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Day of Remembrance

Noelle Cabrera

Editor

It was the 1920’s in Santa Barbara, and E. Canon Perdido Street was buzzing with activity. The strip held boarding houses, bath houses, restaurants, grocery stores and more. This lively area in downtown Santa Barbara, known as Nihonmachi, grew to be home to over 500 Japanese Americans. However, throughout the mid-1930s, portions of Santa Barbara’s Japantown were lost in favor of Spanish style buildings, and by 1942, almost all 500 inhabitants were gone. The reason why nearly all of the residents of this once thriving community were displaced was because of Executive Order 9066, enacted 80 years ago on February 19th, 1942. 

 The order declared over 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent from across the West Coast ‘enemy aliens’, and forcibly incarcerated them in one of ten isolated internment camps under the suspicion that they were Japanese spies. The order came after Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor, involving the United States in World War II. Japanese Americans who were forced to live in those camps were stripped of their land and homes, the majority of their belongings, and were imprisoned for over three years. During this time, they were denied civil liberties, despite the fact that most were American citizens. 

“In my class I tell a story about a teenager named Frank Mori,” said San Marcos U.S. History teacher Luke Ohrn. “He grew up on the Mesa in Santa Barbara and graduated from Santa Barbara High School. He was born in the U.S. but his parents were immigrants from Japan. During Internment his whole family was sent away to a camp in Arizona. I think it is important to remember these stories because these historical events involved real people just like us. When I met Frank he was a senior citizen, but when he was sent away from the place he grew up he was only 19 years old, just a few years older than San Marcos students. Frank joined the U.S. army and served as a Japanese language interpreter during the war in the Pacific. He returned to Santa Barbara and married a young woman that he had met in the Arizona camp. His grandson was in my history class at San Marcos a few years ago.”

Following the end of World War II in 1945 and the Supreme Court decision Ex parte Mitsuye Endo, the internment camps were shut down and Japanese Americans were able to leave. However, they had lost their homes, possessions, and were displaced from their communities, sometimes multiple states over from where they had previously lived, so families had to start anew. Many of those formerly incarcerated also faced remaining anti-Japanese sentiments, creating further obstacles in the process of rebuilding what had been taken. 

For those former inhabitants of Santa Barbara’s Japantown, their experience was no different. They returned to Nihomachi to a shrinking community, and by the 1960s the last of its buildings were destroyed. It was on top of the remains of Nihonmachi where the iconic Santa Barbara Presidio was restored and stands today

In the years that followed the closing of the internment camps, very little was done on a national scale to recognize the damage caused by Order 9066. Finally, in 1986, California Governor George Deukmejian declared February 19th to be a Day of Remembrance in California. Two years later, on August 10, 1988, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 or the “redress bill” was passed, granting 82, 219 surviving internees $20,000 in reparations beginning in 1990, decades after World War II. Along with this came a formal apology to all those affected, which stated that Order 9066 had been passed due to “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” 

Although reparations and an apology were issued, the trauma is irreparable for many, and Japanese Americans still face much adversity. For example, in 2021 Asian hate crimes increased by around 339%, and approximately 10,370 hate incidents were reported from March 2020 to September 2021 according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. 

In Santa Barbara, there has been much controversy over Earl Warren Showgrounds, as Earl Warren was instrumental in the approval of Order 9066 during his time as Attorney General of California. Naming the showgrounds after him is a painful reminder to those affected by internment, and there have been calls to rename it. 

“The name ‘Earl Warren’ Showgrounds of Santa Barbara represents a stain on American Civil Liberties & history,” said one petition. 

When looking back on American history, it is important to recognize both our triumphs as a country and the stains on our history. Sometimes the most shameful histories can be the most important ones to remember. By recognizing February 19th as Day of Remembrance, we uplift voices and histories that have been attempted to be erased. There is so much history here in Santa Barbara alone, and it is time we start recognizing that history to work towards a future where an American citizen is an American citizen, a future where mistakes such as Order 9066 do not happen again. 

NOELLE CABRERA

Lifestyle Editor

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