Feb. 19, 1942, was a day that changed the lives of Japanese Americans forever. I was a teenager growing up in Hawaii when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which set into motion the removal and incarceration of more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry in inland concentration camps.
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, a tense atmosphere of suspicion and hysteria engulfed the West Coast and Hawaii. Decades of anti-Japanese and anti-Asian legislation and racism had already laid the foundation for the events that soon took place. We were rounded up without due process even though we had nothing to do with the attack. Our family was shipped to California, then to Arkansas and finally to Wyoming, where we spent the duration of the war.
Upon our release from the camps, Japanese Americans began to pick up the pieces of wrecked lives, in the face of continuing racism and hostility. For years, we suppressed our anger, bitterness and shame about the unfair treatment we got.
Today, many in the Japanese American community will attend the annual Day of Remembrance events in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities, with the goal of teaching new generations the lessons from that painful time. Some of my fellow Americans are now being targeted because they are Muslim, Arab or Middle Eastern. When the attacks of Sept. 11 happened, I mourned for the innocent lives that were lost. But I also began to identify and sympathize with the innocent Muslim Americans who immediately became victims of the same kind of stereotyping and scapegoating we faced 63 years ago. They too have become targets of suspicion, hate crimes, vandalism and violence, all in the name of patriotism and national security.