“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” -George Santayana (1905) Reason in Common Sense, p. 284, volume 1 of The Life of Reason.
I had the opportunity to visit the Japanese American National Museum today in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. It is in walking distance of the federal building downtown where USCIS has its Los Angeles Field Office and Los Angeles County Office. If you walk through the county parking lot on Temple St. from the federal building towards the museum, you will pass the Go for Broke Monument commemorating the Japanese Americans that served during WWII.
The museum often has visiting installations addressing different things such as pop culture, history, identity, etc. These are found on the first floor. On the second floor, however, there is a long-standing installation. This one is a remembrance project. During the war against the Japanese, our country decided to intern those of Japanese descent. They took those that were living in the states bordering the Pacific Ocean and sent them to the interior. Those living on the Eastern seaboard were sent to Ellis Island and detained there for months, up to 2 years.
Learning about this history, reading the executive orders, “enemy alien” designations, the palatable fear, hate, and discrimination just left me with a feeling of sadness. Not just for those that suffered then, but those that are suffering now. Many of the actions that are being taken by our federal government today will be remembered. Although arguably the shame was great on the nation since they interred actual US born US citizens. It is an appalling and barbaric treatment of those that not only called the US their home and country, but served in its military against the Japanese. But the shame again, with echos of the same fear, hate and discrimination, calling those that are seeking refuge “animals,” demonizing a group of men, women and children because of their origin and color of their skin is palatable.
The US will be remembered for its actions today. Hopefully it will not be seen as history repeating itself but in the future, maybe, just maybe, serve as an example of how a country came together to see that the weak and vulnerable were protected, and the rights of humanity withstood the desires of the few.