On this edition of Your Call, hear our discussion at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose about communities that have faced exclusion, from Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II to immigrants from around the world.
Hear from historian Connie Young Yu, immigrant rights activist Teresa Castellanos, and Japanese American activist Susan Hayase. How are communities that have faced exclusionary policies fighting for civil liberties?
Teresa Castellanos, immigrant rights activist
Connie Young Yu, historian and lecturer on Chinese American history in the South Bay Area, and author of Profiles in Excellence: Peninsula Chinese Americans and Chinatown San Jose, U.S.A.
Susan Hayase, long-time activist in the San Jose Japanese American community
Rose Aguilar: Welcome, I'm Rose Aguilar. And this is a live taping of Your Call from the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. It is part of Your Call’s ongoing series exploring the parallels between the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and modern threats to civil liberties. These shows are supported by the California State Library.
On February 19th, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which led to the mass incarceration of 110,000 Japanese Americans living in the west coast. They were forced to leave their homes, their jobs and their lives to be sent to one of ten concentration camps. They were makeshift barracks in California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Arkansas. By the time the families were released from the camps in 1946, they had a very hard time rebuilding their lives. Many lost their homes, their savings, and their businesses and many families had a hard time talking about the experiences, especially the trauma.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford issued a formal apology to the internees and in 1988 after a decade-long campaign by the Japanese American community, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act, which authorized a payment of reparations $20,000 to each survivor. Today, we are going to discuss the links between Japanese internment and other past and present exclusionary policies including the Muslim Ban, ICE raids, the deportation of immigrants who have been in the United States for years and placing children in detention centers. We will also talk about how communities are organizing and fighting these policies.
Joining us today is Susan Hayase, a longtime activist in the San Jose Japanese American community. Susan's parents and grandparents were forced out of their homes and into concentration camps in Amache, Colorado and Gila River, Arizona. Susan has served on the Civil Liberties Public Education fund board to illuminate the causes and the lessons of the incarceration. Through her work with the fund, Susan initiated and organized the first ever National Day of Remembrance in Washington DC in 1998. Susan, thank you so much for joining us.
Susan Hayase: Thank you very much for having me.
RA: We are also joined by Connie Young Yu, a historian and writer on Chinese-American history in the South Bay. Connie is the author of Chinatown San Jose, U.S.A. and writer for the documentary, “Digging to China Town”, the story of San Jose's Chinatown's. When Connie's grandmother returned to the United States from China with her seven children in 1924, she was detained on Angel Island for 15 and a half months. Between 1910 and 1940, 1 million people were processed on Angel Island. Connie was involved in saving the Angel Island detention barracks, and she played a key role in getting the Angel Island immigration station designated as a National Historic Landmark. Connie, thank you so much for joining us.
Connie Young Yu: My pleasure.
RA: And we're joined by Teresa Castellanos, an immigrant rights activist. Together with community based partners Teresa has worked to help more than a 135,000 Santa Clara County residents become citizens. Teresa is a contributing author to Bridging Borders in Silicon Valley and Kin Knowledge of Immigrant Nationalities. These are two books based on immigrant data in Santa Clara County. Teresa is also a trustee for San Jose Unified and Metro Ed. Teresa, thank you so much for joining us.
Teresa Castellanos: Thank you so much.
Learning About Japanese Internment
RA: Well, since we are marking a National Day of Remembrance and Susan, since you have such a connection to Japanese internment. Your parents and your grandparents were forced out of their homes and into camps in Amache, Colorado and Gila River, Arizona. I'd like you to start off by talking about a personal story. Can you tell us how your parents and grandparents ended up in these camps and what that was like for them?
SA: Well, my mother was, both my parents were American born in California. They were both American public high school students. My mother was in Ventura, California. She was a 16-year-old senior. She had skipped two grades and my father was a high school student in South Central Los Angeles. And when I remember my mother telling me that in February, Roosevelt signed the order and in March, she said, “you know the Japanese kids at our school we just stopped going to school.” And I think by May they were in a so-called assembly center, which was a barbed wire camp where people were initially held before going to the final concentration camps.
