It has been the pattern throughout history. When people feel threatened, they blame some group of people they do not like. It’s the blacks, the Jews, the gays, the Arabs, the immigrants: they must be the problem. Such discrimination was wrong then and it’s wrong now.
In 1942, months after Japan launched the Pearl Harbor attack, the United States of America was at war. Japanese Americans were not treated well. In Hawaii, they had been part of the plantation culture and many Japanese had lived on the Hawaiian Isles for multi generations. In 1806 the first ship of Japanese had arrived in Hawaii. By 1920, 43% of Hawaii’s population had Japanese ancestry.
Hawaii is a melting pot of culture. Plantation agriculture brought people from Japan, China, Korea, the Philippines, Portugal, some African Americans from the US mainland, and elsewhere. Japanese American people served in government posts, in the military, and had businesses. They were civic leaders and respected in their communities.
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Executive Order Number 9066. It authorized the military to evacuate suspicious persons to designated safe areas. Japanese Americans were rounded up like criminals and sent to internment camps in 10 places in Western states. Today, still there are people alive who remember being interned when they were children.
Hawaii’s internment camp was called Honouliuli. It was located a short distance from Pearl Harbor, but it was better known as “Hell’s Valley”. In addition to being an internment camp, it also housed prisoners of war. Visitors were blindfolded before being taken by bus to the location. Most of the people who spent time there later repressed it from their memories and refused to tell what happened there.
However, only a small percentage of Hawaii’s Japanese Americans were interned. This was much different from other Western U.S. states, where a large majority of Japanese Americans were rounded up. Of course, those confined in Honouliuli included most leaders of Hawaii’s Japanese American communities.
In 2015, President Barack Obama declared Honouliuli a National Monument. His presidential proclamation noted that Japanese internment camps were “sobering examples of wartime prejudice and injustice.”
We shall hope to have learned from these mistakes and treat everyone as who they are, not judge them for how they look.
Mahalo and peace to the world.
Pictures: First: prgnewshawaii.com. Second: Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii. Third: Universal peace.