February is an important month for many reasons. There’s Black History Month, Lincoln’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday and of course, Groundhog Day. However, there’s one day in particular during the shortest month of the year that single-handedly shaped the landscape of Japanese America. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War to prescribe military areas. Specifically, this single piece of paper allowed the United States government to forcibly detain and incarcerate nearly 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry in some of the most desolate areas in the continental United States.
Now, Japanese American communities around the country come together every year to take part in various Day of Remembrance programs that cause us to reflect on how this collective experience has rippled through the generations. But for me personally, it is a time that makes me truly appreciate the struggle of the previous generations of Japanese Americans and the community’s ability to rebuild itself in spite of overwhelming prejudice and fear-mongering.
When I think about weathering the sometimes brutal conditions of the camp experience, the bravery of the individuals who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the resisters who refused to have their loyalty questioned, the multiple Japanese American plaintiffs who made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as the many individuals who took part and succeeded in the Redress and Reparations movement, I realize how rich and unique our community is. It also makes me proud that I am a member of so many different Japanese American organizations, like the U.S.-Japan Council, that continue to carry on the torch for our community and light the way for future generations.
In short, February, while short on days, is certainly not short on historical significance as it touches the lives of so many Americans of all different backgrounds, including Japanese Americans.