But I'll tell you a story, when I was a little kid, my mom had a copy of a book called Citizen 13660, and it was a kind of a graphic novel by Mine Okubo about her incarceration in Topaz. And I remember I was a little kid, I was eight years old and I read this graphic novel over and over because it's very engaging and at some point I remember this really distinctly because I kindly finally got it. I finally understood what had happened to my parents and, you know, they say people see red and that's like a metaphor — I really remember I almost was blinded because I was so angry — and it, I think it hit me so hard because I also had seen my parents treated in a really racist manner as I was growing up. I remember being on a road trip on vacation in California, and this was before fast food, so you had to stop at a restaurant and we stopped and we weren't served and I remember my father being really humiliated. I remember being really embarrassed on behalf of my father. I remember seeing my mother ignored when she was trying to get help at stores. And so I kind of I kind of understood in one fell swoop, you know, what racism was towards Japanese Americans.
RA: Did your parents talk to you about what life was like in the camps while you were growing up?
SA: They didn't talk about what life was like. I do remember my father describing an incident at San Anita race track, which was where a lot of people in Los Angeles area were held and I think this was something that was immortalized in Duane Kubo's Hito Hata film, but there was a man who was being hassled by the police for something—one of his possessions that the police considered to be contraband. And my father who at the time was about 15 or 16 years old described a little riot that happened because people were so mad at the way they are being treated. So my dad did tell me that.
RA: And there are so many stories about how people had a hard time rebuilding their lives because they lost their businesses, they lost their homes, their savings. And the other thing that's really striking is in many ways when people got out of the camps, they tried to prove how American they were, how much they loved the United States. And in fact a video you posted on Facebook from Al Jazeera +, showed one man saying that he joined a German club and the Acapella Club just to show that he loved the United States. What was the experience like for your parents when they got out?
SA: One of the things that a lot of people don't know about when people were released from camp was that the federal government through its agency — the WRA and the resettlement agencies — made it very clear to Japanese Americans that they were in camp because they had failed to assimilate so there was an admonition to not speak Japanese. They were told don't congregate in groups of more than three. Don't draw attention to yourself and by being with other Japanese Americans that would be drawing attention. So I think there was a pretty clear message to Japanese Americans, so I can really understand why, especially really young people, trying to reintegrate into society. And you remember that at this point the American public was pretty sure that Japanese Americans deserved it. So, you know, I think a lot of especially youth had a really hard time.
RA: During the last show we did I asked the audience how many people know about Japanese internment beyond the few lines that they maybe got in high school and hardly anyone, I don't think anyone raise their hand. Connie, is this something that you learned about in school? Did you learn much about Japanese internment?
CY: No, absolutely not. I didn't learn about any Asian-American experience in school. See, fourth grade is in the public schools in California is supposed to be the study of California history. I never heard about what happened to Japanese. I never heard about their contributions to developing agriculture in California. I never heard about the Chinese building the railroad or developing agriculture and the struggles they had to settle in San Jose. I never read that at all and to me it was very inspiring history that I did not learn tILL college or after and it wasn't in any academic setting, it was through oral history talking to my parents and grandparents.
RA: Wow. Can I ask the audience how many of you learned about this in school beyond a few lines in your history book? Just a few just two… three… four, five. We have about 50 people in the room. What about you Teresa, did you learn about this in school?
TC: I would say maybe there was a couple of lines, but more importantly I learned about it through my mother, because my mother was a cannery worker. There was a cannery right down the street on Jackson and Seventh. And her supervisor, the supervisors in Del Monte were Japanese Americans. And the people they supervised were Mexicans. So that was a dialogue that she was having with her friends. And so I don't think we knew the depth of it. But we did know as children that it had taken place.
RA: And Teresa, you are a trustee for San Jose Unified, specifically on this issue and we'll talk more broadly later in the show. What are kids learning today about Japanese internment?
TC: Hopefully it's more than a couple of sentences. It might be a paragraph, maybe two. I would say, without a doubt schools can do more but I also think schools are a reflection of society and they’re a reflection of what we prioritize and what we think is important and as a society and especially as California, we fund at 41. We're in the top, the bottom 10, when we used to be the top 10 in the nation. We fund below Alabama and Mississippi and so for me, I'm always amazed at people being surprised at the outcomes in California education when we don't make it a priority in California education when we are the richest state in the nation and we are the 5th economy in the world. And so we get what we invest and I think right now we have an opportunity because we have an opportunity to get ethnic studies passed as a college graduation requirement and I would say ethnic studies needs to be part of K through 12 education and of course university education because I think if we don't know who we are and we don't know what we've been through we're bound to repeat history again, and so we're living that time again.
