After Internment: Post-War Resettlement: The challenges and burdens of resettlement after the internment were shouldered primarily by members of the Nisei generation (second-generation, American-born Japanese Americans). Most Nisei came of age during and after the internment years. Having witnessed the sacrifices and losses of their Issei (first-generation Japanese immigrant) parents, the Nisei persevered as active citizens, determined to claim their rightful place in America. The vibrant pre-war Japanese American communities, including Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, Japantown in San Francisco, and many small farming communities on the West Coast were greatly diminished in the post-war period. Although many returned, a significant number of Japanese Americans resettled permanently in East Coast and Midwest states. Those who returned to their pre-war homes often found them vandalized and even marred with racial epithets. Many farms and fields were in shambles from neglect or lost to new owners. Through the 1950s, many Japanese Americans faced housing and employment discrimination and were denied access to many recreational and retail services. Many had to start over with their lives. They often had to share housing with friends or relatives, seek rooms in boarding homes or clustered together in trailer parks. Many had to become migrant workers, taking on any jobs they could find. Despite losses in property, businesses, homes, and communities, most
Japanese Americans, in time, rebuilt their lives. The Nisei raised their families, took care of their aging parents, and became active in schools and community activities. Empowerment: Beyond rebuilding their lives, some Japanese Americans, particularly in Hawaii and the West Coast sought electoral office and became active in public service on the local, regional and statewide levels. In 1952, the Walter-McCarran Act was passed, largely through the efforts of Nisei legislators. This Act enabled Issei (first-generation, immigrant Japanese) and other Asian immigrants -- previously ineligible for citizenship --to become U.S. citizens. By 1965, over 48,000 had become proud naturalized citizens. In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state and Daniel Inouye, a veteran of the celebrated 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II, became the first Japanese American senator. In 1964, Patsy Takemoto Mink became the first Japanese American woman elected to the House of Representatives. In 1974, Norman Mineta of San Jose became the first Japanese American Congressman from the U.S. mainland. Other Japanese Americans pursued public service as well, thus establishing a presence in the various governmental institutions. Civil Rights Movement: The African American community’s call for equal opportunity and the end of racial segregation struck a responsive chord among many Japanese Americans.
In the course of participating in this and other social justice movements, many Sansei (third-generation Japanese Americans) and Nisei, along with other people of color realized that their history and culture were missing from the educational curricula. The Vietnam War protests and the Third World Student Strikes of the 1960's set the stage for Sansei, in particular, to question the official government rationale for the World War II internment. Through Ethnic Studies courses and pilgrimages to former camp sites such as Manzanar and Tule Lake, Sansei began to realize the full scope of Constitutional violations and injustices endured by their parents and grandparents. The process of convincing the Issei (first-generation immigrant Japanese) and Nisei to share their personal stories was often difficult, as many preferred not to speak about the shame, humiliation and indignities they had experienced even to their children. Redress and Reparations: In the late 1970s, through the persistence of a few Nisei voices and an increasing number of Sansei, the principles of securing a government apology, individual reparations and a public education fund were broadly debated within the Japanese American community. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed legislation to create the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC). The CWRIC was appointed to conduct an official governmental study of Executive Order 9066, related wartime orders and their impact on Japanese Americans on the West Coast and the Aleutians in the Pribilof Islands. In 1983, the CWRIC issued its findings in PERSONAL JUSTICE DENIED, concluding that the incarceration of Japanese Americans had not been justified by military necessity. Rather, the report determined that the decision to incarcerate was based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership." Lastly, the Commission recommended legislative remedies consisting of an official Government apology; redress payments of $20,000 to each of the survivors; and a public education fund to help ensure that this would not happen again. On August 10, 1988, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, based on the CWRIC recommendations, was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. On November 21, 1989, President George Bush signed an appropriation bill authorizing payments to be paid out between 1990 and 1998. In 1990, surviving internees began to receive individual redress payments and a letter of apology. Court Victories: In the early 1980s, concurrent with the Commission process, the Supreme Court cases which upheld the internment and related actions were successfully challenged:
