The Pacific Council and the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) recently hosted a discussion with John Tateishi, author of Redress: The Inside Story of the Successful Campaign for Japanese American Reparations, in conversation with Karen Ishizuka, chief curator at JANM.
Here are key takeaways from the discussion:
- Tateishi pointed out that two-thirds of those incarcerated in the Japanese camps during World War II were born in the United States and their parents and grandparents had immigrated well before the war but had not been allowed to become naturalized U.S. citizens. He explained how activists’ push for reparations “had to begin as a public education campaign intended as a way to inform the American public because many Americans weren’t aware of what happened,” and if they did, they thought it was because Japanese Americans were being disloyal. It was a 10-year process with the ultimate goal of monetary redress and an apology.
- The U.S. government acknowledged two main sources of injustice: war hysteria and a failure of leadership due to racism. The Japanese American Citizens League, which was involved in the movement to obtain redress and reparations for Japanese Americans, accepted $20,000 per person impacted by internment, which was integrated into a bill passed in 1988. “It was the first time Congress both apologized and paid reparations,” Tateishi said. “The apology mattered the most to Japanese Americans. You can’t dump money on a community and think you did it a favor. Racism is the root cause and that is what needs to be solved.”
- Ishizuka agreed that “receiving an official apology from the U.S. government is extremely rare, so it was very meaningful” for the Japanese-American community.
- Those who experienced internment had to testify publicly, yet they had never even told their children. “Catharsis was required before healing and national acceptance could occur,” Tateishi said.
- He said there’s a feeling of déjà vu during the COVID-19 pandemic, when “anyone who appears to be Asian can be targeted. People who attack Asians in the United States always target women, elders, or children, going after the most vulnerable most often, built out of so much ignorance. There is an unwillingness to accept ethnically Asian people as bona fide Americans.”
- Ishizuka pointed out that there are “more than 100 hate crimes against Asians a day in the United States.”
Watch the full conversation below:
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.