Being Raised in an Internment Camp Instilled in Me a Commitment to Standing Up for Those Who Have No Voice

Today is the 70th anniversary of the closing of Amache Internment Camp where my family and I were interned.

When I was less than a year old, my family and I were deemed a national security threat and imprisoned with over 120,000 other people of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of whom were natural-born citizens. Even after we were freed from Amache, I remember my classmates bullied me and called me derogatory names because of my heritage — and they were encouraged to do so by their parents. My father helped me understand that this was a failure of leadership of the U.S. Government, and instilled in me a commitment to standing up for those who have no voice, and promote constitutional protections for all people. I am reminded that we must continue to fight for fairness, equality and justice for all people. This anniversary reminds me of the need to preserve this history to teach the new generation to avoid repeating the same mistakes. This has long been something I have championed, going back to my California State Assembly days when I introduced the Civil Liberties Public Education Act to ensure that our young people are educated about that part of our history.

Today is a bittersweet reminder of a misstep in our history during a time of racial hysteria; a reminder of the importance of learning from our experiences and the conditions that led us to that point in our nation’s history. We must be observant and diligent to prevent repeating such mistakes and be true leaders in the efforts to end prejudice or bias worldwide.

As George Santayana said, ‘Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’

Over 7,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned at the Granada Relocation Center, known as the Amache Camp, in southeast Colorado, from 1942 to 1945. A site in downtown Granada now houses an Amache Museum. Amache was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 18, 1994 and designated a National Historic Landmark on February 10, 2006.
Of the 7,000 prisoners at Amache, 953 people served in the segregated Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 100th Infantry Battalion, or the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), during WWII, including my father. In 2010, Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian award, to the 100th Infantry Battalion.

My lifetime of public service was founded on my time at Amache. I traveled to El Salvador with the U.S. Peace Corps; worked over 30 years as an educator; served on the San Jose Planning Commission, San Jose Unified School Board, Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, and California State Assembly before coming to Congress. I have long advocated in the worldwide fight to end violence against women and children, championed equality for all people, and stood up to preserve Social Security and Medicare. I also founded and chair the Congressional Caucus to End Bullying.