SJSU Partners with Japantown Organizations to Recognize the 81st Anniversary of Executive Order 9066

by | Feb 16, 2023 | Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Shirley Kuramoto, ’79 Creative Arts, shares a map of the Tule Lake barracks where she and her family were forcibly incarcerated during World WAr II. Kuramoto was among the speakers who shared their experiences at San José State’s first annual Day of Remembrance in the Lupe Diaz Compean Student Union. Photo by Irene Adeline Milanez, ’25 Journalism.

The first annual Day of Remembrance at San José State University marked the 81st anniversary of Executive Order 9066, the federal action that incarcerated approximately 120,000 people of Japanese descent, including American citizens, in camps across the United States during World War II. 

San José City Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei, ’04 Master’s in Urban Planning, kicked off the Feb. 15 event with the somber reminder to “reflect on the impact that [Executive Order 9066] has had on Japanese Americans throughout history.”

“Let us reflect on the fragility of civil liberties, especially in times of crisis,” Kamei added. “Let us use this as a reminder to remain vigilant in protecting the rights and freedoms of all people.”

The event included a fireside chat with retired Congressman Mike Honda, ’68 Biological Sciences, ’70 Teaching Credential, ’72 MA Education, and Shirley Kuramoto, ’79 Creative Arts. 

Co-hosted by Center for Asian Pacific Islander Student Empowerment (CAPISE), Nihonmachi Outreach Committee/San José Japantown, Associated Students Inc. of SJSU, Asian Pacific Islander Faculty & Staff Association at SJSU (APIFSA), and SJSU Community and Government Relations, the event recognized that the San José State building now known as Yoshihiro Uchida Hall served as a registration center for 2,487 people of Japanese descent before they were forcibly removed to 11 camps across the nation.

Victoria Taketa reads a poem to the audience.

Victoria Taketa read a poem printed in the Spartan Daily written by a former SJSU student who was incarcerated during World War II. Photo by Alyssa Karlin, ’23 BFA Photography.

Victoria Taketa, ’73 Sociology, ’88 MA Education, shared a poem written by San José State alumnus Masao Kanemoto, who had been forcibly incarcerated during World War II. Taketa implored the audience to “imagine yourself as a student at that time, being told to pack what you can carry so you can catch a train. Put yourself back in 1942; how would you react? Would you defend your liberties and support those who shared a belief in ‘we the people?’”

Representatives from the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee/San José Japantown shared how the organization has hosted Day of Remembrance activities less than a mile from campus for the past four decades in an attempt to address these same questions. Audience members were treated to a series of brief filmed testimonies of camp survivors recounting the lasting impact of the executive order.

Stories that define who we are

Honda, sent to an incarceration camp at only 10 months old, has no memories of life before the war. A dedicated public servant who launched his career as an educator before serving in the state assembly and later Congress, Honda asked the audience to reflect on their families’ pathway to the U.S.

Former California Congressman Mike Honda speaks to the audience.

Former California Congressman Mike Honda, ’68 Biological Sciences, ’70 Teaching Credential, ’72 MA Education, was sent with his family to an incarceration camp at only 10 months old. Photo by Irene Adeline Milanez, ’25 Journalism.

“Your folks went through hell to get here,” Honda said, addressing those who self-identified as first- or second-generation Americans. “They could have survived education camps. They could have immigrated on foot, by boat. All those are stories that should not only be recognized but remembered, because they reflect the movement of people in our history that defines who we are when we get here — how we interpret the American dream.

“Those stories reflect how we behave as citizens, or as citizens in waiting, in a country that expects us to become responsible. The way we are taught is to listen to authority and follow the rules, because rules dictate the way a community can be organized. But there are times when you have to question the rules, and those who make the rules. What are our stories? They define who we are.”

Kuramoto shared stories as well as original artwork depicting her time at Tule Lake as a small child. She held up an image she’d created of herself as an eight-year-old girl in braids sitting with her dog Shito, who she had to leave behind once the evacuation orders forced her family to leave their Menlo Park home. Decades after her leaving the camp, Kuramoto retrieved “three pounds of paper” in family records from the national archives in Washington, D.C. — including more than 150 pages dedicated to her father, who refused to sign the loyalty oath demanded of internees.

Understanding SJSU’s past with Executive Order 9066

Yvonne Kwan, assistant professor of sociology and interdisciplinary social sciences and program coordinator for the Asian American Studies program, played a key role in organizing Wednesday’s event. Together with her research assistant Nina Chuang, ’23 Nutrition and Food Science, she pulled documents from university archives to investigate the role that SJSU played in incarcerating Japanese Americans, including SJSU students, after Executive Order 9066 passed.

“It’s vital that the SJSU community recognizes the impact of state and national policy in our local communities, including our campus,” said Kwan. “Faculty and staff who protested such actions received censure and retaliation. We need to reckon with this past — from administrators to faculty and students.”

Current SJSU students and recent alumni who serve as advocates in Asian and Pacific Islander communities joined in a discussion with Bonnie Sugiyama, director of the SJSU PRIDE Center and Gender Equity Center. The conversation explored how intergenerational trauma plays a role in communities, the importance of considering intersectional identities, and the legacy of redlining and other racist and xenophobic practices that still affect communities of color.

City of San José Policy Director Jaria Jaug, ’21 BBA, spoke of her decision to run for the Berryessa Union School District board last year.

“As a first-generation Filipino American, I learned at a very young age that there has never been a Filipina Congresswoman or even a Filipina California state representative,” said Jaug. “That really stuck with me. Why aren’t we represented at the table, even though we have given so much and helped build this community? 

“We need new voices — new AAPI voices, women of color, young people, members of the LGTBQ+ community — we need more people at the table. You can’t have someone advocate on your behalf who doesn’t understand your experience, especially during the surge of anti-Asian hate crimes during COVID.”

Other Spartan voices included Associated Students Director of Legislative Affairs Dominic Treseler, ’23 Political Science; Ariana Shah, ’24 Global Studies, president of the SJSU Afghan Student Association; and Kayla Le, ’25 Forensic Biology, community organizer for the Center for Asian and Pacific Islander Student Empowerment.

As a space that centers the empowerment of our Asian and Pacific Islander students, CAPISE understands the importance of being engaged in this ongoing conversation so that as a community, we know of the histories that have come before us in order to advocate for a more socially just society as we move forward,” said Jinni Pradhan, director of San José State’s new Center for Asian Pacific Islander Student Empowerment (CAPISE)

“In the future, I hope that CAPISE can help lead and collaborate on our campus’ annual recognition of Day of Remembrance so that we continue to acknowledge the Japanese American experience and our campus’ connection to it.”

Community members interested in learning more about this important anniversary are invited to attend the 43rd Annual San José Day of Remembrance on Sunday, Feb. 19, from 5:30 – 7 p.m. at the San José Buddhist Church Betsuin Annex, 632 N. 5th St. The event is hosted by the San José Nihonmachi Outreach Committee.