Japanese American incarceration commemorated with vows to counter anti-Muslim political rhetoric

Community leaders drew comparisons between the anti-Japanese political atmosphere in the decades before World War II and the anti-Muslim political rhetoric of today at a standing-room only event at Seattle Center on Sunday.

The event, “Never Again is Now,” was held on the 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II and which sent 120,000 men, women and children of Japanese American descent who were living on the West Coast to concentration camps. Most of those incarcerated were U.S. citizens and longtime residents of the United States.

The executive order that rounded up Japanese Americans on the West Coast was signed after the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, but the political climate against people of Japanese descent had been simmering for years, said Tom Ikeda, executive director of Densho, an organization that documents the incarceration.

The rhetoric was similar to the anti-Muslim rhetoric that is common among politicians and in mass media, said Arsalan Bukhari, the executive director of CAIR-WA, a Muslim advocacy group. Bukhari encouraged the audience to contact national media against Muslim stereotypes by writing letters to the editor and calling radio shows.

“Every one of us has the power to change hearts and minds in this country,” he said.

The two also spoke alongside Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, the founder of advocacy group OneAmerica. Jayapal told the audience strategies for countering anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Other speakers included Michele Storms, Deputy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, poet Troy Osaki and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

Densho posted video of the event on its YouTube channel.

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Attendees sign a banner vowing to fight racist political rhetoric at an event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the U.S. executive order that sent men, women and children of Japanese descent living on the West Coast to concentration camps. The event was hosted by Densho and CAIR-WA. (Photo by Venice Buhain)