History and Race: March 18, 1942


The War Relocation Act

Seventy-one years ago today Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an executive order requiring 120,000 mostly Japanese-Americans to report for forced relocation.

In the wake of the December 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, politicians, leaders and many others concluded that all Americans exhibiting the features of Japanese ancestry were potential spies, soldiers or saboteurs.

Relocation Centers


While Asians and Asian-Americans were no doubt used to a degree of  racism, this detention based solely on physical characteristics was unprecedented.

The mass round-up devastated families and communities as businesses were sold and careers ended.

There were ten re-location centers, mostly in the west.  They were chosen partly because of their remote location and ironically were mostly on Native America Lands.  Native Americans, of course, were similarly “relocated” though more forcibly and permanently.

Arriving at a Center

A Bleak Life

Life at a center was minimalist, spare and institutional.  Living arrangements were barracks style, meals were taken in a common mess hall and space was strictly limited.  At the Topaz Center each person was allocated about 114 square feet.

Some internees were able to obtain jobs, mostly in agriculture.  Others concentrated on education, hobbies and “Americanization.”


“Gaman” Art


Gaman is “a Japanese word that means to bear the seemingly unbearable with dignity and patience.”  Internees confined in a harsh environment bereft of personal possessions and objects turned to making art out of available materials such as wood, beads, and other found materials.  This art is now known as Gaman art and is amazing for its ingenuity and beauty.

Freedom and Memory


As the war drew to a close, July 1945 spelled the end of all of the camps but one.  Internees were expected to move on with their lives though irreparable damage had been done in the cause of a false sense of security based on racial profiling and animus.

In 1992 Congress passed legislation to allow for the construction in Washington, DC, of  the “Memorial to Japanese-American Patriotism in World War II.”

The completed memorial now stands at Louisiana Ave and D St., Northwest.  It recognizes both the hardship of the internees as well as the profound courage and patriotism of the Japanese-Americans who served in the armed forces.  The accomplishments of the 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team are legendary.  Twenty-one members were awarded the Congressional medal of Honor for their heroism and bravery.

Not bad for a bunch of “traitors.”


Sources: SI.edu, Wiki


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