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San Jose Remembers the World War II Concentration Camps for Japanese Americans

by Naomi Nakamura |
March 1, 2002

San Jose, CA - More than 200 people gathered at the Buddhist Church in San Jose's Japantown, Feb. 17, for the annual Day of Remembrance program. For more than twenty years, the Japanese American community has commemorated President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066, which led to the removal of 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes on the west coast, and forced their imprisonment in U.S. concentration camps during World War II.

Jiro Saito told the audience how he was only three years old when his father was arrested in the days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He never saw him again. His father died in a Justice Department prison camp before the war ended. Mr. Saito ended his talk with a passionate plea, "Let no child cry out, 'Otai kaeru, Otai kaeru' ('Let's go home to Otai [California]')."

Jim McEntee, of the Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission, remembered how his Japanese American neighbors "just disappeared." He warned that today there is the same atmosphere of fear, with the indefinite detention Muslims and Arab immigrants, and the hate crimes against Arab, Muslim, and Asian Americans in the months following Sept. 11.

Susan Hayase spoke for the Nihomachi Outreach Committee, which organizes the Day of Remembrance program in San Jose. She reminded people how the Commission on Wartime Internment and Relocation of Civilians concluded that the World War II concentration camps were a result of "war hysteria, racism, and failure of political leadership," and how we can see the same today after Sept. 11.

Perhaps the most moving moments came during the speech of Maha El Genaidi of the Islamic Network Group. She stated that Muslims condemn terrorism, and thanked the Catholic and the Japanese American communities for their support for the Muslim community in the days and weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center. El Genaidi ended with the warning that the U.S. "war on terrorism is becoming a war of terror itself."

In addition to speakers tying together the World War II concentration camps for Japanese Americans and the current attacks on Arab, Muslim, and Asian immigrants, there were also speakers on the continuing struggle of Japanese Latin Americans to gain redress and representatives from the Buddhist and United Methodist Churches. There was a rousing performance of the Hawai'ian slack key guitar and by the San Jose Taiko (Japanese American drumming group). The program also included a candle lighting ceremony as a memorial to those interned in the concentration camps, followed by a candlelight procession through Japantown.