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University hosts workshop on Japanese Americans during WWII

The University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs hosted a workshop on Monday night called, “The Game of Life: 1941 Edition-Japanese Internment, Archie Bunker Neighborhood Version.”

The workshop was held as part of Asian American Heritage Week and focused on the detention of Japanese Americans as well as prior and subsequent events during the years of 1941 through 1945.

Christopher Valentino, a graduate administrative assistant, served as facilitator of the interactive event. Attendees were encouraged to share their thoughts and opinions and worked in small groups to answer open-ended, though-provoking questions.

Valentino’s first question was, “What makes an American?”

Associate General Counsel for the University, Larry Chan, said that an American may be defined as “someone who subscribes to the ideals that form this country.”

Valentino then introduced a few key terms, including “Issei” and “Nisei.” Issei refers to the first generation of Japanese Americans who immigrated to the U.S. during 1885 and 1924.

Nisei refers to American-born children of Japanese immigrants. While Nisei were automatically American citizens due to the fact that they were born on American soil, the Issei were ineligible for U.S. citizenship.

During World War II, Issei were considered “enemy aliens.” Just prior to the war and within days of the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, over 1,000 Issei were apprehended and held in custody under no formally-filed legal charges.

In February of 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This order set the stage for the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans as it allowed military officials to remove anyone from anywhere. This could be done without a trial.

Valentino played a video of Japanese American Asako Tokuno, who at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor was attending the University of California at Berkeley.

“I’d never been aware of my ethnicity,” Tokuno said after realizing that people were blatantly staring at her throughout her commute to school. Although she was born in America, the fact that she was a descendant of Japanese parents was difficult to hide and people took notice.

In March of 1942, the War Relocation Authority was administered and allocated $5.5 million via the signing of Executive Order 9102.

Later that month, the first Civilian Exclusion Order was issued to 45 families in Brainbridge Island, Washington. Families were given a week to prepare.

Valentino said that each person was usually allowed just one suitcase to bring with them. All other belongings had to be simply left behind, put in storage or watched over by entrusted neighbors.

In February of 1943, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was initiated. The team was made up of Americans with Japanese ancestry, despite the fact that many had families who were subject to detention.

“They fought for their country even though their country wouldn’t fight for them,” Valentino said.

In 1946, post-WWII, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was received by President Truman on the lawn of the White House.

“You fought not only the enemy but you have fought prejudice – and you have won,” said Truman.

Attendee and Japanese American, Errol Lam, said he wishes the University would create a more permanent project or class structure with the purpose of bringing more attention to the internment history of Japanese Americans.

“It happened to us,” Lam said. “As Asian Americans, we need to tell our stories.”

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