Japanese-American Community Uses 80th Anniversary of FDR Executive Order 9066 to Talk About Black Reparations

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — It’s been 80 years since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that incarcerated 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Decades later, the Japanese-American community promises to never forget the atrocities and who helped them obtain reparations.

February 19, 1942 is a day that will forever live in infamy – a step down in America’s ugly past of hatred, bigotry and xenophobia.

“It’s a story that unfortunately not everyone knows yet,” said David Inoue, executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League.

That day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. It called for the incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry.

VIDEO: Japanese Americans reflect on WWII concentration camps and racism today

The vast majority were US citizens.

The order was in response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the catalyst for America’s entry into World War II.

In the months that followed, the racist hysteria came to a head over fears of another possible Japanese surprise attack.

“It’s a really dark chapter in America’s history of systemic racism that incarcerated my dad, my mom, and all of my aunts and uncles,” said documentary filmmaker Jon Osaki.

His latest release, “Reparations”, will be screened at Films du Souvenir 2022 on the weekend of February 26 and 27.

The 11th annual Films of Remembrance will be held virtually.

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For Osaki, Memorial Day is personal.

He shared photos with ABC7 News of his father while he was incarcerated at the Tule Lake Relocation Center just outside the California-Oregon border.

His father was sent along with thousands of other Japanese Americans in 1942.

In many cases, they were uprooted from their homes with few possessions and forced to live in inhumane conditions.

Tanforan Racetrack in San Bruno on the San Francisco Peninsula was used as a detention center.

American citizens of Japanese ancestry were forced to sleep in stables.

80 years later, Japanese Americans swear never to forget.

“It is also a way of healing and remembrance for community members who experienced the injustice of mass incarceration during World War II,” Inoue said.

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After years of lobbying under the veil of multiracial solidarity, the US government apologized to Japanese Americans in 1988 with the passage of the Civil Liberties Act signed by President Reagan.

And with that apology came $20,000 reparations to surviving Japanese Americans.

“Our families received reparations for the incarceration of our entire community during World War II,” Osaki said. “Many of us feel a certain responsibility to speak out against other injustices that have yet to be righted.”

Today, the San Francisco-based filmmaker uses his voice to once again call for multiracial solidarity – this time for African Americans to receive reparations for the country’s original sin of slavery and decades of Jim Crow.

“Japanese-American communities across the country are holding these events and many of them are talking about the topic of reparations for black people. They’re using this as an opportunity to raise awareness,” Osaki said.

San Francisco attorney Don Tamaki knows the job well.

He serves on the first California Reparations Task Force established by AB 3121 and signed into law by Governor Newsom.

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Tamaki is the only non-black member of the nine-person task force charged with studying historical harms and recommending potential remedies for African Americans in California.

“As Japanese Americans, we know something about prejudice,” Tamaki said.

“As we celebrate February 19 to remember our community, we remember that each time America has recognized its wrongs, righted them, and become more inclusive, it has grown stronger as a nation.”

As California’s Reparations Task Force prepares to release the first of two reports on its findings on historic harm to the African-American community, the movement is gaining support from a familiar ally.

“I believe we can make the greatest strides together in addressing systemic racism in this country,” Osaki said.

The Japanese American Citizens League holds events across the country on Memorial Day.

Many events remain virtual due to COVID.

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