Northern San Joaquin Valley residents have a rare opportunity to experience the powerful story and incredible injustice carried out against Japanese Americans during World War II by attending “Allegiance: The Broadway Musical on the Big Screen,” to be broadcast live in cinemas nationwide – including Fresno, Merced and Riverbank – during a one-night, special event, Dec. 13.
Straight from Broadway, and inspired by the true-life experience of its star George Takei, “Allegiance” follows one family’s journey as they, and 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry, were rounded up during the largest forced migration in U.S. history.
“Allegiance” will hit close to home for many in our Valley since government “assembly centers” – often at county fairgrounds – housed thousands in hastily constructed barracks in Fresno, Merced, Turlock and Stockton. In Merced, about 1,000 men, including Merced High School students, built 200 buildings in 11 days for Japanese Americans awaiting transport to permanent “relocation centers” (aka prisons) in remote places like Manzanar; Tule Lake; Granada, Colo.; and Gila River, Ariz.
My grandparents and parents were among them. Stripped of their rights, held without charges or trial, allowed to bring only what they could carry to the camp. They lost irreplaceable personal items and all the wealth they’d earned pursuing the American dream.
Worse, they lost their freedom because of hateful ignorance and fear over what the “enemy” looked like.
This chapter in America’s history is described in governmental documents as our nation’s failure “in its most sacred duty to protect its citizens against prejudice, greed, and political expediency.” For my family, it prompts horrible memories of how they were imprisoned for their appearance.
So you can imagine my reaction when Carl Higbie, spokesman of the Great America PAC and avid Donald Trump supporter, discussed the possibility of creating a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries, saying, “We did it in World War II with Japanese. … Call it what you will; maybe wrong, but…”
The wrongdoing perpetrated against Japanese Americans must be remembered for the colossal injustice it was, not as justification for bigoted mistreatment of Muslims or any others due to race, culture, gender, faith, sexual orientation or anything else. The thought we could establish such a registry is pure lunacy.
As a country, we must not accept or allow the hateful rhetoric, racism, misogyny and bigotry expressed by anyone to deter our progress in embracing diversity and creating an inclusive democracy. It is what defines us as a nation.
While our abilities for productive discourse are buckling nationally, what will our path forward be here in our own Central Valley? Will it be one of divisiveness or inclusion?
We have an incredible opportunity. The national election results have brought to the surface greater understanding of the differences among us. We must base this understanding in the reality that when some of us struggle we all struggle. Only by leveling the playing field for all to succeed can any of us truly succeed.
After being released from the “camp,” two shots were fired into my grandparents’ home, one nearly missing my dad, after angry men confronted them at their doorstep – literally with pitchforks – telling them to “go home.” They were home. My grandfather left the bullet hole in the wall, hanging a picture over it, as a reminder never to forget.
Yet my family’s elders spoke little of the incarceration. Many recounted how some complied to prove themselves “good Americans.”
With our national climate today, this is not the time for acquiescence.
Ironically, many in California gather in places like the Merced Fairgrounds this coming February, commemorating the 75th year since presidential Executive Order 9066 authorized Japanese American incarceration.
We must not repeat these mistakes, but rather acknowledge a past that legitimized “internment,” slavery and oppression against those most vulnerable. We must build today so that we can proudly express our allegiance to tomorrow. That means fighting for justice for all.