Learning About the Chinese Exclusion Act and Angel Island Barracks
RA: Another quick question for the audience. How many of you are aware of what happened on Angel Island that between 1910 and 1940 one million people were processed there? Okay, a lot more people.
Connie, let's talk about your personal experience.
CY: My personal experience. Well, first of all, I think it's wonderful that you do know about Angel Island, but a lot of it is because Angel Island is a visitors’ destination. And now because of the historic monument at the immigration station site if there's a visitor center. So it is part of education.
You know, the whole history of the site is really, I would say the struggle to save the site is quite a history because in 1970 that immigration barracks, which has writing on the walls by immigrants, was going to be demolished. It was only because of activism — because a ranger named Alexander Weiss, who was inspired by the Civil Rights Movement. He had defied his superior saying, “Well, you know, I'm going to check this out. I'm going to contact a professor I know. I'm taking a biology course from him, George Araki.” And he talked to George Araki at San Francisco State. And George Araki said, “I remember the first steps. This is what my grandmother told me, the first steps I took in America were on the walkway to Angel Island and to be processed.”
Of course being at San Francisco State with the activism of the students, and the interest, and the photographs that were taken by George and his friends, saying that we better save this by taking photographs of the writing. They couldn't read it because it was Chinese calligraphy. And they took pictures and just...the students were inspired. They start asking their parents and parents [said] I was detained on Angel Island or your grandparents were on Angel Island... This hidden history, which was whispered, because it was very shameful. It was considered very shameful in the community to be detained, to be processed, to be excluded by the Chinese Exclusion Law.
The activist movement inspired a state resolution to establish our committee, our citizens committee to study the barracks and to see how it could be saved, and that's how this whole monument came about. Which is, I shouldn't say just a monument, it is a sense of place. When you go there, you understand the history.
So but about my own personal history, my grandmother on my mother's side, Mrs. Lee, and she was the wife of an American born citizen, my grandfather, Lee Yoke Suey, who was the son of a Chinese railroad worker who came at 1866. So with all this pioneer legacy, you know, when it comes to Asians and people of color, it doesn't matter, you know, you're considered an alien. You're not an American. So my grandmother, her children were born in the United States. She went back to China with her husband who was on business. He died as a young business person, of cancer. And when they came back, she was considered…she was stopped on the ship. They processed on the ship and they said, “Okay, you're an alien ineligible for citizenship.” That's what the law said. 1924 – there's a law, it was actually against, to ban, to stop the entrance of Japanese picture brides. And instead of saying, you know, “We're going to stop Japanese and Chinese,” it just says, “No alien, ineligible for citizenship can enter the United States.” And that would be my grandmother, but she had re-entry papers. She was married to a U.S. citizen. They said in those days, they said, “You're a widow. Your husband's not here. You have no status.”
And after that they appealed. She had a lawyer who appealed. And they had her tested for liver fluke and she tested positive and they said okay, you're going to be…you're going to be deported. Ugh the word deported. Yes, it haunted our family so she appealed again and it went to the Circuit Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Appeals take so long, you know, month after month. And every time she thought she would be deported. My mother told me the story because my mother was 15 at the time. And she said, “It was just heartbreaking to be separated from my mother.” And this is why I became so inspired to do something and write something during the Zero Tolerance Policy last spring when children were separated from their parents —border children were separated…just seeing those pictures that...I just remember my grandmother. We have pictures too when they were reunited. But my mother said she remembered going on the ferry to visit her mother at the administration building, which no longer exists, but she would wait and she sometimes bring Chinese food and then she'd wait and wait and wait and if there was no matron to bring my grandmother from the barracks to the administration room, she couldn't visit.
And if they could they would be treated like, my grandmother would be treated like a criminal. They could only talk for 15 minutes. So this went on for month after month and finally, in what, May 1st. May 1, 1925, the Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling and my grandmother was declared okay to come to the United States and rejoin her American-born children, which she had raised in San Francisco for many years before that.
