County Supes Rescind Internment Resolution

Resolution from 1942 urged the relocation of Japanese Americans to internment camps.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors today rescinded and revoked a 1942 resolution that urged the forcible relocation of Japanese Americans to internment camps.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas recommended the action.

"To ignore this and to treat it as unfinished business is to trivialize it,'' Ridley-Thomas said. "It's never too late to do the right thing."

The original resolution, approved the month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, called on the federal government to use force to remove people of Japanese ancestry from Los Angeles and hold them involuntarily.

At the time, Ridley-Thomas said, the Board of Supervisors governed the nation's largest population of Japanese Americans - about 37,000 people, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens - and "gave aid and comfort to a decision-making process clouded by hysteria and bigotry."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, providing for the detention and isolation of about 110,000 Japanese Americans. The camps were not closed until three years later, shortly before Germany's surrender.

Dozens of Japanese Americans, including many who lived in the camps, testified today before the board.

Actor George Takei, famous for his role as Hikaru Sulu on television's "Star Trek" series, told of being taken at the age of 5 with his family to the Santa Anita Racetrack and moved into horse stables still reeking of manure.

"My mother remembers it as the most degrading and humiliating experience of her life," Takei said.

Though Takei said he recalled the time through the innocent eyes of a child, he told of guard towers with machine guns, searchlights that followed him to the latrine at night and classes in a tar paper schoolhouse where he would recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

"I could see the machine guns and the barbed wire fences ... while I recited the words 'with liberty and justice for all,'"Takei said.

Many of the speakers recalled the bravery of Japanese Americans who fought as part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated unit of soldiers, most of whom volunteered for service from the camps. The soldiers' families were forced to remain in the camps even as they risked their lives for their country.

County Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka, a third-generation Japanese American, thanked the supervisors after their unanimous vote to rescind the resolution.

Fujioka said his grandfather was one of the first to be detained and was first taken to Leavenworth prison, though no charges were filed against him. Fujioka's father was forced to leave UC Berkeley to relocate to an internment camp in Wyoming.

Despite such treatment, Fujioka's father volunteered for military duty with the 442nd and was decorated for his service.

The 442nd were the "first military personnel that came upon Dachau [the German concentration camp] and it was Japanese Americans that liberated that camp," Fujioka told the audience through a burst of tears.

Many of the speakers said the board's action today was not just as a way to acknowledge past wrongs but to remind people of the dangers of bias, whether related to race, religion or sexual orientation.

Bill Watanabe was born at Manzanar, perhaps the most well-known of the camps, and until recently was the executive director of the Little Tokyo Service Center, a community development organization.

Watanabe said revoking the resolution would sound an important message that "whether you wear a turban or a hoodie ... your rights will always be respected."

Ridley-Thomas' colleagues praised the move, though Supervisor Gloria Molina also sounded a worried note.

"I hope this country will never go through this again, although I'm not sure," Molina said, her voice breaking.


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