My Mother Was Incarcerated in an Internment Camp as a Child. She Tells Us 2016 Reminds Her of 1942.

My mother, Amy Iwasaki Mass, with her family at the Heart Mountain Internment Camp.

My mother was seven years old when she and her family were evacuated from the West Coast and forced to live in an Army barrack behind barbed wire in an internment camp in Heart Mountain, Wyoming.

Born in Los Angeles, she had been taught in school to be a proud and loyal American citizen, so the wholesale exclusion and relocation of her community was both terrifying and confusing. On the journey to Wyoming, the prisoners were ordered to keep their shades down when the train passed through towns; my mother thought this must be because people hated her and her community so much that they didn’t want to see their faces. She was incarcerated at Heart Mountain for three years before she and her family were permitted to return to their home in Los Angeles.

 My mother in front of the list of men — including both her brothers — who were incarcerated at Heart Mountain and served in the U.S. armed forces in World War II.
My mother in front of the list of men — including both her brothers — who were incarcerated at Heart Mountain and served in the U.S. armed forces in World War

Months ago, my mother told us she was feeling anxious and having trouble sleeping because Donald Trump’s rhetoric and campaign promises were reminding her of that time. Since Trump won the general election, we have heard more reports of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant vandalism, harassment and violence. Last week, a prominent Trump supporter invoked the Japanese American internment as “precedent” for creating a registry of Muslim Americans.

In the years following the 9/11 attacks, when scapegoating and targeting of Arab and Muslim Americans peaked, the ACLU opposed discriminatory policies and practices and documented abuses. We opposed the NSEERS program — the revival of which is under consideration by President-elect Trump. That program required the registration of tens of thousands of men and boys from Arab- and Muslim-majority countries and subjected them to tracking and travel restrictions. NSEERS was suspended in 2011 after it was showing to be completely ineffective as a tool to protect national security.

Right now, we want to affirm core American values of religious tolerance and inclusion and to remind members of Muslim communities that the ACLU will be vigilant in protecting these values and corresponding rights. We have compiled a great deal of Know Your Rights information for people facing anti-Muslim discrimination and government surveillance based on perceived religion or national origin.

As an adult in the early 80s, my mother participated in the redress movement, seeking an apology and recognition of wrongdoing from the government for its incarceration of Japanese Americans and residents.

A clinical social worker, she testified before the Congressional Committee on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians about the psychological effects of the camps on Japanese American families and individuals. The Commission later issued a report, “Personal Justice Denied,” which details how the government executed the internment against over 120,000 people without individual review, “virtually without regard for their loyalty to the United States,” and “despite that fact that not a single act of espionage, sabotage or fifth column activity was committed” by Japanese Americans or residents. Instead, the report determined that the decisions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

My grandparents celebrating their naturalization as U.S. citizens in 1953.
My grandparents celebrating their naturalization as U.S. citizens in 1953.

In 1988, President Reagan signed the 1988 Civil Liberties Act, a law whose purposes included acknowledging the “fundamental injustice” of the evacuation, relocation, and internment, to “apologize, on behalf of the people of the United States,” and to “inform the public about the internment . . . so as to prevent the recurrence of any similar event.”

My mother remains a fiercely loyal American. She recently told us she wants “God Bless America” to be played at her funeral. I dearly hope that the work of the Japanese American redress movement and the lawmakers who passed the 1988 Civil Liberties Act have their intended effect of preventing a similar event — namely religious or national origin discrimination against Muslim Americans, immigrants, and visitors.

The ACLU certainly will do everything in our power to prevent it.


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Unlike the Japanese, the vast majority of terrorists in the last 20 years have been Muslims. The Japanese did not have a history of terrorism like the Muslims now do.


I believe that if you examined actual facts, you would find that the majority of terrorists in the last 20 years have been radical right-wing white supremacists, anti-abortionists, and the like.


Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor. (I.e. It committed act of terror - quite significant one at that). And it was wrong to incarcerate Japanese Americans who did not share the same hostility toward the US. Fanatics who use Islam conduct terrorism. It is equally wrong to register or incarcerate Muslims who do not share the hostility toward the US. By all means intensify intelligence efforts to prevent future attacks. But doing so based on such broad criteria as race or religion is not only wrong but also ineffective and lazy excuse of intelligence work.


You realize that saying something like that without, you know, proof, is qualifiably dangerous racism and that people said the same kind of crap in the internment years, right?


The vast majority of Japanese spies in WWII were from Japan. Did that justify the forced internment of everyone in the US who was from Japan? No, it didn't, despite the very slight positive correlation between being from Japan and being a Japanese spy.

For religious discrimination and profiling to be effective or at all justified, there must be a certain amount of correlation between Islamic faith and terrorist activity. But over a fifth of the world's population is Muslim. If you randomly select a Muslim, the chance that you will pick a terrorist is pretty damn low. If we want to sort the bad marbles out of the bag, we need to find better "warning signs" than merely whether a marble is a Muslim or not. Using religious profiling is inefficient and will probably lead to more trouble than it's worth.


Actually, in the past 20 years most terrorists in America have been white male citizens.


Oh really? As a white Christian, I feel obligated to ask how many Muslims do you know? And how many mass shootings have been perpetrated by whomnow? Are you a troll... Or for real?


I don't know you get your data, but most terrorists are white men.


Two words: Pearl Harbor. Several more words: the expansion of the Empire of Japan into east Asia which began in the late 1800s.

The mass internment of Japanese-Americans was not justified in any way, but your claim that Japanese people had no history of terrorism at the time is misguided at best.

Fitz Fitzhenrymac

Starting in 1874, the Japanese military started converting Japan into an imperialist power with all its concurrent state terrorism and war.

1874 launched a military expedition to Taiwan to force a claim to the Ryuku islands with a famous false flag event.
1894 Starts war with China over control of Korea with the assistance of the British.
1895 Japanese invasion of Taiwan
1904 Japan launched a surprise torpedo attack on the Russian navy
1905 Russo-Japanese War: The Treaty of Portsmouth was signed, ceding some Russian property and territory to Japan and ending the war.
1910 Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910 completes the annexation of Korea.
1914 Siege of Tsingtao China starts as part of World War I
1931 Japan invaded Manchuria in the aftermath of the Mukden Incident.
1932 Manchukuo, the puppet state of Japan, is established
1937 Japan invades China
1940 Japanese invasion of French Indochina.
1941 Japan Attacked Pearl Harbor, Australia, Thailand, Singapore, New Guinea, The Philippines and India.

It seems Washington and Britain was quite happy with Japan and supported it while it was attacking China, Korea, Manchuria and Japan. Japanese were honoured citizens then.


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