So it's quite a story and it was always part of the sadness of my grandmother. She was just always very sad. And after the exclusion law was repealed she said I'm going to be a U.S. citizen just to be sure, you know, and I taught her how to say the words, you know, executive, judicial and legislative. And I found out later that her case became a precedent. My grandmother's case became a precedent. Made me so proud which enabled other people caught in the same circumstances to be allowed to land. So I just thought, I can't believe my grandmother with her little bound feet had struck a blow for civil rights, you know. So that’s my story.
RA: That’s an amazing story. Connie Young Yu is a historian and writer on Chinese-American history in the South Bay area. She’s the author of Chinatown San Jose, U.S.A. Were also joined today by Teresa Castellanos an immigrant rights activist here in the South Bay. And we are joined by Susan Hayase, a longtime activist in the San Jose Japanese American Community.
You are listening to a live taping of Your Call, at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. It's part of our series on the connections between civil liberties past and present. And after a break we will take questions from the audience. We will be right back.
This is Your Call. I'm Rose Aguilar and you're listening to a live taping of Your Call at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. Today, we are joined by a Japanese American activist, Susan Hayase, historian Connie Young Yu and immigrant rights activist Teresa Castellanos. And we will be taking questions from the audience. So, please take the mic if you have a question or a comment.
Day of Remembrance: Connecting the Past to the Present
RA: I'd like to ask all of you to talk about this time that we're in, because I'm guessing Susan, that the Day of Remembrance in 2019 is very different from the Day of Remembrance in 2015. Just because of everything that's going on. It seems like people are really hungry to learn about these issues. And at the same time there's the what we're hearing out of the White House, the Muslim ban, children being separated from their families. In fact during the last show we did we learned that in some cases, children, these children are not going to be reunited with their parents, which is so hard to even say and comprehend. So, how are you thinking about this time that we're in right now?
SA: I think many Japanese Americans are just outraged. And I think many Japanese Americans are deeply hurt, because you know, I think ever since the redress victory many Japanese Americans have been involved in efforts across the country to do public education about our experience because we don't want it to happen to anybody else and we want people to understand: what violations of individual rights are; what it is to scapegoat people; and what it is to harm people for political purposes. You know, actually ever since 2001, I think we've been very concerned and people have been speaking out about the growing discrimination against Muslim Americans and scapegoating. But I think as the 2016 election started getting up to speed, it really escalated and people started talking about it like Pearl Harbor, you know. And I think many Japanese Americans, it's like our worst nightmare. You know, I think many former incarcerates testified at the commission hearings in 1981. Even though they were afraid to testify and even though, you know, they had been kind of beaten into silence for decades, but they did it because they didn't want it to happen to anybody else.
So I think Japanese Americans are deeply, deeply angered and concerned and you know, the children especially – it’s just…I think if you're a decent human being, you have to respond to the issue of separating children, and I think that many, many people, like Connie just mentioned the story of her mother being separated from her own mother, and I think that during the Mexican repatriation of the 30s there were many families that were separated and during World War II there were a lot of Japanese American families that were separated.
Part of our ‘Don’t Exclude Us Series’ was entitled ‘And I never saw my father again,’ and I think that that rings a bell for many, many people. And Japanese Americans, we feel that really strongly.
RA: Connie, what would you add?
CY: The Day of Remembrance to me, is a day of resolve, because you know coming together to me is a feeling of doing something and activism... Well when my grandmother was detained on Angel Island, they had some reporter did a really nice story and the headline —this is like 1924— it goes “Mother is separated by law from tots,” because there are some little children. She had she had a five year old, and seven year old. And boy, somebody put that in the paper during the Exclusion Law, and then it explained the Chinese Exclusion Law. So I just thought you know, there are people who are doing things. We can all do things. This reporter did something.
My roots are so deep in this area. My father was born in the Chinatown called Heinlenville that is now part of Japantown. That's the site that is going to be developed into this fantastic place. And the reason why he was born there was, well, a man named John Heinlen leased land to the Chinese and later he leased land to the Japanese. And when Heinlenville faded because of the Exclusion Law there were fewer and fewer Chinese coming in. My parents, my grandparents who had a store on Cleveland Avenue they moved right across the street to Sixth Street and their neighbors were Japanese Americans. And my grandmother, she grew vegetables, which she traded with her friend, best friend, this Japanese woman for tofu. And she told me this they'd carry this basket back and forth. They couldn't speak the same language. But so, I was so inspired by their stories, that there was this sense of community, because people always say, oh the Japanese and Chinese, oh they don't get along, you know. They lived together here. They survived because of one another. They survived because of someone like John Heinlen, an immigrant, who leased land so that this community could thrive.
