San Francisco Japanese community rallies behind U.S. Muslims

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) -- The city's Japanese community is rallying behind Muslim Americans and other immigrants they believe are being targeted by President Donald Trump and his administration.

Sunday, Feb. 19 marks the 75-year anniversary of the day President Roosevelt signed an executive order that forced 120,000 Japanese-Americans into remote and desolate internment camps during World War II.

A public ceremony to honor survivors of those internment camps will be held in Japantown Sunday that will include a candlelight procession and a reception at the Japanese Community and Cultural Center.

With news of Trump's travel ban targeting residents of seven Muslim-majority generating headlines, survivors of those Japanese internment camps say they want to make sure that history doesn't repeat itself.

"Two-thirds of us were American citizens but that made no difference, as long as we looked like the enemy, we were treated as if we committed an act of treason," said Hiroshi Kashiwagi, who was incarcerated at the Tule Lake Camp in California along the Oregon border.

He remembers the high hysteria that gripped the country in the hours and days after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, killing 2,000 American soldiers and sailors.


Sadako Kashiwagi was incarcerated at the Tule Lake Internment Camp, the largest of 10 such camps in the U.S., when she was 9 years old.

The camp was tucked away in Northern California, right on the Oregon border. She recalls soldiers burning items that had Japanese writing on them and the young children were told to only speak English.

"It really has an impact on children," Kashiwagi said. "It really does, because you're made to feel ashamed of who you are. I remember that and I was only a child."

Kashiwagi's family was one of thousands rounded up on city streets. A gallery of photos at the National Japanese American Historical Society in Japantown documents the history.

One photograph shows little children sitting next to large cardboard boxes on the steps of a Victorian home, waiting to be bused away. Others show residents cleaning and holding evacuation signs at temporary Assembly Centers at Fort Funston and in Tanforan in South San Francisco.

It's those painful memories of the treatment they received that motivates the Kashiwagis to speak out for immigrants today.

"Once again we find ourselves confronted with the climate of war hysteria racism intensified and the failure of political leadership," said Grace Shimizu, with the Campaign for Justice.

"We've definitely received complaints at the CARE office of women who've been yelled at, who've had their head scarves pulled off," said Zahra Billoo, who heads the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Billoo and other activists say they will actively oppose Trump's travel ban on Muslims, his wall along the Mexico border and any plan for extreme vetting.

"A Muslim ban is not the same as sending Muslims to internment camps but the concern is that if we don't stop him now if we let him get away with this if we give him an inch he will keep going," Billoo said.

Kashiwagi advises immigrants to stand strong in the face of Trump's attacks.

"Know your history be strong and don't be ashamed!" she said.

By KTVU reporter Tara Moriarty.