Step One: Ask the U.S. government.
There’s been a lot of talk about racial profiling recently, and for good reason. One such news story flew under the radar, as it had nothing to do with Southern TV chefs or teenagers in Florida. It had everything to do with my family, and one of the worst cases of government-sanctioned racial profiling in American history. At a site in Eastern Washington, researchers uncovered a lost internment camp used to detain over 250 people of Japanese heritage during WWII.
Being ethnically half-Japanese, half-Caucasian, I’m often asked where I’m “from.” I answer, “Seattle.” They ask where my parents are from. I answer, “Seattle.” My grandpa was born in Seattle. I get it — you’re interested, that’s totally fair. I like talking about my heritage! It’s just interesting that no one asks my white friends.
Being born in the U.S. made no difference in 1942 — the year that my grandpa was “relocated” to a camp enclosed in barbed war and patrolled by armed guards. He was 15 years old. Out of the roughly 110,000 interned, 62% were American citizens. None were proven guilty of conspiring with Japan.
After graduating from high school in the camp, my grandpa was released, drafted and deployed to Korea. I didn’t realize how strange this was until I started telling people as an adult and their mouths would drop. Since then, he went on to work for Boeing and put two daughters through a public university. Both of them went on to become public school teachers for a combined seven decades. One of their daughters now works as a political adviser. His legacy is an endless trail of patriotism. Stereotypical model citizen? Sure. Making the best of a sh*t situation? …Yeah.
It’s easy to think of stories like this as irrelevant history, but my grandfather is a taxpayer, homeowner, shareholder, driver, and voter. He’s an active, integral member of our society, and that stain on his life is something he will never forget.
No matter where you fall on the Trayvon Martin case, it’s good that it’s bringing racial profiling out in the open. Also–in regards to current controversies around surveillance, internment raises topical questions about the scope of government and the infringement of civil liberties in the name of security.
In 1976, President Ford proclaimed that internment was “wrong” and a “national mistake” which “shall never again be repeated.” Many presidents have repeated this sentiment. Let’s try to make that true.