Remembrance of Executive Order 9066 and the Japanese People in Spokane

This speech was presented to the Japanese Citizen League (JACL) in Spokane on February 26, 2011. The talk offered a brief review of Executive Order 9066, a video, and an exercise in understanding diversity. Some history and discussion of Japanese Alley in Spokane was also discussed.
Thank you for that kind introduction. Hello Ladies and Gentlemen. I am honored to be here and a part of this day of remembrance. I’d like to discuss several different things with you this afternoon. The first of these is this remembrance and why we are gathered here today.
Secondly, I’ll review a bit of the Japanese heritage that existed here in Spokane in the late 1800s and to the time of the early 1940s. I will show a video that contains live footage depicting the predominantly white culture that has existed here in Spokane since its early beginnings. We will discuss some elements of diversity and conduct a small informal experiment, measuring elements of diversity in Spokane footage around the time that the Japanese were interned. Finally, I would like to discuss how fear is implemented into our society to create prejudice and hate, to alter policy, and to deny people of their constitutional or human rights. I will try to show how the actions of yesteryear have a cyclic effect, and I will ask the question of whether or not we are duplicating those same actions now.
Today, indeed, is a special day in which we remember Executive Order 9066. This order was signed by Franklin Roosevelt on February 19th, 1942, precisely 69 years and 7 days ago. The order came after Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. Essentially this order impacted 120,000 people of Japanese heritage, removing them from their homes and imprisoning them in ten internment camps located in seven states. This imprisonment lasted years for many people and approximately 70% of these people were American citizens.
While President Roosevelt declared December 7, 1941, “A date which will live in infamy,” we see now that the internment of the Japanese was a reaction that also lives in infamy. While the U.S. government has acknowledged this error and some restitution has been paid out, the past and the impact placed upon the Japanese Americans and their relatives can never be erased.
Of the Japanese who were sent to concentration camps, approximately 70% were Nisei or Sansei, second and third-generation Japanese Americans, also American citizens; and the rest were Issei, Japanese immigrants and resident aliens, first-generation Japanese Americans.
Fairly, I should mention that people of Italian and German ancestry were also targeted by these restrictions, including internment. Although their numbers pale in comparison, 11,000 people of German ancestry were interned, as were 3,000 people of Italian ancestry, along with some Jewish refugees. The Jewish refugees who were interned came from Germany, and the U.S. government didn’t differentiate between ethnic Jews and ethnic Germans. How ironic that those individuals who perhaps fled Nazi Germany would be interned here in America. Some of the prisoners of European descent were interned only briefly, and others were held for several years beyond the end of the war. Like the Japanese internees, these smaller groups had American-born citizens in their numbers, especially among the children.
Japanese Americans were by far the most widely affected group, as all persons of Japanese ancestry were removed from the West Coast and Southern Arizona in “military zones.” As then California Attorney General Earl Warren put it, “When we are dealing with the Caucasian race we have methods that will test the loyalty of them. But when we deal with the Japanese, we are on an entirely different field.” Naturally, this would prove to be wrong as the Japanese American population was equally shocked by the attack on Pearl Harbor. Warren’s words were offered up to create fear among the white Americans at this vulnerable time.
Interestingly, in Hawaii there were 140,000 Americans of Japanese Ancestry constituting 37% of the population. Only selected individuals of increased perceived risk were removed and interned.
The Japanese who were ripped from their homes on the West Coast were given little time to prepare. Posters were tacked up on telephone poles and in public spots announcing that the Japanese people were to gather a small portion of their things and get ready for departure. There was little backlash and the Japanese people largely went peacefully with their captors. Many of them referred to the event as “Shikataganai,” interpreted as, “It can’t be helped,” a sort of accepted fate or destiny. This concept in the white world does not exist.