Of course during World War II, this is the most heartbreaking thing, you know, my father and his friends they – if you look at their school pictures, they’re sitting next to Japanese Americans, next to Italians, Portuguese. You know this area was a very immigrant area. So when World War II happens, it was just devastating to see Asian people who looked very, very similar just separated, parted, the children. Okay, you kids are here. What Norman said is that he had to go to a line that was “non-alien” line. They couldn't even say American citizen. He went to a “non-alien” line, whereas my father and his friends they were commissioned in the U.S. Army, you know, right away. So it was just a very devastating thing, but because of that street, which that was called like common ground for Japanese and Chinese, at one period of time there was this amazing community.
RA: And Teresa, before you talk about where we are right now, can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in this work? Because I mean the work that you do with these community-based partners is incredible. You work to help more than 135,000 Santa Clara County residents become citizens.
TC: My path has been…it started when I was a Spanish-speaking child in an English-only world, being a 4th generation American and as a child of color I had to confront that no one speaks my language. There was no bilingual education there. I didn't learn to read until 5th grade. And so I think even though I'm a 4th generation American, my participation in the immigrant rights movement is because we have more in common than we have difference. And I think most of the time we focus on what's different, but start off with the fact that we all live here. Start off that we're facing this current government, start off with we want the same things for our kids and we want the same thing for our future. We have way more in common than we have different.
I think the time that we're living is never again is now. We are there again, and I think as Americans we have…we are living a moment where we have to spread that sense of urgency. We are having children in concentration camps. We are once again separating children when we separated them during slavery, when we separated them as indigenous communities. Seventy percent of the children being separated from their parents right now are indigenous people. So there is a common pattern here that we're repeating again, because we do not know our history and we have been preparing for this because we have lived this before. And that sense of urgency and just even with this Friday's declaration of a national emergency. We're in the steps. It’s not like maybe in the future …never again is now, and I try not to panic around repeating it, but it really is that sense of urgency.
And the thing that I would say to us is that we’ve lived through this before. We've survived this before. If we can remember who we are, we will get past this again and who we are is Americans. Period. You can add the Mexican American, you can add the Japanese American, you can add the Chinese American, but we are Americans and this is our American history. And I think the beauty of our history as Americans is that when we have fought for inclusion, when we have stood together, we became Americans. When we let things happen, we're giving up who we are. And so I call on all of us to remember who we are, to remember the legacy that we come from, and to stand together and do everything that is possible to stop what is happening because never again is now.
RA: Can I ask you, when you say we are all Americans? What does that mean to you exactly?
TC: It means to me that in this country where we took away indigenous land; i means to me in this country where we built ourselves based on slavery; in this country that is a country of immigrants, we have created a common nation. We have created a common history and we are all Americans and we are all part of this and we need to claim what we are in order to fight for what we are. The debate that we are having right now is what is an American? And the debate is well American is only supposed to be white, and Americans are only supposed to speak English. That's not our reality. Look at us here. Look at California. California is the economic engine of our nation, because of the diversity that lives here.
And we also know that we face this fear when we passed [Proposition] 187. We are living as a nation, but we lived as a state 23 years ago, and what we learned from that experience 23 years ago, and I remember because I was organizing with the healthcare workers union and when we passed [Proposition] 187, I remember walking into…we were organizing a healthcare workers, a convalescent home and we went to go eat at a restaurant and we picked the easiest restaurant that we can find, which was the one in front of us. We walked in and it was a restaurant full of white people and everyone looked to see us and I remember feeling like nobody wants me here, and maybe it was true, maybe it wasn't true, but it was the day after the election and that's how I felt. And that feeling made me think, well if I feel like this and I’m a 4th generation American, how does the immigrant community feel? And I remember that debate specifically because it was taking place on the back of immigrant children. We were saying, “Do immigrant children have the right to go to school in the state of California?” And I remember that the Republican governor who won that election based on the anti-immigrant sentiment that he was able to perpetuate at that time. So we have lived this before as Californians. And so after that election we passed…we got rid of affirmative action, we got rid of bilingual education and then I can't remember the third election we lost but there were three elections that we lost right after [Proposition] 187 and then we became something else.
