Northeastern Illinois University, in collaboration with numerous local and national supporting organizations, will host the Japanese American Redress Conference on Sept. 22-23, 2021, exactly 40 years after the Commission on the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) hearings were held on Northeastern's Main Campus. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the conference will be held via Zoom.
Alice Murata, a retired Northeastern professor of Counselor of Education and author of the book “Japanese Americans in Chicago,” is the coordinator of the conference, which is titled “With Liberty and Justice for All: Racism, Redress and Reparations.” The CWRIC conference, “With Liberty and Justice for Some: The Case for Compensation to Japanese Americans Imprisoned During World War II,” preceded the CWRIC hearings that took place Sept. 22-23, 1981.
Murata was born in Los Angeles and was forced to live at Poston Internment Camp in Arizona as a very young child. Before World War II, Murata’s father owned the produce part of a Japanese grocery store and her mother was a typesetter for a Japanese newspaper. They used all their savings to begin chicken farming just before the war began.
“When my family was detained, my parents lost the farm, all of their equipment, their entire life savings,” Murata said. “It was a very traumatic thing that I don’t think we ever got over.”
Murata’s mother was pregnant at the time. As camps were being built and no medical facilities were available on the sites, her mother was allowed to stay in California until she gave birth, then was interned with the rest of her family with her infant son at Poston.
“The only reason me, my family and so many others were detained was because of our race,” Murata said. “Racism and hatred continue to exist against minorities and Asian Americans have been especially targeted over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many know about the Asian American women who were killed in Georgia, but many more attacks have happened to many different people. Jewish and Buddhist temples were vandalized recently. With what is happening in Afghanistan, Muslims are again being targeted for hate crimes. The presence of racism is becoming more acknowledged, which made the passage of the Hate Crimes Act possible in May. This conference is about taking actions to stop all racism, discrimination and hatred so we can all live in peace and harmony.”
Murata’s family relocated to Chicago once they were released. Her father and uncle were able to find work in the city supporting the war efforts. They arrived first, settled into jobs and found housing before Murata’s mother and two siblings took a train and were reunited.
“We entered the camp in 1942, came to Chicago in 1945 and have been here ever since,” Murata said. “We weren’t permitted at that time to return to the West Coast and there were job opportunities in Chicago. So, people came here. My mother had three children under five on that train. People wondered how she could manage it, but she’d been doing it for years at that point under worse circumstances.”
Because so many Japanese Americans relocated to the Midwest, Chicago was chosen as one of the cities to host the CWRIC hearings, which investigated the legality of Executive Order 9066, a mandate issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II that led to the detainment of more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of whom were American citizens. Considered a threat to national security because of their ethnic background, the uprooted Japanese and Japanese Americans were placed into internment camps and held for an average of three years. No internee was ever formally charged with or convicted of espionage or sabotage.
NEIU Libraries houses the Japanese American Redress Collection, which is free, accessible online and contains both video testimonials and transcripts from the Redress hearings. The testimony of Kay Uno Kaneko, a survivor of the Amache Relocation Center and Crystal City Alien Enemy Detention Facility, was part of the 2020 PBS five-part documentary series “Asian Americans.”
The Japanese American Redress Conference is free and open to the public. It will bring together artists, activists and scholars from across the country to examine the significance and influence of the CWRIC hearings as well as how racism continues to impact non-white Americans. Murata hopes the conference will give participants tools to actively work toward eliminating detention, improving immigration laws and passing H.R. 40: Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.
“Because of the testimonies Japanese Americans gave during the Redress hearings, we were able to receive an apology and reparations for being placed in concentration camps during World War II,” Murata said. “The goal of this conference is to remember that victory and focus on remedying prevailing injustices. We want participants to understand the actions they can take to create a kinder, better, more just world.”
Top photo: "Members of the Mochida family awaiting evacuation bus. Identification tags were used to aid in keeping a family unit intact during all phases of evacuation. Mochida operated a nursery and five greenhouses on a two-acre site in Eden Township." In 1942 Executive Order 9066 ordered the removal of 110,000 civilians of Japanese descent, including 71,000 American citizens, from the western U.S., placing them in internment camps. Photo by Dorothea Lange, Hayward, Calif., May 8, 1942. Photo and caption courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the War Relocation Authority.