Image: Robin Lee
I was asked to write an essay about the Asian American experience for The Washington Spectator. Here’s an excerpt. I hope you find it interesting.
April 16, 2018
By Setsuko Winchester
The Olympics have come to a close, and in their wake I’ve been thinking about a stubborn phenomenon that was illustrated most recently by the flack a New York Times columnist named Bari Weiss received after tweeting: “Immigrants get the job done,” together with a picture of Mirai Nagasu, the U.S. ice skater who won a gold medal. Many asked: What do you mean, immigrant? She’s an American.
Weiss defended herself by observing that Nagasu’s parents are immigrants. Well, if the standard at the Times is to identify you by your last immigrant relation, then we should take into consideration the immigrant parents and forebears of a lot of our newsmakers, most notably those presently in the White House. We should recognize Trump’s German and Scottish immigrant background, along with that of his Yugoslavian (now Slovenian) immigrant wife and former–Soviet Bloc Czechoslovakian-Scottish-German-immigrant sons and daughter. And how about the Belarusian-Jewish son-in-law, whose family escaped the Holocaust? When you see things the Weiss way (who I’m assuming, by the name, is a German-American immigrant), I think it’s strange that the Times doesn’t question Trump’s “American” bona fides or for that matter his America First policy, with its demands to close the doors on “immigrants,” since his presidency is clearly an example of the rise of the recent immigrant. Rather than hide it, as if it were something to be ashamed of, shouldn’t the White House celebrate how wonderfully open and generous America has been to his immigrant family?
You can read the rest here.
Twenty years ago, on April 3, 1998, an exhibition opened on Ellis Island which explained the difference between two types of government facilities used in the US during WWII to imprison citizens and non-citizens of the US. It poses the question..what do you do if your government turns against you, not for what you did…but for what you are? And did having US citizenship matter? In the 1940’s, the answer was no. There is a term for that kind of imprisonment...
US Internment Camp
- A Matter of Due Process -
US Concentration Camp
- A Form of State-Sanctioned Racism -
One tea bowl = 1,000 individuals
Image 1: “Ellis Island - 16 tea bowls”
Over 31,000 individuals were rounded up and put in internment camps run by the DOJ and the INS. These Individuals were mostly foreign nationals.
Those imprisoned in these facilities were arrested with charges and given a hearing. If they were unable to prove their innocence, they were held until deported. These facilities were protected by the Geneva Conventions. This was legal.
11,500 German foreign nationals
3,000 Italian foreign nationals
16,500 Japanese foreign nationals (most were released to one of the ten US concentration camps)
Image 2: “Manzanar, CA - 120 tea bowls”
The US concentration camps were run by the military and administered by the WRA. Anyone with 1/16th Japanese blood in the western half of the western states (where most of them lived) were rounded up (even orphans in orphanages) and imprisoned for the duration of WWII. No one was ever charged, given a trial or hearing, and the prisons were not protected by the Geneva Conventions. This was not legal.
Concentration camps are historically a very specific kind of incarceration which has been used as a tool of empire. It’s the imprisonment of a concentration of a particular group of people solely for who they are, not for what they did.
FDR helped promote universal human rights and yet removed the rights he said were a basic part of all Americans’ lives from certain citizens, most of whom had been in the US for multiple generations and who had committed no crime.
There is a historic pattern of “removing the other” in America. It continues to happen today.
A friend just sent this to me. If you read the latest books about the roundup of Japanese Americans, this information is in there, but as we know these kinds of books are not read or reviewed…it seems as a rule.
But even when it’s in a publication like Scientific American, this kind of American history never gets into the "lay-readers’” diet of information that is fed to them by the purveyors of “general interest” news organizations as the NY Times has recently described itself and its readers to me in a correspondence with their Standards Editor about a similar matter.
"Thanks for this additional background. I definitely don't discount or minimize the importance of the topic or the need for historical accuracy. I do find, though, that in many areas there is a gap between the precise legal or historical terms used by experts and the ordinary terms used by laypeople to describe the same things. The best terms for a historian writing a scholarly paper wouldn't necessarily always be the best usage for a general-interest newspaper."
In trying to find this story in the NY Times, I found this from Dec. 2017 under the category “Lesson Plans/US History”: Teaching Japanese-American Internment Using Primary Resources
As we are teaching history:
Lesson one: Headlines matter. It would probably be more accurate to say the US forced roundup and mass imprisonment of Japanese Americans.
Lesson two: Internment was used not to detain Japanese Americans, but to imprison Germans, Italians and Japanese foreign nationals (and some of their children and spouses).
Lesson three: Japanese Americans were not placed in Japanese Internment Camps, but in what we now know were called US concentration camps by FDR and his administration.
My Yellow Bowl Project hopes to spur discussion around these questions: Who is an American? What does citizenship mean? How long do you have to be in the US to be considered a bonafide member of this group?