We changed 100 years of California history after [Proposition] 187, because for 100 years every anti-immigrant law that became a law in this nation, started in California. The Chinese Exclusion Act started in California, everything started in California, and then spread to the rest of the country. The anti-Japanese sentiment started in California, and then it spread somewhere else. And so after we passed [Proposition] 187 we changed 100 years of history because we faced our fear. And so I think that is what we can bring to this national discussion, is this idea of when you face your fears, we can grow as a community and without a doubt what we're facing nationally is a fear.
Building Intercultural Solidarity
RA: Can you all talk about the coalitions that are being formed? The work that is happening on the ground around these issues that maybe do not get as much media attention as they deserve. Susan?
SA: After Trump was inaugurated, a lot of Japanese Americans like myself who had been active in the effort to win redress and reparations, decided we have to mobilize our community. We felt that we had something of value to say about the scapegoating and targeting of immigrant communities. So we formed an organization called Nikkei Resisters, and we wanted to form an inclusive, progressive, multi-generational Japanese American organization that could mobilize the sentiments of Japanese Americans against these policies. So that's one of the things that we're doing. We activated people across the country in Japanese American communities across the country and that's when we started ‘The Never Again is Now’ campaign. And we are so thrilled that other communities are picking this up because we think that this is this is something that everybody needs to pick up now.
I think many of us who have studied our own history and we want we want, you know, we say we don't want that to happen again, but I think the thing is if we're always looking at the past we don't maybe notice what's happening around us. So as Teresa says, you know, there's no more waiting. It is happening now. So now is when we have to act so we've been both trying to unite different Japanese American communities and different parts of our community, but also reach out to different immigrant communities in our area. One of the groups that we'd like to reach out to is the Southeast Asian Community who is really being targeted by ICE right now.
CY: I mean, it's just amazing. California's past was really hideous as far as racial issues and the Exclusion Law did originate here. The phrase the “Chinese must go” which later led to other people must go, started in California. My grandfather came to San Jose at the age of 11, one year before the Chinese Exclusion Law. My family always said thank goodness he came when he was 11 instead of waiting to age 12. If he waited longer, you know, he came with an uncle and he was all ready to work. He was a child labor. He came to the San Jose Market Street Chinatown, which was believe it or not one of the largest Chinatowns – the second largest at one time to San Francisco. If you go to the beautiful Fairmont Hotel, there's a plaque, you know at the entrance, and it said, “This is the site, May 4th 1887 where an arson fire destroyed one of the largest Chinatowns in California”, that was home to families and merchants. And they say “arson fire,” to me it was an anti-Chinesse act. It was an act of violence to drive the Chinese out and to destroy the community. But luckily nobody was killed but all of their merchandise, their homes were destroyed. My grandfather was homeless. But because of a person named John Heinlen they were able to move the community to this area between 6th and 7th and Jackson and Taylor. And it was pasture land owned by John Heinlen and the struggle that he had to build the Chinatown, there was a torchlight march of 2000 people, according to the newspaper, to his house. Can you imagine that if you defended a Chinese person or person of color, you know, your life was threatened and his family was threatened? So, but he stood his ground, and the Chinese did too. They were going to stay. They were here to stay. That's a theme, you know that we carry on now.
TC: And so I would also add that we're being given an opportunity. And they think this current administration has put us all in the same box and all of a sudden were noticing, oh, look who's in this box here with me. I never noticed we were in the same box and I would say that also that the Japanese American community because they've been in the space of healing and never letting this happen again, that this is one of the few spaces where I see an inter-ethnic, intercultural dialogue. Because most of the time we're talking to ourselves and so the biggest opportunities that I've had has been with the Japanese American Museum to talk within the context of diversity because we're all facing the same thing.
And I would also say that it is a time to do something. It is the time to move. I remember in the summertime, there was a big rally, a keeping families together rally, and I don’t know if that was the exact language for it. And when I showed up to that rally, I realized oh look I got to look for my community because I don't know most of the people that are here. And it was mainly I would say a 70% white population that was there, `of moms with their kids and then I was like well, why isn't my community here? And in reflecting about that, we were in so much pain that we couldn't move.
