Executive Order 9066

Continuing to learn from our history can help us better understand how we must move forward toward more equitable and inclusive outcomes for all American citizens.

For many Americans, it might be difficult to identify the impact of racism on individuals who identify as Asian American. In fact, much has been written to the contrary in an attempt to characterize Asian Americans as the “Model Minority.” Originating in the 1960s, the myth of the model minority was first applied to the large and growing population of Chinese and Japanese descendants in the United States. In short, the model minority myth depicted all Asian Americans as being very successful, highly skilled or having high incomes, in contrast to African Americans who were seen as the complete opposite, thereby holding Asian Americans up as models for all racial minorities to follow. This myth serves as a historical and contemporary wedge between Asian Americans and many other communities of color. However, it has also negatively affected Asian Americans by diminishing the vast diversity of realities within the Asian American community and oftentimes setting unattainable personal and professional expectations for individuals that identify with this diverse racial group.

One historical event that provides a clear example of racism faced by one subgroup of the Asian American community, Japanese and Japanese Americans, is the signing and implementation of Executive Order 9066. As a result of World War II hysteria, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942, which authorized the evacuation of all persons of Japanese descent deemed a threat to national security from the West Coast to 10 relocation centers hastily set up and governed by the military in California, Arizona, Washington State and Oregon.

Over the course of the Executive Order, almost 120,000 Japanese Americans were interned and approximately 70 percent of those interned were American citizens. As part of the internment process, many of these individuals were forced to sell their homes and businesses at tremendous losses. Those interned stayed in the camps until the end of the war.

American Public Media and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History have recently launched an Order 9066 website and several Order 9066 podcasts that chronicle the stories of individuals and families of interned Japanese Americans, while also providing insights into the hysteria and racism that lead to this injustice. The website provides access to several important digital resources such as The George and Frank C. Hirahara Collection, which is considered the largest private collection of photos depicting life in the Japanese American internment camp at Heart Mountain Wyoming, and the 50 objects/50 stories collection of artifacts from those interned and their accompanying stories. Sab Shimono and Pat Suziki narrate the podcasts and the historical accounts of those interned to provide insight into what was experienced, the historical and current impact of this action and the eventual U.S. government apology.

Continuing to learn from our history, however difficult, even that which centers racism, segregation and pain, can help us to better understand how we must move forward toward more equitable and inclusive outcomes for all American citizens.

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