Nikkei Student Union and Muslim Student Association partnered Tuesday to hold a “Day of Remembrance” in honor of Japanese Americans who were detained in internment camps during World War II and in solidarity with Muslim Americans struggling against Islamophobia.
The central goal behind this alliance, said Hana Ghanim, MSA’s internal vice president, is to show support and unity across cultural groups in the face of injustice. NSU’s community chair Kaycee Ching added that it is important to draw parallels between America’s past and present to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself.
About 50 people attended the event, where keynote speakers Robert Wada, a Japanese American who was formerly detained, Hatem Bazian, a campus professor of Asian American studies, and Zahra Billoo, a civil rights attorney, each gave their takes on discrimination against minorities. The event also included a Quran recitation and spoken word performance and closed with a candlelight vigil to honor those who were detained in internment camps.
“ ‘Never forget’ is a big slogan,” Ching said. “We learn from our mistakes in the past and don’t let it happen to other groups in the future.”
Troy Worden, who manages communications for Berkeley College Republicans, however, said equating Japanese internment to Islamophobia would be a “disservice to both sides” and added that he thinks the two issues should be separated.
Wada, who lived in an internment camp between the ages of 12 and 15, spoke at the event of the fear he felt facing the unknown as his family was forcibly relocated. Wada recalled that his father destroyed anything in their house that tied them to Japan. When the order was released, he said his family was completely unaware of where they were going and if they would be able to return.
When Wada’s family was released, they were warned by camp officials not to speak Japanese in public because of an increase in anti-Japanese sentiment in the U.S.
Wada said he found it ironic that interned Japanese Americans were later drafted and recruited into WWII as a way of proving their loyalty. He said his brothers joined the Japanese 442nd Infantry Regiment to fight in Europe.
“During World War II, we were considered a people without a country,” Wada said at the event. “Japan didn’t want us because we were American, and America didn’t want us because we were of Japanese ancestry.”
Berkeley in particular has historical ties to Japanese Americans and the events surrounding their internment. In 1942, the First Congregational Church of Berkeley offered to facilitate the processing of Japanese-Americans after it heard that the internees were ordered to meet at a parking lot.
Milton Fujii, a member of First Church, said that Japanese Americans met at the church’s Pilgrim Hall to register and sort out what would be done with their property before they were sent to the camps. Additionally, Fujii said other members of the church formed a committee in an attempt to lobby against the executive order allowing for the forcible relocation of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, though they ultimately failed in their efforts.
MSA speakers Bazian and Billoo both shared critiques of the Trump administration at the event, focusing on the recent executive order that restricts immigration to the U.S. for people from seven Muslim-majority countries. Bazian said that President Donald Trump’s policies have made it clear that “America is not open for Muslims.”
“This is bigger than the Muslim community and bigger than one executive order,” Billoo said at the event. “When one community is targeted, any community can be targeted.”