For Some Japanese Americans, Border Separations Are Déjà Vu : Code Switch The reports from the border this week sent a collective shudder through many Japanese American communities around the country.

For Some Japanese Americans, Border Separations Are Déjà Vu

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Members of the Japanese-American community were some of the most vocal advocates for families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. Karen Grigsby Bates from our Code Switch team tells us why.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Tony Osumi has been watching the news for the past several days, and says he was horrified to see the images of wailing children being pulled from their parents' arms and led away at border checkpoints.

TONY OSUMI: As a parent, I was aghast. As a schoolteacher, separating children - it's hard enough when parents drop off kindergartners for the first time and seeing that. It's heartbreaking.

BATES: Osumi says the separation of Latino families at the border this week has echoes that affect many Japanese-Americans whose families were incarcerated in American concentration camps during World War II.

OSUMI: Many of our fathers were picked up by the FBI immediately after Pearl Harbor and taken without notice where they were going and how long they'd be gone.

BATES: Soon after, President Franklin Roosevelt's executive order 9066 authorized the military to round up all Americans of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast. It forced them to leave their homes and relocate to barren barracks mostly in the Western desert. One is on display at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles.

RICK NOGUCHI: So this barracks came from Heart Mountain, Wyo., which was one of 10 concentration camps during World War II.

BATES: That's Rick Noguchi, the chief operating officer at the museum. He says this week's news of family separations sent painful reverberations through the Japanese-American community, especially its older members. From personal experience, Noguchi worries that the trauma Latino families are suffering currently can last for generations.

NOGUCHI: We now know that there have been impacts on individuals psychologically because they were forcibly removed, or they didn't see their parents. So there are direct parallels.

DAVID INOUE: The Japanese experience during World War II is something that we believe must be remembered by this country and remembered in order that we don't repeat any of those same mistakes.

BATES: David Inoue is executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League, a civic group that says advocating for the civil and human rights of others is critical, especially now as elders who experienced the camps are dying out. But all three men say remembering is only part of the solution. Recognizing that such measures were a mistake is also vitally important.


RONALD REAGAN: We gather here today to write a grave wrong...

BATES: In a watershed moment on August 10, 1988, then President Ronald Reagan addressed several members of Congress, Japanese-American activists and former camp internees.


REAGAN: This action was taken without trial, without jury. It was based solely on race for these 120,000 were Americans of Japanese descent.

BATES: At the conclusion of that speech, Reagan signed HR 442 which gave an official apology and reparations to surviving internees. Unlike the Japanese-American internees, the migrant families at the border are not citizens. But teacher Tony Osumi says all Americans should insist that these families be treated humanely.

OSUMI: As Japanese-Americans, we have to use our history to fight for others. We have kind of a responsibility to speak out, to stand up and to support others who are going through anything even remotely similar.

BATES: Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.


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