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California Legislature Considers Formal Apology For World War II Japanese Internment


Today is a day of remembrance commemorating the period of Japanese internment in the United States. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed executive order 9066. It authorized the military to move more than a hundred thousand Japanese Americans into internment camps. Now California's Legislature is considering a formal apology for the state's role in this detention during World War II.

State Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi is one of the people who introduced the bill.



SHAPIRO: So this legislation would go beyond just apologizing for Japanese internment during World War II. Tell us about what else it says.

MURATSUCHI: Well, House Resolution 77 acknowledges the past mistakes, specifically of the California Legislature. I wanted to make sure that we acknowledged our mistakes and hopefully learned from them.

SHAPIRO: Like, what specifically did the California Legislature do?

MURATSUCHI: Well, you know, we like to talk about how as California goes, so goes the nation. Unfortunately, during the years leading up to World War II, California was at the forefront and led the nation in so many ways in fanning the flames of racism and immigrant scapegoating against Japanese Americans. Specific actions that the Legislature took included passing the Alien Land Law of 1913.

SHAPIRO: Which prevented people from owning property.

MURATSUCHI: That's correct - especially agricultural land. You know, a lot of Japanese Americans were farmers at the time, and they were seen as a threat.

SHAPIRO: In 1988, President Ronald Reagan issued a federal apology in the form of the Civil Liberties Act. And here's what he said at the time.


PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: What is most important in this bill has less to do with property than with honor, for here we admit a wrong. Here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.

SHAPIRO: That was more than 30 years ago, so why do you think it has taken California so long to apologize in a similar way?

MURATSUCHI: You know, I think for the longest time, Japanese Americans felt that President Reagan apologized on behalf of the nation. But I think ever since then, the community has been commemorating the anniversary of the issuance of executive order 9066. But it really - starting in 2016, we started to see a lot of the anti-immigrant rhetoric - you know, the images of children and families being held in cages. And these images struck a deep chord among many Japanese Americans, bringing back memories of, you know, our community being incarcerated behind barbed wires during World War II.

SHAPIRO: So you're saying the reason to pass this now is because of what is happening today, not just because of what happened in the 1940s.

MURATSUCHI: That is correct. There are striking parallels between what happened to Japanese Americans before and during World War II and what we see happening today - you know, not just the fearmongering rhetoric talking about the caravan or the images of children and families being held in cages, but we see what's happening to Muslim Americans. You know, after Pearl Harbor, the fear of the other focused on Japanese Americans as potential spies. Today, ever since 9/11, that same fear of the other has been focused on Muslim Americans as potential terrorists.

SHAPIRO: Many of those who experienced internment firsthand are not alive to see this. Do you regret that it has taken this long?

MURATSUCHI: That is one of my regrets - that I didn't do this sooner. But for those who are still alive, this is - this resolution is for them.

SHAPIRO: That's Al Muratsuchi, California assemblyman representing parts of the South Bay region of Los Angeles.

Thank you for speaking with us today.

MURATSUCHI: Thank you very much.

SHAPIRO: And on Thursday, the California Assembly will vote on whether to accept Al Muratsuchi's bill to offer a formal apology to all Americans of Japanese descent. The bill is expected to pass and has already received broad support, including an endorsement from California Governor Gavin Newsom. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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