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  • Writer's pictureKaren Campbell

Why are Japanese-Americans Fighting Alongside the leaders of the Black Reparations Movement?

Courtesy of the Japanese History Museum

Written by: Karen Campbell

Last year Japanese-Americans spoke alongside leaders of the Black Reparations movement at a virtual town hall meeting. The event was hosted by Japanese American Social Justice Organizations pushing for the passage of HR 40, the federal law that created a commission to investigate compensation for black Americans. "Reparations Then, Reparations Now!", the meeting coincided with the 40th anniversary of hearings on the wartime relocation and interning of civilians, marking a turning point in the Japan-US reparations movement.

Japanese Americans at the March on Washington in 1963. Courtesy of the Japanese History Museum.

During World War II, people of Japanese descent were considered an internal threat to the United States. Many Japanese Americans still remember being forced from their homes under the watchful eye of the US military and suspicious neighbors. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, an estimated 120,000 people of Japanese descent—including American citizens—were sent to concentration camps euphemistically called "relocation centers." The criteria for internment? Just being 1/16th Japanese.

Courtesy of the Japanese History Museum

It began slowly, as most atrocities do. First military zones were created in California, Washington and Oregon—states with a large population of Japanese Americans. Then President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order forcibly removing Americans of Japanese ancestry from their homes. Executive Order 9066 affected the lives of about 120,000 people—the majority of whom were American citizens, including 17,000 children under age 10, and several thousand elderly and disabled people.

Courtesy of the Japanese History Museum

Japanese Americans lost businesses, houses, cars and everything they owned. Few people understand that the policy stemmed from the plan to use the houses Japanese people owned for US military. In short, they took homes from the Japanese and gave them to US soldiers. The problem is, they didn't pay for them.

The last Japanese internment camp closed in March 1946. President Gerald Ford officially repealed Executive Order 9066 in 1976, and in 1988, with the help of African American Activists, Congress issued a formal apology and passed the Civil Liberties Act awarding $20,000 each to over 80,000 Japanese Americans as reparations for their treatment.

Courtesy of the Japanese History Museum

In addition to contributing people power, Japanese American organizers are sharing something perhaps more valuable: their first-hand knowledge of the redress process. Japanese Americans are one of the few groups to receive reparations from the U.S. government.

Black politicians — including the late Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Calif were integral to the redress movement. In his historic testimony on the House floor in 1987, Dellums recalled watching his childhood friend, who was Japanese American, being taken away from his home.

Courtesy of the Japanese History Museum

Japanese Americans who fought for reparations are being asked to speak to groups hoping the bill to investigate compensation for African Americans.

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