Speaker talks on Japanese internment

By Thuba Nguyen
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Karen Leong, co-coordinator of the Japanese Americans in Arizona Oral History Project, will speak at the UA tonight to draw attention to the injustices that minority groups, including Japanese-Americans and American Indians, experienced during WWII.

The discussion will spotlight the experience of Japanese-American internment as part of a larger traveling Holocaust exhibit on display at the Tucson Jewish Community Center.

Leong, who is also an assistant professor of women's studies at Arizona State University, said Japanese-Americans were forced into camps because of political pressure and fear.

"The Japanese-Americans were forced to move from their homes, to sell their belongings very quickly and to relocate to these camps in the United States," she said."

Leong said many Japanese- Americans who were relocated to internment camps in Arizona came from California.

During that time, there was a lack of trust among Americans that Japanese-Americans were more loyal to Japan because of their ancestry, Leong said.

The camps, in Gila River and Poston, used to be American Indian land, but Leong said that changed because of government policies toward them.

"What people overlook is the fact that in Arizona these two camps were also on land that was a result of the relocation of American Indians," she said.

The Japanese and other groups persecuted during the Holocaust also have a shared resistance that is evident in the exhibits, she said. Groups tried to fight back against injustice they suffered because they were of a particular race, ethnic or sexual orientation, Leong said.

"They resist by maintaining and expressing their humanity in writing (and) art," she said.

Karen Falkenstrom, marketing and public relations director at Tucson Pima Arts Council, said Leong's lecture will bring into the public eye widespread persecution of people of different groups.

"People are being silent," she said. "That's how the worst things in our history have happened," she said.

Even though she said America professes to be the land of equality, freedom and diversity, Falkenstrom said there was widespread persecution of the Japanese- Americans during WWII. Falkenstrom, who coordinated this event, said she wanted people to know about issues of oppression that many groups endured during that time.

"If you expose people to a well-documented, educational effort about what humans have done to other humans in the past, we might somehow speak out and avoid things like this happening again," Falkenstrom said. "I think it's important that we keep looking at these things, otherwise we do them over and over again."

Leong said Japanese-Americans weren't the only ones who endured injustice.

"I think it's particularly important, given the situation today, that we remind ourselves about how fear can blind us to injustices that are occurring around us. How it's important that we remain aware and that we speak out against injustices, whether it's related to a war, related to a sexual identity, related to racial identity," Leong said.

The lecture is held in conjunction with the traveling holocaust exhibited entitled, "Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945," on display at the Tucson Jewish Community Center through May 16, and the Japanese internment camp events, said Linda Dols, library specialist.

Today at 2 p.m., photography by Ansel Adams, Hansel Mieth and Otto Hagel at various internment camps will be on display. Leong speaks tonight at 7 in Room A313 of the Main Library.