75 years ago this week, President Roosevelt issued an executive order which designated “exclusion areas” from which “any or all persons” could be removed by the military. My grandmother was forced to withdraw from her college. She was arrested and placed under armed guard at the Santa Anita horse racetrack where she was lucky to not be assigned a horse stable for a three month confinement (many others weren’t so lucky).
Later, incarcerated in the barren, desolate Colorado desert, her father quickly died of cancer. Next, my great-uncle and thousands of Japanese Americans volunteered to join the 442nd Battalion, which is often referred to as the most decorated unit in American history due to its high casualty rates, where they fought and died for their country to both defend the freedom of their families and to prove that they were true Americans. Yet, this true America was holding their families in the desert under armed guard.
This story is not unique. In fact, there are over 120,000 stories just like my family’s. But this story doesn’t belong just to them, it is a stereotypically American story. This act of “race prejudice and war hysteria” happened in America, and in America it could happen again. Today, our 45th President openly calls his executive orders a “Muslim ban” and again in America it is becoming a crime to simply be of a certain type of person.
Luckily, my grandmother got to live her American dream with only one caveat. She dedicated her life to helping others, teaching early childhood education at a Chicago community college. The caveat though, is that her dream extended to me and my generation. She dreamed that the heritage of my generation would never deter us from our dreams. I can’t say that is true for minorities, undocumented people, or Muslims in America.
After 9/11, my community stood up against racial profiling and said never again. Today on this solemn Day of Remembrance, we stand up again against the “Muslim Ban” and other acts of division.
Hoosier Chapter Japanese American Citizens League.