the role the state played in facilitating internment during World War II. This apology is long overdue, but it is important, nonetheless.

We must take the necessary steps to prevent anything like Japanese American internment from happening again. That includes acknowledging the dark times in our past and condemning present policies that are unjustly targeting and inflicting damage on innocent communities. The Trump Administration's fear mongering tactics are inhumane and un-American and they echo the same tactics used to violate the civil liberties of thousands of Americans in World War II. Congress must ensure that no person is ever a target of discriminatory policies. That is why I have introduced the Korematsu-Takai Civil Liberties Protection Act with Senator Hirono to help us prevent similar atrocities from ever occurring. Together, we can resist and fight back against the dangers this Administration's policies pose to so many innocent people.

We've noted before that nothing escapes photography's eye. It's left for us to look. To be, as Tateishi put it, vigilant.

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