No more executive orders fueled by intolerance

Wendy Hamai lives in Tacoma’s West End.
Wendy Hamai lives in Tacoma’s West End. Courtesy photo

Thanks to The News Tribune for its coverage of the 75th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.

As mentioned in the articles, more attention has been drawn to this anniversary because of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order affecting immigrants and refugees. The parallel between the two orders is the stated rationale that both presidents gave to support them: national security.

It is important to stress that 1942 order did not have any factual basis of Japanese-American espionage or sabotage — just as there is no evidence that any immigrant or refugee from Trump’s seven banned countries has conducted any act of terrorism in the U.S.

The 1942 order was driven by fear fueled by intolerance, stereotypes and racism. There is real concern the current climate in this country could let this injustice happen again.

The article about Matsuda Gruenwalk described well the prejudice and personal loss she faced. This was experienced by thousands of other Japanese-Americans and had ramifications for future generations. The article did a good job detailing the business and economic losses of Japanese-Americans in this area. The extent of these losses is something many people did not know or appreciate.

The common terminology of “relocation,” “internment,” “internees” and “evacuees” are euphemisms. A more accurate term would be “incarceration.” Citizens lost their civil liberties. They were forcibly removed from homes and businesses and incarcerated in desolate camps. They were not nicely and voluntarily “relocated.”

I think it’s important to clarify that the young men who signed “no” to the second question on the loyalty oath were standing up for their rights as American citizens. Signing “yes” to this question about renouncing any loyalty to Japan would have been tantamount to having had loyalty to Japan in the first place, which they did not.

They and the men who challenged the executive order in the courts chose to dissent and were sent to prison as a result. They, and the men who joined the all-nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion, proved they were American citizens, but in different ways. This was a painful time in the Japanese-American community.

I grew up in Hawaii and have lived in Tacoma all my adult life. The Japanese-Americans in Hawaii were generally not treated as harshly, though our community leaders, ministers and Japanese language school teachers were incarcerated on Oahu, and some were sent to camps on the mainland.

There were work restrictions placed on Japanese-Americans. Incarcerating all of them meant too big a loss in the labor force and the economy of sugar plantations. So, large agricultural business interests helped buffer Hawaii’s Japanese-Americans, while still strongly supporting the incarceration of many farmers on the West Coast.

Many of our young men fought in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. There is a story of an older man and his son being on the same ship to the mainland. The son was headed for combat; the father was incarcerated and being sent to a camp.

Yes, I am grateful for a government that acknowledged a wrong, as was done by President Gerald Ford’s apology in 1976 and reparations approved by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. But it took 47 years!

I am still appalled by the number of Americans unaware of what happened and its significance. Many events have been happening to commemorate the anniversary of Executive Order 9066. Your coverage and all of the Day of Remembrance events help educate everyone why it’s important that this never happen again.

Wendy Hamai is a resident of Tacoma’s West End and an active member of Tacoma Buddhist Temple.