OC Muslims Connect With Japanese-American Internment Struggle at Manzanar

Manzanar.jpg
Yasmin Nouh/OC Weekly 
John Asanuma was 11 years old when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, paving the path for mass imprisonment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. The Los Angeles native, and his parents were sent to Manzanar in 1942--one of the largest camps housing more than 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. The desert weather at the camp, located near Death Valley, brought in scorching summers and chilling winters. When it snowed, John and his friends built makeshift snow slides. During the other seasons, they played softball with sticks and pine cones. Three years later, officials closed the camp, and John and his parents moved to Fresno. 

"When I left camp, the first thing I did was kiss the street," he said. "I felt my sense of freedom again." 

Manzanar-1.jpg
Manzanar memorial monument.
Asanuma revisited the camp on Saturday at the yearly "Manzanar Pilgrimage", a day-long program dedicated to remembering that dark era in American history and the lessons that came out of it. The annual program draws approximately 1,000 participants; among them was a group of about 50 Muslim Americans, hosted by the Anaheim-based chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)

"It's important for Muslim Americans to understand how another group struggled," said CAIR spokesperson Munira Syeda. "And what happens if people remain silent and don't stand up for the rights our Constitution grants us." 

Munira said that members of the Japanese-American community, like Kathy Masaoaka, were among the first groups to reach out to Muslim Americans post-9/11 attacks. Masaoka fought for government reparations for the Japanese American community in the 1980s, and now she co-chairs Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress. She said she understood the importance of reaching out to Muslims after 9/11. 

 "When I heard Muslim and Arab-Americans talking about how afraid they were after 9/11, that's when I understood how our community felt for the first time," she said. "I didn't understand it before - feeling that fear just because of the way you looked." 

The relationship between both groups culminated in programs like Bridging Communities (a learning exchange between Japanese-American and Muslim-American students) and a yearly trip to Manzanar. Around 50 Muslim Americans attended the pilgrimage this year. Some of them said they barely learned about the internment camps in high school, and they wanted to find out more about the history. 

Among them was Kashif Ghani, who leads weekend religious studies classes at a Mission Viejo mosque. While he said he can't compare the Japanese-American experience to that of Muslims in America, he felt empowered by the trip. 

"After 9/11, I didn't want to get involved," 25-year-old Kashif said. "I wanted to avoid confrontation. Coming here and seeing how Japanese-Americans have confronted the government inspired me to not feel ashamed. We didn't do anything wrong, and we shouldn't feel afraid to say anything against the government or bad policies." 

Kashif convinced most of his students from the mosque to attend this year's program. During the day, they walked around the site, prayed in an interfaith memorial service for those who died at Manzanar, and participated in an evening breakout session where former incarcerees (or their children) shared their experiences as internees at Manzanar. 

In one of the discussion groups, Don Hosokawa of Huntington Beach said his parents were interned at Manzanar, and two of his sisters were born there. At the camp, his father used to sneak out with friends at night to fish at streams nearby; a documentary called Manzanar Fishing Club was later made about the fishermen. As Hosokawa shared his parents' story, other group members reflected on discrimination in general, including Omar Jarrad, a Muslim-American of Palestinian descent. The eighth grader at Las Flores Middle School in Rancho Santa Margarita, said that some of his fellow peers repeatedly taunt him at school by calling him names like "camel jockey" and "terrorist." 

"Hey, don't feel bad," Don said to Omar. "We went through this stuff, so just know that you're not alone."  


Jarrad said he learned a lot about the struggles of Japanese Americans at the camp site; the experience empowered him. "It made me believe in myself," he said. "And I'm not going to listen to those who make fun of me anymore. I don't feel alone anymore."  
 
Other Muslim-Americans found meaning in the trip, as well. Hanan Seirafi, an economics major at UC Irvine, wanted to visit the site to learn more about the firsthand experiences of Japanese American internees.

"The fact that fear can do this to innocent people is shocking," she said. "As Muslims today, we're being analyzed through a scope of fear so it draws a connection. It's hard not to make that connection."

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26 comments
Mary
Mary

 Mitch, please remember that Congressional findings determined that the evacuation served "no military purpose" and that no Japanese American was ever convicted of a crime against the United States.  These findings led to the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 by President Reagan.  We should always stop ourselves when actions are proposed against people based on their ethnicity, beliefs or outward appearance.  There were voices, but as happened after 9/11, during slavery, or during relocation of Native Americans, those who spoke up were drowned out by accusations of unpatriotic sympathies.

