Loyalty Redefined on Day of Remembrance
Despite heavy rain over the President’s Day weekend, hundreds gathered at the Japanese American National Museum Saturday, to commemorate the Day of Remembrance, the signing of Executive Order 1066 by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942.
Hosted by Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, Japanese American Citizens League-Pacific Southwest District, and the museum, “2005 Day of RemembranceWhen Loyalty is Questioned…from Tule Lake to Guantanamo” featured several speakers, including members of the Muslim/Arab American community, to compare past and present racial profiling to prevent such injustices from being repeated.
The program started ith a tribute to the late Congressman Robert T. Matsui by Congressman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.). Matsui played a key role in the passing of the redress bill in 1988, which entitled former internees to $20,000 compensation and won a formal apology from the federal government. He was interned at Tule Lake as an infant.
“In so many different ways, Bob Matsui was a hero to many,” Becerra remembered. “I considered him as someone I could turn to, not only for advice, but for the truth.”
Following the tribute, Kathy Masaoka made a Day of Remembrance statement representing Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress.
“What does loyalty mean today? If you are American of Muslim faith, does that mean that you have to ask your mother, sisters and daughters not to cover their heads? Does that mean that you avoid air travel so you wouldn’t make people uncomfortable? Does that mean that you have to preface every statement with a denunciation of terrorism in order to assure others that you are a model American?” she asked the audience.
Masaoka defended those who answered “no, no” to Questions 27 and 28, the so-called loyalty questions by stating that their answers had nothing to do with their loyalty to the country.
“Today, we have another opportunity to remind our government and others that our loyalty is not to blindly follow, but to question whether rights guaranteed by the Constitution and human decency are being protected.” she said.
This year, the annual Fighting Spirit Award was given to the late Wayne Mortimer Collins, and anti-internment activist who assisted renunciants in regaining citizenship, and Tetsujiro “Tex” Nakamura, who worked as Collins’ associate.
Outraged by the violation of the constitutional rights by the government, Collins took up the cause of Japanese Americans and Japanese Peruvians during the war. As an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in San Francisco, he represented Fred Korematsu, Iva “Tokyo Rose” Toguri and others. He and Nakamura formed the Tule Lake Defense Committee in behalf of thousands of renunciants. For 23 years, Nakamura had traveled extensively, interviewing renunciants at many Department of Justice camps. By 1968, 4,978 Japanese Americans had their citizenship restored due to those attorneys’ efforts.
At the event, Nakamura and Collins’ son, Wayne Collins Jr., were present to receive the award.
Collins described renouncing citizenship as a “void act” by those Japanese Americans who had no one, nothing to turn to, but all of the respect to the U. S. Constitution.
“The fact that you are behind a barbed wire would make you renounce. They were completely lost in American liberty,” he said. “Renunciation in an affirmation of your human spirit”
As one of the community guest speakers at the event, Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of Muslim Public Affairs Council, shared his person experience of injustice after Sept. 11. Returning from a trip to Mexico, he and his family were escorted out from an airplane to a special area. According to Al-Mayarati, they were detained and questioned for two hours until Homeland Security officials found out that Al-Marayati worked with the Department of Homeland Security to advise on the issues of sensitivity to Muslim/Arab Americans.
“We need to remind each other, we need to remind our country, we need to remind the American public that civil liberties should not be sacrificed in the name of fighting for freedom,” he said. “We are here to say it is un-American to test people’s patriotism. Patriotism means loyalty to the country, love for the nation, not to the policy of the government.”
Also at the event, South Asian Network executive director Hamid Khan denounced romanticization of patriotism. He encouraged community dialogues between various groups of people to discuss how race and racism play roles in the issues of citizenship and how communities make those linkages.
Other speakers and presentations at the event included: Reiko Nimura, who, as a child, was forced to “return” to Japan in the U.S. prison exchange program during the war. Hank Naito, veteran and renunciant from Tule Lake; and Dave Iwataki, producer of “Barbed Wire and Hip-Hop” and founder of Project J, Justice.