Story at a glance

  • During World War II, many Americans of Japanese heritage were taken from their homes and held in internment camps.
  • California's state assembly passed a resolution formally apologizing to all Americans of Japanese ancestry for the state's role in internment.
  • The apology comes the day after the anniversary of FDR’s executive order establishing the camps.

Nearly 80 years after President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 establishing Japanese internment camps, California is apologizing for its role in discriminating against and interning Japanese Americans. 

The bill was passed by the state assembly the day after many observed a day of remembrance for those who were forced into internment camps during World War II in the name of national security. The executive order came two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor that stirred up anti-Japanese sentiments among many Americans. 

“the Assembly apologizes to all Americans of Japanese ancestry for its past actions in support of the unjust exclusion, removal, and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and for its failure to support and defend the civil rights and civil liberties of Japanese Americans during this period.”

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In 1988, the federal government passed the Civil Liberties Act, which granted reparations to people of Japanese ancestry as well as formally apologized for the mass incarceration of about 120,000 people during World War II. Some died due to a lack of medical treatment, although it's not clear how many. But others remain, and Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, who introduced the resolution, said he wants them to hear an apology. 

“I want the California Legislature to officially acknowledge and apologize while these camp survivors are still alive,” Muratsuchi told the Associated Press. 

Skeletal remains of Japanese Americans held in internment camps were found as recently as January at the Manzanar War Relocation Center, located in central California. One of two in the state, the camp was the site of a riot in December of 1942, where two people were killed by military police. Tule Lake, a camp in northern California, was the largest of all 10 camps. 

The resolution, which does not provide for reparations, goes farther back into the state’s history than World War II. California, which saw an influx of Japanese immigrants in the mid-1880s, has a history of discrimination against Asian Americans. In 1913, the California Alien Land Law made it illegal for immigrants from Japan and other parts of Asia to lease land or other properties, incarcerating and confiscating land from those who did.

“We like to talk a lot about how we lead the nation by example. Unfortunately, in this case, California led the racist anti-Japanese American movement,” Muratsuchi told AP.

Published on Feb 20, 2020