Each individual could take two suitcases that included bedding, clothing, and eating utensils. Curfews were in place but many families had homes and businesses and possessions that needed attention. With limitations of what they could bring, many Japanese people were forced to leave things behind…things that they would never see again. After the war and upon return to their homes and businesses, many things had vanished. Homes were owned and inhabited by others and some properties had been bulldozed; businesses were gone for many; possessions and property entrusted to others were gone.
Bainbridge Island, across from Seattle was the first “evacuation” on the West Coast to occur. In fact, it was used as a model for the many other evacuations that would occur along the West Coast. I use the term “evacuation” loosely and perhaps a better term would be “Unconstitutional Incarcerations.” Borrowed from earthquake terminology, many descriptors that were adopted were semantically altered or sugar coated to seemingly disguise the constitutional violations that were occurring. Other terms included: Reception Centers; Relocation Centers; and Evacuees. In fact, the temporary holding tank at the Puyallup Fairgrounds was called Camp Harmony. Somehow the word Harmony naming a concentration camp along with the other terms do not capture the severity or impact set upon the Japanese-American people. Bottom line, these places were concentration camps filled with innocent people; mostly American citizens.
Curiously, Spokane was not considered to be a military zone even with its proximity to the Army and Navy bases not far away. Accordingly, many Japanese left their West Coast homes in Seattle and other places to obtain a safe haven here in Spokane. Some Japanese people had already called Spokane their home, however. Although considered a minority in this predominantly white town they had existed here for some years. In the 1880s and early 1900s, the railroad and mining industries sought laborers to carryout the immense building. Accordingly, laborors were attracted here from China and Japan to perform these jobs. After these jobs were completed, many laborers returned to their homelands, but many others settled here.
In an area called “Japanese Alley” many Japanese people lived and had businesses here. This unique area was also called Trent Alley or Chinese Alley. Even though it contained more Japanese people, the Spokane white population referred to it as “Chinatown.” While many towns on the West Coast had Asian concentrations, these places were typically separate locations and not in the mainstream. In around 1910 it was estimated that 1000 Japanese people lived in Spokane, most of them likely living in hotels, boarding houses, and flats. Japanese Alley was a shaded L-shaped alley bounded by Front and Main Streets to the North and South; and Bernard and Washington Streets to the East and West. The area began behind where Aunties Book Store now resides. The expanse of parking lot to the east is where the alley used to span. Here, a significant business district offered Japanese hotels, restaurants, laundries, bath houses and fish shops. There was a barbershop, Japanese tailor, and pool hall.
In 1912, at least 16 Japanese restaurants were in Spokane offering inexpensive food. These restaurants were called “Noodle Houses” and largely served whites. At least two restaurants in the heart of Japanese Alley specifically served Asians. In 1915 the Japanese Restaurant Keepers Association announced that it was raising the price of meals from 10 cents to 15 cents.
Thought to be a Chinese endeavor, the Japanese immigrant workforce largely took over the local laundry industry. In 1912 there were six Japanese laundries operating in Spokane, mostly in the Trent Alley. It was said that the Japanese laundries took better care of the clothing, paid attention to detail, and provided better service to their patrons.
In 1924 the Japanese population began to dwindle largely because immigration from Japan was curtailed and then banned. But in 1942 there was a sudden influx because of the Japanese people from the Westside that were avoiding the internment camps. Estimates suggest that the Japanese population in Spokane tripled during this time. Some of these people came to Spokane without knowing a soul. Can you imagine their turmoil, cares, and worries as they sought to provide shelter, food, and basic needs for themselves and families? After the war many Japanese returned to the Westside but some stayed here in Spokane. I am certain that some of you or your forefathers and foremothers are the connections I speak of here.
In the years before and after the war, the Japanese people dispersed and integrated into more affluent neighborhoods and suburbs. After the war, Japanese Alley slowly disintegrated into an area of riff raff and skid row. The area was demolished in the early 1970s in preparation for Expo ’74 and the World’s Fair.