But another community stepped up to move to say, “This is not right. Why do we have children in cages? You're purposely causing intergenerational trauma that's going to last for generations.” And so none of this is by accident and so when I went to that rally and I had, I'm like where are my people? My people are in so much pain, they can't move but someone else stepped up. And when I finally realized that, I was like, oh my God, we are a community. We are one community, and we as parents, are saying, “This is wrong. You should not be doing this.” And so we have to keep that sense of urgency because it is still happening. It hasn't stopped. Just because the media is not focusing on it the way that they were, doesn't mean that it has changed. We have to keep doing the work.
RA: Can you give us any update on ICE raids? Because that hasn't been getting much attention.
TC: What's taking place in California, is that it's targeted. So it's someone who's been in an immigration process and didn't win their case or someone who was recently arrested and then ICE knows where that person is. But because we live in the in Silicon Valley and we live in the biggest housing crisis of our history, when ICE goes after one person, there's 20 people that live in that two-bedroom house. And so if 20 people self-confess and say, “I wasn't born here and I don't have papers,” ICE is going to do their job and they're going to pick up 20 people versus one person.
So what we've been trying to do is work with the community to teach them you have the right to remain silent and that is a right that everyone has because of the U.S. Constitution, and you don't have to do self-confess and give all this information, because also as immigrant communities, there is a lot of respect for authority. And there is a lot of respect for law enforcement and you are going to answer the question when you are asked the question. And so that is the work that we're trying to do but we're seeing that that when it's taking place in California or even here in Silicon Valley, it’ll be like 200 people all at once in a one-week period or 300 people. And the same thing is happening in Southern California.
The other thing that we're seeing that the way it's taking place is in California is through I 9 audits, so they're checking businesses. Do you have the right to really employ all of these people? Prove to us that they have the right to work and we saw, in I think the month of July, more I 9 audits in the country than they had in all of 2017.
RA: Wow. That is immigrant rights activists today, Teresa Castellanos. We're also joined by Japanese American activist Susan Hayase and historian Connie Young Yu. You're listening to a live taping of Your Call at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, and we are here in front of a live audience. We do have about 10 minutes left. So if any of you have any questions, please take the microphone.
Shin Mona [Audience member]: I just want to relate an incident—40 years ago. I was five years old when we were put in the camp. So we were considered like Japanese but Teresa mentioned a 4th generation Mexican American, how do you feel as an American or whatever? And when I was traveling, I was in India and most other times I would say, “No.” They'll say, “You're from Japan.” “No,” I would say, “I'm an American.” But one incident, I had trouble saying, I was an American, because of who we were. We were Japanese put in the camp so I guess I never had thought about it before but it gave me an incentive to testify the next summer at the hearings in San Francisco.
RA: Oh wow. And what is your name?
SM: I'm Shin Mona.
RA: Thank you for sharing your story. Hi.
Alex [Audience member]: Hi. I had a question. So as a 4th generation Mexican American and a granddaughter of someone who was interned at 5 years old and a victim of the Hiroshima bomb. I had a question on the comparison between the ICE raids of illegal immigrants and American citizens being forced out of their houses and put into these concentration camps because I can see how these are both issues, but I see them more as separate issues because there are different circumstances that go along with the problems that are happening today.
RA: And what is your name?
RA: Thank you.
TC: I would start off with saying undocumented immigrants. Because I don't think a human being can be illegal. I think there are actions that are illegal but a human being is always a human being no matter what, so I would not refer to people as illegals. We have to pay attention to the words and the language that we're using too, so it's really important that we not contribute to the dehumanization of people.
I would say it is the same in the fact that we are denying someone's humanity and we're taking away someone's civil rights and just because it's happening to this children here doesn't mean it's going to stop there. That's the scary part and when I realized my awareness around the Day of Remembrance, I had been coming to the Day of Remembrance for at least five years, and I knew that I was coming because it was an issue of justice in the context of injustice, but at some point it triggered in my bringing the realization that, oh, this was a presidential order against the ancestry of Japanese Americans. They weren't immigrants. They were U.S. citizens. And right now we're telling Texans of Latino descent, your passport is not enough to prove that you are U.S. citizen. And as Californians, we're being asked to not only bring our passport to get our California real ID. So we're at being asked to provide other additional proof that we are Americans and so it doesn't stop with denying one group their civil rights and their humanity. It keeps spreading to everybody else and that's why we have to stand with each other because we're going to be in the same place. It's a matter of time.
