OC Muslims Connect With Japanese-American Internment Struggle at Manzanar

John Asanuma was 11 years old when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, paving the path for mass imprisonment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. The Los Angeles native, and his parents were sent to Manzanar in 1942–one of the largest camps housing more than 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. The desert weather at the camp, located near Death Valley, brought in scorching summers and chilling winters. When it snowed, John and his friends built makeshift snow slides. During the other seasons, they played softball with sticks and pine cones. Three years later, officials closed the camp, and John and his parents moved to Fresno.

“When I left camp, the first thing I did was kiss the street,” he said. “I felt my sense of freedom again.”

Asanuma revisited the camp on Saturday at the yearlyManzanar Pilgrimage, a day-long program dedicated to remembering that dark era in American history and the lessons that came out of it. The annual program draws approximately 1,000 participants; among them was a group of about 50 Muslim Americans, hosted by the Anaheim-based chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Program examines Japanese and Muslim wartime experiences

The Bridging Communities program was created three years ago by the Los Angeles chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League out of concern that Muslims were struggling with some of the same burdens Japanese faced in the years after the Pearl Harbor bombing.

While organizers acknowledge the Japanese experience during WWII – when more than 100,000 were forced into camps – was much more intense than what Muslims have faced in a post-9/11 world, they say there are similarities in the fear and suspicion aimed at a specific group during wartime.

“Following 9/11, all three (organizing) groups noticed a parallel between how Japanese Americans were treated after World War II and how American Muslims were treated after 9/11,” said Alex Margolin, a program associate with the Japanese American Citizens League in LA.

After angry protesters hurled insults at Muslim families attending an Orange County charity event in March, the Japanese American Citizens League and Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, among others groups, showed up at city council meetings and press conferences to condemn the incident. (Note: The linked YouTube video was edited by the Council on American Islamic Relations. Villa Park Councilwoman Deborah Pauly, who appears in the clip, has said her comments at an earlier protest were taken out of context and she was not at the evening rally in which protesters yelled slurs outside the charity event.)

The Japanese American Citizens League was also among the first to issue a statement warning against intolerance toward Muslims immediately after the World Trade Center attacks, said Patty Wada, the league’s regional director.

 

Statistics on Islamophobia in the U.S.

Provides an overview and bibliographic information of statistics on Islamophobia in the United States.

Compiled by Abdul Malik Mujahid.

Since the events of September 11, 2001, Muslims and brown-skinned people in this country have been under siege. While tens of thousands have been detained without any probable cause, summarily detained, or have fled in fear, the majority continue to suffer silently. The climate Muslims face today is very much as it was for Americans of Japanese descent during World War II, when Japanese-Americans were rounded up and detained in internment camps…

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