The terrible images of immigrant families separated on the border with Mexico have brought back to the present a dark trauma in the United States: that of the concentration camps installed in the country during World War II to confine thousands of people of Japanese origin.
About 120,000 people of Japanese descent who resided on the west coast of the United States were locked up in barracks and in deplorable conditions from 1942 to 1945 in one of the most serious episodes of violation of civil rights in the history of this country.
In the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles is the Japanese-American National Museum, which houses a detailed permanent exhibition on the forced internment of families of Japanese blood in the 1940s.
Rick Noguchi, the museum’s chief of operations, explained to Efe that it all began after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, which would trigger the United States’ entry into the world war.
“Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, and it basically paved the way for all people of Japanese descent to be expelled, forcibly removed, and incarcerated,” he explained.
Thus, a military zone was delimited that ran along the Pacific coast from the state of Washington to California and that also included parts of Arizona, a territory in which no citizen of Japanese origin could stay.
“This included men, women and children. And two-thirds of them were US citizens, born in the US The other third were ‘issei’, the first generation of Japanese immigrants, who could not become naturalized citizens,” he added Noguchi.
Racism in the United States against Japanese migration did not appear suddenly with World War II, since the west coast had a long and well-known history of attacks and contempt not only against the Japanese but also against other Asian communities such as China. .
The executive order stated that those of Japanese descent had to appear before the authorities to be transferred to temporary detention centers and, later, to concentration camps.
Noguchi explained that while concentration camps were being built across the country, there were stables that were used as makeshift detention facilities.
Finally, there were ten concentration camps that were set up in remote areas of California and Arizona, but also in states very far from the Pacific such as Arkansas, Colorado or Wyoming.
Fences and barbed wire, crowded barracks for several families without any kind of intimacy or privacy, constant surveillance with armed officers in towers and extreme weather conditions, since the fields were built with poor materials often in desert areas, made up the day to day of the inmates.
“They tried to make life as normal as possible, but the conditions were very severe,” Noguchi said.
The end of the Second World War led to the closure of the camps, but problems continued for people of Japanese origin who, either outside the West Coast (where some returned despite being asked otherwise by the authorities) or in Cities far removed from home like Chicago continued to face racist attitudes for years.
Broken families, some of them forever, and the loss of numerous businesses and land were the result of three years of infamous confinement of a Japanese-American population that, until 1988, did not receive an official apology from the White House. at the time directed by Ronald Reagan.
In light of what happened in the 1940s, personalities such as actor George Takei, who was in concentration camps as a child, or the Japanese-American National Museum itself, through a press release, lamented the current situation in the border with Mexico and the separation of Latino immigrant families.
“Personally, I am horrified to see that,” Noguchi said.
“That was devastating for many Japanese-American families and it sounds like something that is happening today. I think many people recognize that and want to make sure that Japanese-Americans speak out so that something like this does not happen again,” he concluded.