SA: I understand your question because I've heard it before. I think that sometimes people want to look at the specifics of the of the historical situation and try to compare them right and they're not exactly the same, right? But there's enough that’s similar and I think one of the things that is the most similar is the hatred that's ginned up against the group and they're blamed and they're being used as a scapegoat. It's like don't worry about the fact that you're out of a job, let's blame these people right? Don't worry that the government is, you know, taxing you but not taxing rich people. Let's just blame these people. So that's a really major point is: notice when they're trying to blame a group.
And another thing kind of this is a slightly different explanation of what Teresa was saying, is that so, when Executive Order 9066 came down, they said persons of Japanese ancestry and they called people aliens and non-aliens. So my American citizen parents were called enemy non-aliens, right? So in other words, they don't care if you're a citizen. So I think we should be really clear that even though they're saying, you know ICE is targeting illegals. That's what they're saying. They don't really care, right? They actually don't really care and I think that experience of Japanese Americans shows that they don't really care about your legal status.
So Japanese American families were mixed families exactly the same as the families that are being targeted by ICE. Mixed families. There's some people in the family that have legal status and some people that don't, and that's the way that they separate people and harm people in the name of you know, patriotism or you know, that kind of thing. So I think it's important to – there are specific differences, but there are really, really fundamental similarities. And I think the pain that people go through the human suffering when your parent is taken away or when your child is taken away, I think is, you know should touch us all regardless of technical differences in peoples status or historical presence here.
Alex: Thank you.
Rose: Thank you for the question.
Luis [Audience member]: Hi, good afternoon. My name is Luis. My question to the panel is: What’s your views on the judicial system? One of my big concerns is the recent appointments to the Supreme Court and if you could share with us what your views are on that court and as well as what the community's response should be if we get legal rulings that maybe are inhumane or not? You know in the spirit of, you know, all humankind being accepted because I think the courts were also part of the problem back in generations ago and that looks like they could very well be a problem today if we face these challenges.
RA: Thank you.
SH: You know, it's interesting because if you look at Asian-Americans in this country, a long time ago before many people could become citizens when Asians were ineligible for citizenship. There were a lot of lawsuits and I think a lot of Asian Americans kind of figured, you know, we can't organize, we can't vote but we can start to learn what the law is and and you know, so there are actually some real important cases that were brought by Asian Americans and the Yick Wo v. Hopkins is the seminal equal protection under the law case that's cited by many, many, many cases. So we have a history of going to the courts, right? But you're right the courts aren’t that great. I mean, you know Korematsu, Hirabayashi and Yasui were all turned down by the Supreme Court. They upheld the exclusion. They upheld the incarceration. And even now, you know with the Muslim ban decision, John Roberts says, “Oh yeah, we don't think Korematsu is good law, but we're going to uphold this equivalent case for banning Muslims.” You know, so it's really important now though that because the Exclusion Act has been overturned and because of changes in immigration law over the last three or four decades that a lot more of us are citizens. And I think that we've seen in this last midterm election that if we organize, you know, we can change things and we have to do that even more. We have to make sure that we take advantage of every mechanism that's available to us in a Democratic society and that means using the courts, but it also means organizing each other to vote, organizing each other to come out in a lobby for fair regulations for fair laws. And so I think your concern is really on point and there are many, many different ways and things that we have to do.
RA: I want to thank all of you for joining us and thank you for sharing your stories and your incredible work.
Japanese American activist Susan Hiyase, historian Connie Young Yu and immigrant rights activist Teresa Castellanos.
Thanks to the California State Library’s California Civil Liberties Public Education Program. Tom Izu of ‘Don’t Exclude Us’ and Speak Up San Jose and the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. Today's program is also supported in part by the Knight Foundation’s Speak Up San Jose Initiative and the California History Center Foundation. Thanks to Laura Flynn and Laura Wenus for producing today's show. Thanks to Phil Sirkus, our engineer and Taylor Simmons, she manages our social media promotion. And thank you all for joining us today. I'm Rose Aguilar. It's Your Call.
Rose Aguilar, host
Laura Wenus, producer
Laura Flynn, project producer
Phil Surkis, assistant producer
Taylor Simmons, social media manager
HEAR is made possible by funding from the California State Library's California Civil Liberties Public Education Program.