Westside Activist
Westside Activist

Mitch, are you really that delusional or are you as racist as you sound? Do some research of your own and find out just for them but most lost homes and businesses to greedy whites who took advantage of their predicament. Tanaka was one of the few lucky ones who had that kind of help. Others had to buy back their own property or purchase new farms, homes and businesses. Go to any college or university and ask their History Department about the relocation era or ask Gustavo for a good source to find out how wrong you are. It didn't matter how many generations ago someone's ancestors immigrated, if they looked Japanese and had a Japanese name they were herded onto the buses. Just because we fed them instead of gassing them and they had kids in prison doesn't mean they were vacationing in Disneyland. Most were still U.S. Citizens and ALL were legal residents who committed no crime, except for having Japanese ancestry. And they all were subject to be gunned down if they tried to leave, just like in Germany.They didn't take Chinese or Filipinos because they were our allies in the war, though ask any Chinese American living at the time about being harrassed because they 'looked like Japs'. A lot of Chinese made a good living portraying Japanese villains in the war movies.As far as 'evidence', if the Government needed evidence they could manufacture as much of it as they desired. Ask someone around in the late 1960s and early 1970s about FBI plants whose jobs were to turn peaceful anti war protests into riots to justify government crackdowns. Read through the Nixon Papers to see how phoney charges were used to muzzle critics. Your claim of Japanese spy networks was proved to be a fabrication by the Government to justify their illegal tactics.Before losing everything and being put in prison for an indeterminate sentence how about due process and guaranteeing the Constitutional rights of US Citizens? The US could have investigated any claim of sabotage or spying, but with the racist attitudes of the day it was easier just to round up the usual suspects.Again, if we don't make sure this can't happen again there's no guarantee that it can't happen to you, if your Government finds it convenient to use this method.

Westside Activist
Westside Activist

If it had just been resident aliens of Japanese ancestry interned then I might see your viewpoint Mitch. But you miss the main point: the overwhelming majority of the internees were either native born or naturalized American citizens! Think about it, their only crime was they weren't white. No trial, no hearing, no due process, no constitutional rights, just "Get on the bus Jap"! Next thing you know, American citizens wake up in concentration camps surrounded by barb wire and guard towers manned by solders with orders to 'shoot to kill'! How is that different from what the Germans were doing? Most of them lost everything they had. Not to mention the mental anguish at the injustice of it all. How would it be any different if the Government decided all 'Liberals' could possibly be sympathetic to Al-Qeda so they should be uprooted and removed to camps as a preventive measure? Nixon and the criminals in his Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) nearly did this very thing. They planned to 'remove' most of the anti-war dissidents to concentration camps where they would be held without trial for an indeterminate length of time. Do you want to know why they didn't do this? Not because it was WRONG, but because it would cost too much! (This is in the Nixon Papers) The Patriot Act makes it a lot easier to do this kind of thing in the name of 'national security'. But if you have valid criticisms about Government policy you could find yourself lumped in with terrorists as a threat to those in charge. The internments were wrong and there was no valid justification for them. Just good old American Xenophobia.

Adjacobs
Adjacobs

And the students still do not know the rest of the story..that is, that German Americans and Italian Americans were also interned! Their home life was destroyed, and the scars remain until today!

909Jeff
909Jeff

Is there nothing that CAIR wont exploit..

Rosanne
Rosanne

CAIR in the Moslem Brotherhood franchise in the USA.  Given the opportunity, they would be rounding up others, including gays, women and jews.

mitch young
mitch young

Easy to judge with 20/20 hindsight, without the Japanese Imperial fleet having recently destroyed half 'our' Pacific fleet, without significant numbers (in the thousands) of Japanese in America being active in pro-Japanese Imperialist societies. Without at the very first opportunity Japanese born in Hawaii helping their co-ethnic (see the Niihau incident). 

mitch young
mitch young

Funny how upset and irrational people get when you challenge the pap they've been taught since kindergarten. 

What the hell does Nixon have to do with an Executive Order signed by Franklin Roosevelt, on the recommendation of other lefties in his administration.

mitch young
mitch young

Dude, you have no idea what you are talking about.

: the overwhelming majority of the internees were either native born or naturalized American citizens! :

There were no 'naturalized citizens' among those relocated, because Japanese *couldn't* naturalize. Blame the Founding Fathers, who limited naturalization to 'free white persons. The Nissei were indeed citizens, but how many were minors at the time?

" Think about it, their only crime was they weren't white. No trial, no hearing, no due process, no constitutional rights, just "Get on the bus Jap"! "

If not being white was the issue, why weren't Chinese and Filipinos rounded up. And there were hearings, even in front of Congress, about the Executive Order.

"How is that different from what the Germans were doing? Most of them lost everything they had. "

Uh, the Germans were gassing Jews and others. In contrast, the relocation camps had the highest birthrates in the US during the war.  And being from OC, old OC, I'm skeptical that all that many lost 'everything they had'. In fact, a lot of neighboring farmers looked after Japanese lands during the war. When I was a kid, Japanese/Japanese Americans owned huge chunks of farmland here. They still do -- see Tanaka farms.

Obviously the whole thing is regrettable. But given the information they had at the time, and the fact that there were Japanese loyal to Japan, and Japanese spy networks on the West Coast, US officials made some tough decisions. It was wartime -- everyone's civil liberties were violated. Most Japanese in America seem to have accepted those facts at the time.

mitch young
mitch young

Dude, you and they are white. You and they are not approved victims.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

How is it exploitation? Better a trip to Manzanar than one to the Discovery Science Center!

Bob4barb
Bob4barb

How come there were no internment camps for Germans (German-American Bund) and Italians (Fascist League of North America)? Is it because they looked like everyone else?

