SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Bay Area residents paused Saturday to remember the day 80 years ago when Japanese-Americans were forced to leave their homes, belongings and businesses to move into internment camps during World War II.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942 which resulted in some 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, 70,000 of them American citizens, being sent to live in one of the 10 Japanese internment camps.
"The signing of that executive order gave the government the right to remove people from their homes, disrupt their businesses and forced many to lose their property — solely based on their race," said Linda Ivey, Cal State East Bay professor of history. "This event was an egregious violation of civil rights. As a U.S. citizen, I want to understand how this happened in my country."
Ivey has co-authored two books about the Japanese Internment with Cal State East Bay history professor Kevin Kaatz.
"One of the most surprising things was finding the speed at which all of this happened," said Kaatz. "It was also interesting to learn about the depth internees went to in order to try to live a 'normal' life. Most of them were U.S. citizens, removed from everything and moved to very inhospitable places, but they attempted to make life as normal as possible."
Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed Saturday a day of remembrance and reflection.
"A decision motivated by discrimination and xenophobia, the internment of Japanese Americans was a betrayal of our most sacred values as a nation that we must never repeat," Newsom said in a news release. "This stain on our history should remind us to always stand up for our fellow Americans, regardless of their national origin or immigration status, and protect the civil rights and liberties that we hold
Two years ago, the California's Legislature approved a resolution offering an apology to the internment victims for the state's role in aiding the U.S. government's policy and condemning actions that helped fan anti-Japanese discrimination.
Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi was born in Japan and is one the roughly 430,000 people of Japanese descent living in California, the largest population of any state. The Democrat who represents Manhattan Beach and other beach communities near Los Angeles introduced the resolution.
"We like to talk a lot about how we lead the nation by example," he said at the time of the resolution's passing. "Unfortunately, in this case, California led the racist anti-Japanese American movement."
A congressional commission in 1983 concluded that the detentions were a result of "racial prejudice, war hysteria and failure of political leadership." Five years later, the U.S. government formally apologized and paid $20,000 in reparations to each victim.
The money didn't come close to replacing what was lost.
Ivey says many Americans don't know much, if anything at all, about the Japanese internment because it was largely absent from our history classrooms and textbooks at least until the 1990s, but she encourages everyone to pay attention to history because it can help us put things into context — to see patterns of behavior and what those patterns could lead to.
"It is so essential that people understand that prejudice against ethnic groups within the United States is a longstanding tradition and one that we have not been able to shake," Ivey said in a news release. "It is also essential to understand how quickly that kind of fear and hate can escalate into something as astoundingly awful as the Japanese internment was."
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