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Campus Events to Commemorate
Japanese American Internment
February 14, 2000

In February 1942, thousands of Americans were ordered from their homes and into concentration camps because of their Japanese ancestry.

Nearly 60 years later, many people still don't know about this episode - arguably one of the darkest periods in America's past.

"It's still one of the greatest secrets in our national history," says Roger Buckley, director of the Asian American Studies Institute and a professor of history. "Here's something that occurred in this century, and a great many people don't know about it."

To commemorate Japanese American internment and educate people about it, the National Day of Remembrance is observed on Feb. 19. It was on that date in 1942 that President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which led to the removal of 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry from the west coast and their detention in concentration camps between 1942 and 1946.

Japanese Americans were given 48 hours to leave their homes, taking only what they could carry, Buckley says. In the process, they left behind businesses, homes and loved ones.

"These people lost their whole economic livelihood and their self-respect," Buckley says.

Buckley, who teaches a history course on the internment, notes that Americans of German and Italian ancestry weren't interned during World War II. Though Japanese Americans have been in this country as long as many immigrants from Europe, Buckley says that they were viewed as foreigners while other immigrants were not.

"People see 'Japanese' and forget there's an 'American' following it," Buckley says.

While more than 100,000 Japanese Americans were interned during the war, many others fought in the United States military. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a U.S. Army unit composed of Japanese American citizens, fought in campaigns throughout Europe and, in the process, liberated a Nazi concentration camp. The unit was the most decorated unit in American military history for its size and length of service.

As part of its Day of Remembrance activities, the Asian American Studies Institute has invited Norman Ikari, a member of the 442nd Regiment, to speak at the Asian American Cultural Center at 2 p.m. on Feb. 16. While Ikari fought in the military, some of his relatives were interned in camps in Arizona, Arkansas and California.

The theme of this year's events is divided loyalty. Other events are:

  • A screening of Rabbit in the Moon, an award-winning documentary film by Emiko Omori that tells the story of internment and explores the question of loyalty, at 7 p.m. on Feb. 15 at the cultural center.

  • The showing of three short documentaries on the internment from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 16 at the cultural center.

  • A poetry reading and talk by Lawson Inada, a Japanese American poet who was sent to the camps as a child, at 7 p.m. on Feb. 16 at Jorgensen Gallery. Jazz music will accompany the reading by Inada, the author of the book Legends from Camp and a professor at Southern Oregon State College.

Allison Thompson