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San Jose commemorates Japanese Americans incarcerated in concentration camps

By staff

Day of Remembrance marked in San Jose. | Fight Back! News/staff

San Jose, CA – On February 18, over 300 people gathered in San Jose to commemorate the 82nd anniversary of Executive Order 9066, the directive that facilitated the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II.

The Nihonmachi Outreach Committee has been holding annual Day of Remembrance events in San Jose since 1981.

The program began with an aspiration by Reverend John Oda from Wesley United Methodist Church. Reverend Oda recounted his father’s and uncles’ experiences in the concentration camps, describing how they resisted their unjust incarceration by refusing to enlist in the U.S. military.

The next speaker was Dr. Yvonne Kwan, associate professor of Asian American Studies at San Jose State University. Dr. Kwan spoke about the importance of ethnic studies programs and their inherently political nature, especially in the face of attacks by reactionary far-right politicians like Governor DeSantis in Florida. Thanks to ethnic studies programs, Dr. Kwan extolled, “our youth are learning to develop a new critical consciousness about the world.”

Recently, students at San Jose State University (SJSU) achieved several victories in their fight for recognition and redress for SJSU’s role as a processing facility during the implementation of Executive Order 9066.

Nina Chuang, former SJSU Associated Students president, explained that around 2500 Japanese Americans were processed at SJSU campus facilities after being forced to leave their homes. Chuang and other students led the push to institutionalize a permanent annual Day of Remembrance at SJSU, and to install a mural on campus to recognize the university’s role in the incarcerations.

For the Remembrance section of the program, organizers showed a video interview with Susumu “Sus” Ikeda, a survivor of the Poston concentration camp in Arizona. Ikeda’s father was specially targeted and arrested by the FBI earlier than most because of his status as an active leader within the Japanese community. The arrest left his wife to provide for their children alone for several months. Ikeda’s father was finally reunited with his wife and children when he was relocated to Poston a year after his initial arrest. “As an American citizen, that should have never, never occurred,” Ikeda stated, “We should have never, never been uprooted from our homes and put into camps as American citizens.”

The event’s attendees then gathered for a candlelight procession through San Jose’s historic Japantown district. The procession was led by banners reading, “In honor of those interned: Day of Remembrance, Feb. 19.” People held battery-operated tea candles and walked in a loop along Jackson Street before returning to the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin where the event was being held.

Upon returning from the procession, Athar Siddiqee from South Bay Islamic Association spoke about the longstanding relationship between the Japanese American and Muslim American communities in San Jose. “After 9/11, members of the [Japanese American community] came to our mosque to stand with the South Bay Muslim community,” he stated, continuing, “The Japanese American community said, ‘We know what it’s like to have an entire population suspiciously viewed, stereotyped and vilified based on the actions of a few and we want to do whatever we can to support you.’”

The featured guest speaker of the night was Samir Laymoun, a prominent Palestinian American community member in the South Bay who was instrumental in establishing the annual Santa Clara County Palestinian Cultural Day in 2001. He spoke about the ongoing genocide that Israel is committing against Palestinians in Gaza, backed by funding, weapons and political support by the U.S. government. He spoke about the shared experiences of discrimination and racism between the Japanese American and Palestinian American communities, saying, “There is a special kind of pain associated with discrimination that is inflicted not on the basis of your deeds or even your character but instead on your skin color or even the name you inherited from your family.”

The program concluded with a cultural performance of taiko drumming by San Jose Taiko, meditation led by Rinban Gerald Sakamoto from San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin, and closing remarks by Sayoko Yoshimuru of Nihonmachi Outreach Committee. The event was a strong showing of solidarity between oppressed nationality movements in the U.S., as attendees united to say, “Never again, for anyone!”

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