Japanese Americans remember Pearl Harbor backlash and support Muslims

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Traci Ishigo of the Japanese American Citizens League Pacific Southwest District and Sahar Pirzada of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Los Angeles lead a vigil in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo neighborhood. Religion News Service photo by Megan Sweas

Traci Ishigo of the Japanese American Citizens League Pacific Southwest District and Sahar Pirzada of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Los Angeles lead a vigil in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo neighborhood. Religion News Service photo by Megan Sweas

LOS ANGELES (RNS) After 9/11, Kathy Masaoka heard a Muslim woman on the radio describe her hesitancy to go to the market for fear of being attacked.

“It crystalized for me at that moment, that this must be how my parents felt and how my family felt after Pearl Harbor,” she said.

Masaoka’s family is Japanese American. As a young man during World War II, her father was drafted into the Military Intelligence Service while his parents and siblings were sent to California’s Manzanar internment camp in the desert east of the Sierra Nevada. They lost their family business in Los Angeles.

Masaoka is co-chair of Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress in Los Angeles, which helped win a presidential apology and $20,000 per person for more than 80,000 survivors of internment in 1988. The experience taught Japanese Americans the benefits of partnering with other communities.


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“We couldn’t win redress without reaching out to others,” Masaoka said.

In the wake of the San Bernardino, Calif., and Paris terrorist attacks, leaders of the NCRR and other Japanese-American organizations reached out to Muslims groups offering their help. They are among a raft of grass-roots organizations that have shown solidarity with American Muslims.

On Thursday (Dec. 10), hundreds of people marched through the Little Tokyo historic district in Los Angeles and held a candlelight vigil, condemning Islamophobia and singing, “We shall overcome.”

Their destination was the Japanese American National Museum, built on the site of the former Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, where some families sent to internment camps stored belongings.

Muslim organizations report unprecedented levels of discrimination and violence against members of their faith since the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. Haroon Manjlai of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Los Angeles said the number of hate incident reports his group receives locally has surged from around four monthly, to 37 already since the beginning of this month.


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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, and he said he might have supported internment during World War II. And more than half of the nation’s governors have declared their state’s borders closed to refugees from Syria.

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen (second from right) reads a message of solidarity against Islamophobia, surrounded by Muslim, Buddhist and other religious leaders at a candlelight vigil in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo neighborhood. Photo by Megan Sweas, RNS.

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen (second from right) reads a message of solidarity against Islamophobia, surrounded by Muslim, Buddhist and other religious leaders at a candlelight vigil in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo neighborhood. RNS photo by Megan Sweas

While no major American political figure is proposing internment now, Muslim leaders are deeply concerned about the rhetoric and appreciate the support of these groups.

“I’m in love with the Japanese-American community,” Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said at the vigil. “I remember on 9/11 … they stood as our human chain of defense to prevent another internment from happening in America.”

After the 2001 attacks, NCRR held a candlelight vigil with local Muslims. It was the first time many leaders from the two communities met.

A Buddhist temple also hosted a small iftar dinner to break the fast for Ramadan, a tradition that would continue for a number of years. Muslim American leaders attended Day of Remembrance events to commemorate the internment and took part in pilgrimages to the Manzanar camp.

It was on one of these trips that someone from CAIR suggested bringing high school students to Manzanar, Masaoka said. That idea eventually became Bridging Communities, a program allowing Muslim and Japanese American youth to discover their histories and learn about civil rights together. It is currently being recast as a college fellowship program. Bridging Communities also has run in Seattle, San Francisco, Sacramento and other cities.

The goal is to create community leaders who will hold the government accountable, said Traci Ishigo, program coordinator at the Japanese American Citizens League, Pacific Southwest District.


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Megan Ono was part of one of the program’s first cohorts. At the vigil in Little Tokyo, she performed an offering of incense, then walked over to the small gathering of Muslim Americans to stand in support at they performed their evening prayers.

“With what my grandparents went through with internment camps and redress, I felt that it’s my responsibility as a Japanese American to make sure that that never happens again, to any community,” she said.

(Megan Sweas is a contributor to RNS)

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  • My life in Liberal Klans Oregon!
    Arab/Muslim Americans are treated less than human!
    We are being prosecuted in a daily basis! High tech lynching, institutionally racism! Especially for Arab women!

    AG Frohnmayer had mySS#blocked prevented me get employed

    Rep. Bob Ackerman hired Scarlet Lee/Barnhart Associated, forged my family’s signature, sold our fully paid Condo, without my signature!!

    Ackerman had never responded to the Summon from the Court,& the sheriff never served him or arrested him either!

    ThIs is what kind of criminal government we have in Oregon!
    I ran five times for public offices! Voter Fraud!

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/justice4nadiasindi

    http://www.davefrohnmayer.com

    https://www.change.org/petitions/a-g-eric-holder-sent-jeff-merkley-gov-john-kitzhaber-investigate-abuse-of-power-and-criminal-forgery-by-former-oregon-a-g-david-frohnmayer-and-lane-county-government#share

  • Be Brave

    Nadia,

    It is terrible that we may have Americans treating Muslims like Muslims treat every other non-Muslim on earth. There isn’t a Muslim Country where non-Muslims are not in fear every single moment of every single day that their “political leaders (Muslims of course) won’t take away ALL of their rights as Islam does what it always does to non-Muslims.

    Maybe its time to look into an Islamic mirror Nadia.

  • Nadia

    Be,

    It is terrible that we may have Americans treating Muslims like Christians treat every other non-Christian on earth. There isn’t a Christian Country where non-Christians are not in fear every single moment of every single day that their “political leaders (Christians of course) won’t take away ALL of their rights as Christianity does what it always does to non-Christians.

    Maybe its time to look into a mirror Be.

  • Ben in oaklamd

    BB doesn’t look in mirrors. There is no reflection there,

    You did exactly what I was going to do and have done with him before. Just change one word for another,

  • Grandson of a Pearl Harbor Survivor

    It’s quite disgusting that the Muslims have to milk Pearl Harbor for their own gain. I don’t remember the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor because it was full of muslims, do you? I do, however, remember how the muslims attacked New York because it was full of “infidels”

  • Susan

    It reminds me of the treatment that Jews trying to escape the Nazis received in America, The US government turned back a boat full of Jewish children. The wife of the Secretary of State said, “They’re cute now because they’re children, but they will grow up to be ugly Jews.” Jews were considered inimical to American culture and unable to assimilate and become good Americans.

    Japanese Americans were loyal American citizens and had nothing to do with Pearl Habor.

  • larry

    When loose-lipped politicians use the internment of Japanese Americans as an example of proper action, then the comparison is not only appropriate but unmistakable. Descendants of America’s first modern concentration camps would know a thing or two about how far we are willing to act when it comes to acting out of fear of a given group.

    It is quite disgusting what people are willing to do to the civil liberties of this nation when acting out of fear and prejudice.

  • Alice

    Its obvious U aren’t much intelligent or dont keep much outside home

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  • Calc geek

    Groups like Al-Quida, ISIS, Boko Haram and so on make up about 0.03% of 1.7 billion Muslims. Tell he how you plan to blame 99.97% of Muslims just because of a few who perverted the religion just like other groups in nearly all other religions have done?!?! The victims or radical Islamist’s (NOT Islamic, no its not the same thing) are nearly all MUSLIMS! they do not represent Islam or the rest of us, that’s like Hitler representing the Jews! Lastly, the Japanese American community are not being “milked” they understand whats going on because they have went through the same thing during WWII! Stop being a blind bigot, educate yourself.

  • amaizing speech!!

  • well i person did it

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