Lisa Doi: Pilgrims sustain the memory of Japanese American detainment

by | Aug 31, 2023 | Religion

(RNS) — Two months after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, forcing 120,000 Japanese Americans, Japanese immigrants and their relatives living in the United States to leave their homes and take up residence in prisonlike camps in sparsely populated areas in seven states. In 1942, polling indicated that nearly 60% of Americans supported this decision, even though two-thirds of the relocated people were American citizens. An even higher majority supported the incarceration of immigrants who had not yet attained citizenship.Only in 1988 did Congress pass the Civil Liberties Act, which compensated the unjustly incarcerated Japanese and Japanese Americans, giving each surviving detainee $20,000. President Ronald Reagan offered a semblance of a formal apology, acknowledging that the incarcerations had been a “mistake.” In the years since, despite a growing number of memoirs, histories and documentaries, the government-sanctioned violation of civil rights that traumatized an entire population is little spoken of. 
The willful forgetting redoubles the pain for the descendants of those who faced incarceration. With fewer and fewer survivors of the camps still alive, how to commemorate their suffering in their absence is a growing dilemma.
Lisa Doi, a doctoral student in American studies at Indiana University, has dedicated her research to a form of commemoration that has become increasingly widespread among the Japanese American community, of which she is a part: visiting the detainment camps as an act of pilgrimage. 
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