Monday, February 20, 2017

Which Comes First? Loyalty? or Equity?

About 50 people gathered on Sunday at First Church Berkeley for an art response to the anniversary of the 1942 executive order #9066 that resulted in the internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans. Two survivors of those internment camps shared 1,000 paper cranes with the participants. We were asked to think of ways to make use of them to say, "Never again." So now I'm sharing with you.

One of a thousand cranes distributed at the 2/19 event.

I moved to California about a year ago. While the US internment of people of Japanese descent during World War II is a legacy that every person in the US must own, it is particularly relevant to California, the home of so many of the people interned.

During the past year, I read Farewell to Manzanar - a memoir that is frequently assigned in high school and college classes here. It is a high impact book -- easy to read, and full of insights about the life of a second-generation girl of Japanese descent who was sent with her family to an internment camp in central California.

Farewell to Manzanar
I say "easy to read," but there is a part of the story that I just can't seem to get past.  Up until 1924, hundreds of thousands of Japanese were allowed to come to the US (plus Hawaii) to work, but they were not allowed to become US citizens. Then, in 1924, immigration from Japan to the US was cut off entirely by US law. (Details here and here.) Any children born to those immigrants in the US were automatically US citizens. All of them were rounded up and interned after war broke out. The pretext was: "You are of Japanese descent and we don't know where your loyalties lie."

In a way characteristic of this country, the US had created a situation combining mistreatment based on "race" identity with discrimination based on (involuntary) lack of citizenship

In 1943, the US government began to try to undo what it had done. It circulated a questionnaire to the internees, including "loyalty questions." If you answered the questions properly, you could obtain leave from internment.

Imagine having been rounded up and sent off to an internment camp, held for a long period, and then being given the "opportunity" to state where your loyalties lie. How would you feel? How would you feel if you were a US citizen? How would you feel if you were an immigrant who had been denied the possibility of ever becoming a US citizen?

The situation faced by those internees in 1943 is relevant to the continuing situation of various groups in the US today, especially immigrant populations and people subject to discrimination. Which properly comes first: loyalty? or equitable treatment? (Is the answer different if you're "white"?)


SANCTUARY (Church, City, State) and Solidarity with Immigrants 

Dirty Wars and Extrajudicial Execution (So 1984!)
Does a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) need to be part of a "new plan of Chicago"?
360 Degree Feedback in New York (2014 NPT Prepcom and How the World Views the United States))

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