Fifty-three years ago today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which forever changed the lives of people of Japanese descent living on the West Coast. Because of the hysteria and racism that gripped the United States after the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 120,000 Japanese Americans were evacuated and incarcerated in 10 concentration camps across the country. They had broken no law--but they looked like the enemy.
It was a sad episode in the history of civil rights. In 1988 Washington formally apologized to Japanese Americans and paid reparations to those who were incarcerated.
Today is a day of remembrance in Japanese American communities across the nation. Marking it locally is an instructive exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.
The centerpiece of "America's Concentration Camps: Remember the Japanese American Experience" is a barracks that was dismantled at the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming and reconstructed on a lot across from the Los Angeles museum, at 1st and Alameda streets.
For years the humiliation and anger of the detention were suppressed by Japanese Americans, who were busy rebuilding their lives. Now survivors--mostly Nisei, or second-generation Japanese Americans--are among those visiting the exhibit, which includes photographs, artifacts and memoirs of the camps.
James (Jimmy) Kiyoshi Yakura, who as a child was interned with his family at Rohwer, Ark., writes in one notebook, "Let this be remembered that freedom and equality is a fragile concept on paper and only becomes real when it becomes rooted in the hearts of the people."
The exhibit should help all Americans remember a part of our history that should never be repeated.