Tuesday, March 22, 2016

I Am What I Am Because of You #SOL16 Day 23

Executive Order 9066 authorized the forced internment of Japanese Americans into camps at the beginning of WWII. Think about that for a moment. Without due process, without evidence, with only the suspicion of paranoia, 120 thousand Americans lost their freedoms, their homes, their businesses, and often their families.

Guilt by association. Fearmongering. These drove Executive Order 9066.

Visiting the Japanese Cultural Center today, this and other atrocities weighed on my mind. 

Did you know that Japanese who first migrated to Hawaii lived much like 18th and 19th Century slaves? Like indentured  servants? Arriving in Hawaii, many were stripped of their names, stripped of their identity, stripped of their dignity. I thought about Southern slave auction blocks as I read their accounts.
Hearing the stories of early plantation workers reveals the brutal truth that what we know as slavery didn't end with the Emancipation Proclamation. Rather, the objectification and commodification of people shifted both geographically and racially. Japanese came to Hawaii in the late 1800s to toil on sugar plantations, and this they did often in wretched conditions. 

As we toured the exhibits, I thought about those who claim to have made their fortunes on their own merit, the myth of the so-called "self-made man," and I thought about how interdependent our successes are to those who pave  the way. We are what we are because of one another. The exhibit began with this acknowledgment.
Japanese arrived in Hawaii as Japanese citizens, yet despite dehumanizing treatment, despite the internment camps, despite the many indignities immigrants often suffer, they acknowledge their assimilation and connection to America. 

Education offered a way to assimilate and retain cultural identity. At one time, however, Hawaii had what are known as Japanese Language School laws that imposed strict teacher certification requirements as well as instructional rules. The Supreme Court struck these down in 1927, a victory for the Japanese in Hawaii.

One exhibit replicated a school, and I recognized the basil readers on display, the same Dick and Jane books I learned to read from. 

 On the board is part of a response to the prompt "What democracy means to me."
Yet despite their efforts to assimilate, despite having fought for the U.S. in WWII, Japanese Americans still faced accusations and questioning of their loyalty to the U.S.

 In1954 republicans accused democrats of having been usurped by Communism. Here's Senator Daniel Inouye's response: "The only weapon In the republican arsenal is to label as communists men so recently returned from the firing lines in Italy and France...We bitterly resent having our loyalty and patriotism questioned by cynical political hacks who lack the courage to debate the real issues in this campaign."
History has a way of drawing circles across time. Lucretius wrote about this. Homer's epics mimic this ring structure. I believe we are living in such a time, and I worry that many don't see or heed the parallels. 

I wanted to visit the Japanses Cultural Center to honor those Japanese Americans who have given this country so much economically and culturally. 

The past year I've found myself reflecting on the history of the internment camps as the current political climate echoes that moment in history. 

This slice serves as an acknowledgment that I am who I am because of all who have touched my life both directly and indirectly. 

This slice offers my promise that I will do all in my power to prevent and speak against our nation repeating the atrocities experienced by the Japanese with other marginalized groups targeted by paranoid fearmongerers. 

The exhibit ended full circle, reminding and acknowledging that we are what and who we are because of one another. What we must decide is who and what will we as a nation be?


  1. Such a rich slice of resources. Too bad I'm not teaching 8th graders anymore. What a gift, Glenda
    Bonnie K

    1. Thank you. I tried to find your blog, but it isn't linked to your account.

  2. I didn't know most of this. I knew about the internment camps, but that was all. Very sad. Interesting, too. Thanks for sharing.