Japanese-Americans Mark WWII Order

Participants in a silent march memorializing Japanese-American imprisonment during World War II, many of them survivors, gather in front of the Japanese-American United Church on Seventh Avenue. (Photo by Nomin Ujiyediin for Voices of NY)

Feb. 18 was the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Nomin Ujiyediin and Zach Williams, 2016 grads of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, covered events in NYC commemorating that order and the resulting internment of Japanese-American in camps on the West Coast. Read the story by Ujiyediin and watch the video interview Williams conducted with a Japanese-American survivor of the internment camps.

For many Japanese Americans, the legacy of racism during and after World War II still looms large.

Seventy-five years after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which ordered the imprisonment of more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent in camps on the West Coast, the Japanese-American community of New York City gathered to memorialize the event and condemn modern-day racism.

On Saturday Feb. 18, survivors of the camps, their family members and supporters marched silently from Columbus Circle to the Japanese American United Church on Seventh Avenue.

Some, like actress Sonnie Brown, carried suitcases and dressed in clothing that recalled the fashion of the 1940s. Brown, who is of Korean descent, has played Japanese characters and feels a connection to the community. She wore a red headscarf to evoke the World War II-era style and to show solidarity with Muslim Americans, another group that has faced discrimination. “I want to remind people of a history that is not that old,” she said.

Following the march, the Japanese-American United Church hosted a candle-lighting ceremony and a series of speakers, including Michael Ishii, a member of the Day of Remembrance Committee, which organized the event.

Ishii, whose family was imprisoned in the camps and continued to suffer racist harassment after World War II, warned that the recent American political climate could be a dangerous repetition of history. He and other speakers affirmed the Japanese-American community’s support of American Muslims. “This is the time to be the allies that we needed during World War II,” Ishii said.

On Sunday, the Day of Remembrance Committee organized an exhibit and a series of performances at La MaMa, a theater in the East Village. On the walls hung artwork created by people living in the camps, photographs of camp life and the text of Executive Order 9066, alongside President Donald Trump’s recent executive order banning travelers from certain Muslim-majority countries.

For many who participated in the weekend’s events, the memory of the camps is still raw. “It’s something that colors our family conversations,” said Kim Ima, who helped organize the exhibit on Sunday. This is her first year on the Day of Remembrance Committee, and she sees it as a way to honor that memory and to be an active citizen. “It’s about carrying it forward to help the present and the future for all people,” she said.

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