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Close to Home: A day to remember — Lest we forget

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

On this the 80th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, which initiated the mass expulsion of Americans of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast, there are several events with local significance that might interest readers.

A little background: Members of my family, their friends and hundreds of other residents of Sonoma County, who were either American citizens or denied citizenship due to their race, were among those forcibly removed from their homes and imprisoned in remote, desolate American concentration camps. In my youth, my parents and grandparents never talked about their years of imprisonment and when they did, they simply referred to that time as when they were in “camp.” It was only much later that they opened up to recount the emotions associated with being betrayed by their own country. Their story is among many captured in the book “Giri: The Sonoma County Japanese American Citizens League Oral History Project” and recordings archived at Sonoma State University.

Bruce Shimizu
Bruce Shimizu

On Saturday, the Museum of Sonoma County is opening “Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams.” During the early days of the evacuation, the War Relocation Authority commissioned photographers to document the process, to demonstrate the humane treatment the internees were receiving. Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange were two of those photographers. Since cameras were confiscated from members of the Japanese American community, the War Relocation Authority photos are the de facto record of these early days. Lange and Adams captured iconic images of the mass exodus, the harsh, starkness of the camps and the emotional moments of those uncertain times.

Throughout the month, members of the Sonoma County Japanese American Citizens League’s speakers bureau will be visiting local classrooms to talk with students about the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II. As a member of the speakers bureau and child of former internees, it is a solemn responsibility to tell their story and to make their experience relevant to young people today. History is often perceived as distant and remote, but once students make the connect between historic events and the community where they live, the impact is immediate and profound.

The Smithsonian magazine recently published, in “At the Museum,” “Eighty Years After the U.S. Incarcerated 120,000 Japanese Americans, Trauma and Scars Still Remain: Families were stripped of their rights and freedoms in February 1942, when FDR signed Executive Order 9066.” The article summarizes events leading up to, during and following the closure of the camps, including the grassroots movement that successfully lobbied Congress for redress and reparations for the survivors of the evacuation and incarceration. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the National Park Service and the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation in conjunction with Friends of Minidoka, the Japanese American Citizens League and the Japanese American Nation Museum are hosting a three-day virtual event in recognition of a National Day of Remembrance. The event will be livestreamed on the National Park Service’s YouTube page.

A sign stands at the entrance to Camp Amache, an interment camp for Japanese-American during World War II. (RUSSELL CONTRERAS / Associated Press)
A sign stands at the entrance to Camp Amache, an interment camp for Japanese-American during World War II. (RUSSELL CONTRERAS / Associated Press)

Finally, on Monday, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed legislation to establish Amache National Historic Site. Located in eastern Colorado, Amache was one of the 10 Internment camps that housed Americans of Japanese ancestry. This is where the majority of Japanese American from Sonoma County were confined. The site now becomes part of the National Park System and will stand as a lasting memorial to devastating effects of racism, greed and intolerance.

We’re living in turbulent times and hear the ugly rhetoric of the hate mongers and see the violence perpetrated against “others.”

On this Day of Remembrance, take a moment — lest we forget!

Bruce Shimizu is a member of the Japanese American Citizens League speakers bureau in Sonoma County, where his family has lived for more than 100 years. He is a resident of Windsor.

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The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

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