Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Civil Liberties in Bloom?


(image of interned American citizens)









Here is a poem from Mitsuye Yamada's book Camp Notes and Other Poems:


Evacuation

As we boarded the bus
bags on both sides
(I had never packed
two bags before
on a vacation
lasting forever)
the Seattle Times
photographer said
Smile!
so obediently I smiled
and the caption the next day
read:

Note smiling faces
a lesson to Tokyo.
*
Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1992, p. 13.
*
Yamada and family were removed from Seattle and interned in Idaho during WWII. The same thing happened to American families of Japanese background up and down the West Coast.

One of the best designed memorials I've seen regarding the internment happens to be on "my" campus. Alongside sidewalks are planted cherry trees that blossom twice a year. At the base of each cherry tree is a small plaque. On each plaque are the names of the college students on campus who were removed from said campus and sent to interment camps. Probably many of them were sent first to the Puyallup Fairgrounds and held in animal-stalls before being shipped elsewhere. Imagine having grown up in the U.S., being a an American college student, going to class, living your life, and then being removed and interned one day. Of course, property (farms, grocery stores) was stolen and never returned to the families as well. (A Japanese-American alum of the university was chiefly responsible for getting this modest but effective memorial established. A "well done" to him.


Yes, of course I've heard the alleged ways in which the issue was "complicated" and so forth, but the plain facts don't seem to want to budge. Persons of German background were not arrested and interned (nor should they have been). The persons interned were American citizens, not Japanese citizens, so this thing called the Constitution: where was it? Also, where was an inkling of evidence, not to mention due process? Legal representation? To stack irony upon irony, many interned Japanese American men were offered the chance to join the American military and fight--and they took that opportunity and comported themselves well.

Where were the newspapers: Apparently the Seattle Times behaved simply as a cheerleader, rather like Judith Miller, the New York Times, and Bush's crew recently. Newspapers and other journalistic media are supposed to have a contrarian attitude toward who's in power, no matter who's in power. It says so, right there in Contrarianism for Dummies. :-)

I have a colleague who teaches Civil Liberties. He is planning to save 15 minutes in class one day so that he can take the class to the trees and the plaques and suggest that this is one of many reasons why such concepts as civil liberties (and due process, and evidence, and so on) matter.
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