A dear woman, a friend, recently passed away. In her 90s, she was an inspiration to all who knew her ~ looking quite dapper, out doing errands every day, no matter the weather, and with a memory rivaling all those still in mid-life. It was at her 49 Day Funeral Ceremony at The New York Buddhist Church, that we learned how, in the 1940s, she and her husband fled to New York, to avoid being sent to internment camps, along with so many other Japanese-Americans ~ even though they were in the United States Quite legally.
Her son-in-law stood at the lectern and spoke of her life in New York, where she and her husband created a home, and raised a family. So many years later, living in Harlem, neighbors and acquaintances knew nothing of her near-miss during the war. Her thoughts on this ~ we will never know.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, allowing for the imprisonment of all people of Japanese ancestry living on or near the West Coast – all 120,000 citizens and legal residents were removed from their homes without due process. They were removed from their homes, bringing only what they could carry, and sent to relocation camps located throughout the western United States.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was very concerned about the plight of the Japanese Americans, and had privately opposed the internment. She spoke out in their defense writing that:
“We must learn to think of the people in these groups as individuals, not as groups: we must treat them as individuals. They, on their part have an obligation to refuse to listen to arguments and false statements made by agents of our enemies who will try to trade on an unfairness or bitterness. We must remember that we cannot tell the difference between a loyal and a disloyal citizen… just by looking at him or his name, by seeing the color of his skin, or by hearing him talk.”
The well-known photographer Dorothea Lange was hired by the U.S. Government to make a photographic record of the ‘evacuation’ and ‘relocation’ of Japanese-Americans in 1942.
In addition to photographic documentation by Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams, a Japanese photographer by the name of Toyo Miyatake also photographed inside the camp. Even though the Japanese were forbidden to take cameras into the camps, Miyatake managed to smuggle in a lens and made a camera, enabling him to document life at Manzanar.
Ansel Adams was one of America’s best known photographers, and a good friend of Ms. Lange’s. He was deeply distressed by the Japanese internment and got permission from the WRA to visit Manzanar and photograph what was happening there.
The images below were taken in 1943 by Adams, who documented the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California.
When offering the collection to the Library of Congress in 1965, Adams said in a letter, “The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and dispair [sic] by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment….All in all, I think this Manzanar Collection is an important historical document, and I trust it can be put to good use.”
In 1988, apologizing on behalf of the nation for the “grave injustice” done to persons of Japanese ancestry, Congress implemented the Civil Liberties Act. Congress declared that the internments were “motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership,” and authorized a $20,000 payment to Japanese-Americans who suffered injustices during World War II.
In 2022, The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) invited the public to view and sign the Ireichō, a sacred book that records—for the first time ever—the names of over 125,000 persons of Japanese ancestry who were unjustly imprisoned in US Army, Department of Justice, and War Relocation Authority camps during World War II.
This event is part of Irei: National Monument for the WWII Japanese American Incarceration, which addresses the erasure of the identities of individuals of Japanese ancestry who experienced wartime incarceration and expands the concept of what a monument is through three distinct, interlinking elements: a sacred book of names as a monument (Ireichō), a website as a monument (Ireizō), and light sculptures as monuments (Ireihi). The project is funded by the Mellon Foundation and led by Duncan Ryuken Williams, co-curator of Sutra and Bible: Faith and the Japanese American World War II Incarceration at JANM, professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, chair of the USC School of Religion, and director of the USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture.
In 2025, JANM will install a permanent large-scale Ireihi sculpture that replicates the dimensions of the Ireihi monument at the Manzanar concentration camp where 10,046 individuals of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated during World War ll. These will be linked to a series of smaller-scale Ireihis that will be installed at eight former incarceration sites.
“The Day of Remembrance offers an opportunity for each of us to reflect on our history of forced removal, family separation, and incarceration, as well as the activism and organizing that grew from that history. In remembering our past, we can transform our pain into power, and garner the strength and wisdom to demand that this country stop repeating history.” — Linda Morris, New York Day of Remembrance Committee Organizer
Follow ‘Day of Remembrance 2023′ at The National Museum of American History.
Read about a Day of Remembrance by the National Parks Conservation Association.