Hirabayashi v. United States (1943), Yasui v. United States (1943) and Korematsu v. United States (1944). A legal team led by Sansei (third-generation Japanese American) attorneys filed the "Coram Nobis" cases, based on newly discovered government records which documented the Justice Department’s deliberate suppression of evidence in the original cases. (For background on cases, see WW II & Roundup – Court Challenges section) The petitions for a "writ of error coram nobis" asserted that there were several fundamental errors made by officials of the War Department at the time of the original trial. These included: altered and destroyed evidence; and suppression of evidence by both the War Department and the Justice Department regarding the loyalty of Japanese Americans. The petitions found that the Supreme Court decisions of the 1940s had been based on the misrepresentation of available facts and on the deliberate suppression of evidence. The "coram nobis" victories provided official evidence of how groundless the Government’s justification of "military necessity" had been. Incorporated into the findings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) report, these cases proved in court what Japanese Americans had known and felt in their hearts for decades. Ongoing Impact: Redress Aftermath Although the redress payments and apology could never fully compensate the individual survivors for the tremendous monetary loss of property, humiliation, and psychological trauma endured, Japanese Americans as a community felt a great burden lifted. The truth – revealed through the Commission Hearings, and documented in an official Congressional report, had a tremendous healing impact and ignited a new stage of community development and cultural preservation efforts. While the redress legislation provided a formal record and accounting of the U.S. Government’s civil liberties violations, many Japanese Americans continue to seek resolution and reconciliation within their families and community. For some, the stigma of shame and guilt associated with internment has been resolved. For others, it has lingered or had indirect impact on their offspring, the Sansei and Yonsei, (fourth-generation Japanese Americans) who continue to search for a sense cultural identity and historical integrity. In fact, the internal conflicts between various factions of the Japanese American community over issues such as the draft and the loyalty oath – policies created by the government, and imposed on a vulnerable population – are healing much more
slowly. On-going redress efforts: Japanese Latin Americans (JLA), not eligible for reparations under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, have continued to press for redress equity (i.e. reparations comparable to the $20,000 provided to Japanese Americans internees). Remembrance: Day of Remembrance -- February 19, 1942, the date that Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, has been commemorated annually as a "Day of Remembrance" (DOR) in many communities and campuses for about two decades. Although DOR is a commemoration of a dark chapter in American history, it has been transformed into a celebration of the courage, dignity and persistence of the internees. The act of remembering this history – especially the courage and dignity of the Issei and Nisei – has often rekindled the commitment of younger generations and the broader public to take personal responsibility for assuring that such an injustice is never repeated -against any group of people. Can it Happen Again? "… the broad historical causes (of the internment) were racial prejudice, war hysteria and failure of political leadership" – Civil Liberties Act of 1988 In times of national or international crises, "race prejudice, war hysteria and failure of political leadership" often raise their collective heads in America, causing concern that internment, or something similar, might happen again. Following the tragedy of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent war in Afghanistan, many Arab Americans -- and those who may appear to resemble Arab Americans -- have been subject to great suspicion and even acts of serious violence. Six decades after the signing of Executive Order 9066 in 1942, which authorized the internment of Japanese Americans, the principles of civil liberties and national security are again being hotly debated. Periodically, media coverage of events involving Asians or Asian Americans has resulted in racial profiling and scapegoating, such as during the Wen Ho Lee case or China's downing of a US spy plane in 2001, Following the US spy plane incident, a local radio talk show host in Springfield, IL urged listeners to boycott all Chinese restaurants and suggested that all Chinese living in America should be sent "home" to "their country". Another commentator suggested setting up a camp for Chinese living in America. This comment was followed by the phoning and harassing of people with Chinese last names.
Rather than being seen as loyal citizens, Americans of Asian or Arab descent are too often viewed as "foreigners", even though they and their descendants have made as much a contribution to our country as most other Americans. As the media and others compared the World Trade Center attacks to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, many Japanese Americans -- including Norman Mineta, a former internee and now a member of the President’s Cabinet -- recognized and warned against the potential for scapegoating Arab, South Asian, Muslim and Sikh Americans. This message was reiterated by President Bush and other government leaders, invoking the lessons of the internment as a powerful cautionary tale for the post 9/11 period. How do we prevent the injustice of internment from happening again? Perhaps it starts with learning about this historic mistake, as well as working to eliminate the causes for continuing racial prejudice today. What do you think? What is your responsibility? What can you do as one individual? Your voice and actions can be an important part not only of preventing the gross injustice of internment from happening again, but also preventing the other negative effects of racial hatred and prejudice. The Resources on Anti-Asian Violence and Racial Profiling provide examples of how recent events involving Asian Americans have been addressed by media, government and the general public.