Sunday, March 23, 2014

Evacuation or Evisceration?

72 years ago today Executive Order 9066 was enforces and thousands of Japanese Americans, many of them citizens, were interred in "relocation camps."  Initially, those were horse stalls at Santa Anita and the old Tanforan racetrack in Northern California.
Much has been written, and with such talented photographers as Dorothea Lange around, many photographs exist.  Some are particularly stunning.

In my view, it's important to remember and honor these dates/events because so many young people don't know about the history of our country.  They may know various terms and dates, but often some of the most objectionable parts of U.S. history conveniently get left out.  Especially now that the big publishers and corporate interests have hijacked so much of the curriculum.
In California, where I taught for 33 years, it was inadvisable, if not impossible to not include this shameful event.  Many of my students had relatives who were sent to those horse stalls and then on to one of the various West coast sites.  Too often that generation endured this injustice with a silent dignity.  In the end they lost many of their possessions that were stored in supposedly safe warehouses.  Imagine coming home to find that your appliances, furniture, art work, and keepsakes were missing?  Still, many young men joined the war effort and distinguished themselves as the 442nd brigade that was unparalleled in their service.
At my high school we had a secretary who spent time in those camps.  She was the kind of school employee who, under the surface, kept things organized and running smoothly.  She had a beautiful smile, was in her 50s at least by the time I met her in 1972, and never spoke about the day that she and all the students of Japanese decent had to leave school a few months before graduation.
Part of the story involves the positive consequences, because there were some.  For example, the camps featured schools where everybody could play on a sports team, go to the prom, take any elective they wanted...you get the idea.  But that was all against the background of Civil and Constitutional rights being denied.  Dignity and love of country and loyalty, and justice were denied.  Citizenship was worthless suddenly.
The history of racial attitudes in the U.S. must be remembered, acknowledged, honored, and taught lest we forget.  Especially now, with the changing demographics of this country, we need to know where we have been so that we never return.

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