Internment camp survivor Sam Mihara spoke to Hofstra students recently about his experiences being forcibly relocated. After anti-Asian sentiment and the Pearl Harbor bombing, political pressure got FDR to sign Executive Order 9066. Mr. Mihara talked about the curfews imposed on Japanese Americans, followed by registration efforts and ultimately the mass deportation of over 120,000 people. These people included his family who had lived in America for years and his friends who had sincerely recited the Pledge of Allegiance weeks before.
As a nine year old boy, Mr. Mihara was forced with his family to live in horse stables in temporary housing, then shipped to isolated internment camps. For three years, he and his family endured humiliation and confusion. They tried to maintain a normal life, even with inadequate medical care, harsh winters, and cramped quarters. The efforts of objectors Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi, Minoru Yasui, and James Purcell eventually helped Japanese Americans regain their freedom. After survivors returned home, it took years for anti-Japanese sentiment to dissipate and decades for a formal government apology and redress to be given.
Parallels can be drawn from back then to now on our current political climate. Anti-immigration and safety over liberty sentiments are not new. But as citizens, we cannot let fear and hysteria overpower our constitutional values. Simply sitting in disbelief and disapproval of these previous events is not enough. We need to stand with people who face injustices, whether it be a ban on country of origin, a religious registry, or hardships of war.
Mr. Mihara reminds students that the Japanese Americans internees could have been any group. He believes that if we understand our rights and fight for others, another horrendous civil rights violation will be avoided. To read more about Sam Mihara and his experiences, visit his webpage http://sammihara.com