Now I would like to shift my discussion in the direction of diversity. Although the term is commonly misused, it actually refers to the subcultures or variables of the human condition that exist in a given society. These facets include variables of age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, economic status, and disability. Realistically, their presence can potentially create prejudice, stereotypes, bigotry, and fear when propaganda is used. This is precisely what occurred when 120,000 Japanese were imprisoned on American soil.
I’d like to show you a video right now that illustrates what Spokane was like during the time that the Japanese people were being interned. This was a time in the late 30s and early 40s. The video shows live footage that was taken by the late Wallace Gamble. Mr. Gamble owned a cab company downtown and also belonged to the Spokane Camera Club. As a result he took pictures of various people who walked past his business. The creation of motion pictures was not a common thing for everyday people but Mr. Gamble shot film with his small motion picture camera. These films had no sound but as a man in his 90s, Mr. Gamble went back and narrated this footage. Music was also added. Although you will not see pictures of any Asians, you will see examples of other diverse people. Be looking for people of color, the aged, disabled, those representing religion, those of riches, and those who are impoverished. Let’s take a look.
I find this footage hugely interesting. Were you able to pick out the diverse subcultures I spoke of earlier? You probably noted the black man, the man without arms, the blind lady and her sister, perhaps the old lady Emma and others. One might ask the question of where some Japanese people were in this footage? Certainly these pictures are a snapshot in time and there may have not been any Japanese people around the camera at the time. Perhaps a more plausible answer is that the separation was such that they remained isolated in their area of town, especially during wartime. Did you by any chance hear Mr. Gamble’s reference to the man who ran the Speak Easy during prohibition in Trent Alley? Recall that Trent Alley is synonymous with Japanese Alley. A Speak Easy was a place that sold illegal liquor during prohibition.
During and around the time that the interment was occurring, there were many people who opposed Roosevelt’s decision to sign Executive Order 9066. His wife Eleanor Roosevelt was one of them. She had apparently met privately with her husband on several occasions opposing it. Another was FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover because he felt that any spies had already been arrested shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. There were others like clergy, school principals, and University Presidents. There were 5 Japanese basketball players on Whitworth’s team in 1944.
Even so, there was a predominance of suspicion, resentment, and distrust that was cast upon the Japanese Americans and Japanese citizens here in 1942. This was largely caused by creating the illusion of fear promoted by the media and posed by the government. General Earl Warren uttered his words creating suspicion across the nation. Lieutenant DeWitt was quoted as saying, “A Jap is a Jap” a reason for imprisoning 120,000 innocent people, most of whom were American Citizens. There is no question that the attacks on Pearl Harbor were horrendous, however the Japanese in this country were caught in the crossfire and it was unfair on ethical, moral, and constitutional levels.
My question is whether or not we are duplicating the mistakes of our past? So much that is read and heard on the radio is inflammatory of people from the Middle East or those of the Muslim faith. We fear the Hispanics and others who seek refuge, residence, and work in America. It comes as a repetitive soft beat and also in a loud tenor. We have been told over and over again that terrorists are planning to harm us and that these people are of Middle Eastern descent. An occasional, impetuous teenager is caught with a plan sometimes setup by the authorities. We seem to be conditioned to fear the red, orange, and yellow threat levels by Homeland Security. And every visit to the airport is a further diminishment of our constitutional rights based on a foundation of imposed fear. And perhaps as we exist and go about our days, we ourselves become indifferent to our fellow man, women, and child. Perhaps we harbor suspicion, distrust or even hatred on conscious or unconscious levels of those who look different than us, or those from diverse backgrounds.
We all agree that there must never be another event like the one that imprisoned 120,000 Japanese people. And as such, perhaps we can recognize the unfounded fear and rhetoric that leads to such actions. Perhaps each and every one of us can question so-called facts and the merit of information that is being said. Perhaps we can reject it when it threatens human rights, the constitution of this country, and the care of our fellow man… of all men and women. Perhaps we can deeply question our own opinions and feelings of others, and groups of others and determine whether or not they are truly valid. Thank you very much.