SACRAMENTO, California (AP) – Les Ouchida was born an American outside of the California capital, but his citizenship didn’t matter after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States declared war. The 5-year-old and his family were brought out of their home in 1942 due to their Japanese descent and detained far away in Arkansas.
They were among the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were held in 10 internment camps during World War II. Their only mistake was that “we had the wrong surnames and faces,” said 82-year-old Ouchida, who lived just a short drive from where he was born when he was a boy, fearing that Japanese Americans would join Japan in the war.
On Thursday, California’s law is expected to pass a resolution apologizing to Ouchida and other internment victims for supporting the government’s policies and condemning measures that have helped to promote discrimination against Japan.
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President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Ordinance No. 9066 on the establishment of the camps was signed on February 19, 1942, and February 19 is now known as the Day of Remembrance by Japanese Americans.
MP Al Muratsuchi was born in Japan and is one of the approximately 430,000 Japanese-born people living in California, the largest population in a state. The Democrat, who represents Manhattan Beach and other beach communities near Los Angeles, introduced the resolution.
“We like to talk a lot about how we lead the nation by example,” he said. “Unfortunately, California led the racist anti-Japanese-American movement in this case.”
A congressional commission concluded in 1983 that the detentions were due to “racial prejudice, war hysteria and political leadership failures”. Five years later, the U.S. government made an official apology and paid each victim $ 20,000 in reparations.
The money didn’t nearly replace the lost. Ouchida says his father owns a profitable 20 truck delivery business. He never fully recovered from his business loss and died early.
The California resolution contains no compensation. It targets measures under California law to support internment. Two camps were located in the state of Manzanar on the east side of the Sierra Nevada in central California and Tule Lake near the state border of Oregon, the largest of all camps.
“I want California legislation to be officially recognized and apologized while these camp survivors are still alive,” Muratsuchi said.
He said the anti-Japanese sentiment started in California in 1913 when the state passed the California Aliens Act, which targeted Japanese farmers, some of whom were perceived as a threat in California’s massive agricultural industry. Seven years later, the state prohibited anyone of Japanese origin from buying farmland.
The internment of Ouchida, his older brother and parents started in Fresno, California. Three months later, they were sent to Jerome, Arkansas, where they spent most of the war.
Given their young age, many living victims like Ouchida do not remember much life in the camps. But he remembers straw-filled mattresses and little privacy.
The shared bathrooms had rows of toilets with no barriers between users. “They put a bag over their heads when they went to the bathroom,” said Ouchida, who teaches internments at the California Museum in Sacramento.
Before the last camp was closed in 1946, Ouchida’s family was taken to an Arizona facility. When the family was released, they took a greyhound bus back to California. When it reached a stop sign near their community outside of Sacramento, “I remember the women on the bus started crying,” said Ouchida. “Because they were at home.”
The resolution, jointly presented by Republican Chair of the California Assembly, Marie Waldron of Escondido, temporarily refers to “recent national events” and is a reminder to “learn from past mistakes”.
Muratsuchi said the inspiration for this passage was immigrant children who were held in custody by the U.S. government last year.
Ouchida said that Japanese families like him always considered themselves loyal citizens before and after internment. He is not hostile to the governments of the United States or California and focuses on positive results such as the permanent exhibition in the California Museum, which offers an unvarnished look at the internments.
“Even if it took some time, we are kind enough to apologize,” he said.