This Sunday, Feb. 19, is the 75th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066 that authorized the forced removal and incarceration of all Japanese-Americans in what was called the West Coast Exclusion Zone.
The zone stretched from the Canadian border along the Cascade Crest, expanding east at Wenatchee to include the Hanford area, then along the Cascade Crest through Oregon. The area covered all of California to Mexico, then along the border through southern Arizona. Over 120,000 Japanese-Americans, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, were imprisoned, without trial, in guarded, barbed wire enclosures that are now known as American concentration camps.
This year, The Friends of Mukai will hold an open house at the Mukai House and Garden from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday to remember and reflect on the impact of this executive order. This remembrance ceremony will honor the Japanese-Americans who were removed, exiled and imprisoned. The ceremony will include a candle lighting; an introduction by islander Joe Okimoto, who was imprisoned in the Poston, Arizona War Relocation Center; a poetry reading by islander Lonny Kaneko, who was imprisoned in the Minidoka, Idaho War Relocation Center; and a reading from Mary Matsuda Gruenewald’s book “Looking Like the Enemy,” which is about her life on Vashon and her family’s removal and imprisonment.
A total of 126 Vashon Japanese-American residents were assembled at what is now Ober Park and sent to these American concentration camps. Four islanders voluntarily exiled and moved to Eastern Oregon outside the Exclusion Zone. Executive Order 9066 effectively destroyed Vashon’s Japanese American community, and only about 40 returned after the war to pick up and resume the lives the war had interrupted.
On this day of remembrance, it is important for us all to recognize what a society, even a democratic society, can do in a crisis when fear rules. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking to law students at the University of Hawaii in 2014, warned “Of course it was wrong … we have repudiated it in a later case. But you are kidding yourself if you think that such a thing will not happen again. In times of war, the laws fall silent.”
Islanders are invited to join The Friends of Mukai as we honor the Day of Remembrance 2017. Let us all take a moment to reflect upon what fear and racism can do to a community. Let us be aware and committed to never letting this happen again to any fellow islanders, fellow Americans or to any who come here searching for a better life.
We must not be silent, we must not allow our laws to fall silent, and we must not allow fear to control our decisions. We must safeguard the rights of everyone.
— Kathleen Vaught Farner, Bruce Haulman, Helen Meeker, Joe Okimoto and Barbara Thal Schroeder are board members of Friends of Mukai.