Remembering the Day of Exile

The forced removal of Japanese American residents of Vashon on May 16, 1942 was born out of xenophobia and racism.

This week marks the 82nd anniversary of the Day of Exile — May 16, 1942, when armed soldiers forced 111 Japanese American residents of the island onto trucks outside Ober Park and then into camps across the western United States.

The forced removal — born out of xenophobia and racism — cast as enemies this group of islanders who were neighbors, friends, classmates and colleagues.

This incarceration of Japanese Americans was, to quote the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, a decision made out of “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership” — not out of legitimate military or security concerns.

Across the country, the U.S. government arrested and forcibly imprisoned virtually all people of Japanese ancestry — more than 120,000 people — not to mention thousands of Germans and Italians.

In times of crisis, terrible acts can be explained away in the name of security. But crises are exactly the times when we must be vigilant not just of the dangers around us, but also of the fears and biases inside ourselves.

The greatest tragedies happen when, gripped by that fear, our neighbors mistake us for foes — and decide that they must strike first.

It’s sometimes said that “time heals all wounds.” Whether or not that’s true, the march of time also takes away the people who have firsthand knowledge of how, and why, those wounds were inflicted.

Last year, for instance, Vashon lost 81-year-old Taro Nishiyori — who was only six months old in May 1942 when he became the youngest of the incarcerated Japanese American residents of Vashon. Relocated to the Heart Mountain, Wyoming camp, his family returned to the island following the war, and after Taro graduated from Vashon High School, he married islander Carole Neddleman, with whom he had three children, and worked at Boeing for many years.

We have not forgotten Taro Nishiyori, nor the others forcibly removed and imprisoned from Vashon — and we will not forget the Day of Exile, either.

We hope you will join the community in remembering at Ober Park at 2 p.m. on May 19, when local organizations will commemorate the Day of Exile and honor the families who were exiled.