909Jeff
909Jeff

C'mon trying to align the poor plight of the American Muslim with the WWII era Japanese who were interred... Not even close. 

Adjacobs
Adjacobs

There were more than 50 internment camps for the German and Italian Americans! From New York to LA, from Seattle, WA to Miami, Fl, and from Wisconsin to Louisiana!

mitch young
mitch young

Actually, thousands were. Thousands more were subjected to very real restrictions on their activities -- Joe DiMaggio's father had his fishing boat confiscated -- like the Italians were going to invade San Francisco!

909Jeff
909Jeff

I'll be honest I was fishing for you to say yes... 

And as a Marine every pacific battle means something to me... The Philippines fell because it was held by the Army... I joke! 

mitch young
mitch young

No, but the threat level was nowhere near the same. The 9/11 attacks basically shot Al Qaeda's wadd. In contrast, the Japanese empire was scoring victory after victory in the Pacific. Does 'the fall of Corregidor', mean anything to you, or Bata'an Death March?  

Having said that, I know for a fact that the growth of a Muslim population in the US --where there was virtually none before 1965 (other than 'Black Muslims) did help the 9/11 attackers. The San Diego 'team' was helped by the Middle Eastern community there with places to stay and, in one case, illegal employment. Not saying that these Muslims knew of the attack, but in, say, 1960 it would have been a lot harder for Al Qaeda to 'blend in'.Now, I have no trouble with the US paying some sort of compensation to people who lost property because of the relocation. Indeed *right after the war* a claims board was set up to do just that. But the 'apology' was and is BS. The campaign for 'redress' --30 years after the fact -- was more about ethnic activism than 'justice', and the government's surrender was an injustice to the men who fought the war.

909Jeff
909Jeff

So On Sept 12th 2001 we should have rounded up every Muslim in America and interred them? 

909Jeff
909Jeff

10 thousand... there were 110 thousand Japanese interred.. 

mitch young
mitch young

Gotta disagree, Jeff. 

Relocation was, arguably, a reasonable measure at a time of extreme emergency. 

Unfortunately, there was evidence of Japanese in America spying  *and* evidence that some would help Imperial Japan in its war aims. As I mentioned above, at just about the first opportunity, a random Hawaiian born Japanese couple decided to help one of the Pearl Harbor attackers, rather than turn him in to authorities (the Niihau Incident). There was also the evidence of Japanese settlers in the Philippines (then a US commonwealth) cooperating with the invasion of those islands.

The whole relocation story has just become another part of 'The Narrative' of how bad white folks and their ancestors were. Klavito's pointless klan 'series' is just another part of it.

Adjacobs
Adjacobs

Again, German Americsns and Italian Americans were interned!

909Jeff
909Jeff

Whoa! I was most definitely not justifying it...  the question was asked why Germans and Italians werent interred and I pointed out that AT THE TIME the only country actively trying to attack the United states was Japan.  Of course I would never justify Interment it was ordered by a Democrat! 

Edit; I can see how you might have read it that way but you're right it was definitely wrong!

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

I can't believe you're justifying internment. Mitchie: of course. He's a white-supremacist wimp. But you actually seem to have SOME sense...fuck, even Reagan admitted it was wrong...

909Jeff
909Jeff

You forgot to point out that the Japanese made several attempts to attack the CONUS.

Several ships were torpedoed within sight of West Coast cities such as Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Diego and Santa Monica. During 1941 and 1942, more than 10 Japanese submarines operated in the West Coast, Alaska and Baja California. They attacked American, Canadian and Mexican ships, successfully sinking over 10 vessels including Soviet Navy submarine L-16 on October 11, 1942.

The United States mainland was first shelled by the Axis on February 23, 1942 when the Japanese submarine I-17 attacked the Ellwood Oil Field west of Goleta, near Santa Barbara, California. Although only a pumphouse and catwalk at one oil well were damaged, I-17 captain Nishino Kozo radioed Tokyo that he had left Santa Barbara in flames. News of the shelling triggered an invasion scare along the West Coast.

In what became the only attack on a mainland American military installation during World War II, the Japanese submarine I-25, under the command of Tagami Meiji, surfaced near the mouth of the Columbia River, Oregon on the night of June 21 and June 22, 1942, and fired shells toward Fort Stevens. 

The Lookout Air Raids occurred on September 9, 1942. The first and only aerial bombing of mainland America by a foreign power occurred when an attempt to start a forest fire was made by a Japanese Yokosuka E14Y1 "Glen" seaplane dropping two 80 kg (180 lb) incendiary bombs over Mount Emily, near Brookings, Oregon. The seaplane, piloted by Nobuo Fujita, had been launched from the Japanese submarine aircraft carrier I-25 

Between November 1944 and April 1945, the Japanese Navy launched over 9,000 fire balloons toward North America. Carried by the recently discovered Pacific jet stream, they were to sail over the Pacific Ocean and land in North America, where the Japanese hoped they would start forest fires and cause other damage. About three hundred were reported as reaching North America, but little damage was caused. Six people (five children and a woman) became the only deaths due to enemy action to occur on mainland America during World War II when one of the children tampered with a bomb from a balloon near Bly, Oregon and it exploded 

 

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