Editor’s Note: In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we asked some of the speakers at the recent rally against violence against people of Asian descent to submit their speeches as columns. The first one submitted came from Bassett researchers and League of Women Voters Co-President Liane Hirabayashi.
Thank you Olivia, and Cate, Riley, Elizabeth, Jaina, Maya and Charlotte for organizing this event.
Today we have the actions of these students and the words of our leaders read earlier as shining examples of how to respond to hate and racism. I’m going to take a few minutes to talk about a different kind of proclamation, the actions that followed, and the consequences of those words and actions.
In 1942, my father Edward was 19, not much older than these students, when he and his family joined 120,000 persons of Japanese descent—more than 72,000 of them American citizens—in being taken away from their homes on the West Coast and incarcerated in hastily built concentration camps—the term used by the US government. This was the ultimate result of Executive Order 9066, issued on February 19, 1942.
Dad’s brother James was 16, sister Esther was 13, and youngest brother Richard was 11. Can you imagine that? All born in the United States, never been anywhere outside Washington State, where their parents were farmers.
They lost their rights as citizens, in fact, they lost the title of “citizen”— instead they were referred to as “non-aliens.”
Words matter, don’t they? From double-speak words like non-alien comes the justification for preemptively locking up a community because, well, they didn’t have the time to figure out who was loyal and who wasn’t. And yet, they did know.