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California State Library unveils Japanese American Memorial Monument

That the United States government, as part of Executive Order 9066 (which President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed February 19, 1942), forced over 120,000 United States citizens “of Japanese ancestry” to barren “relocation” camps like California’s infamous Manzanar, marks a grotesque juncture in 20th century history.

The California Historical Landmark marker at Manzanar reads:

May the injustices and humiliation suffered here as a result of hysteria, racism and economic exploitation never emerge again.

The landmark’s words, a directive to the American public, sit isolated on the California desert as thousands of Japanese American men, women and children did just over 50 years ago.

The California State Library, though, has brought the spirit of “never again” closer to home.

On August 26, 2003 the California State Library sponsored a ceremony whose purpose was to dedicate, and unveil, the Japanese American Civil Liberties Monument - a permanent honor to those Americans who endured American racism during World War II.

The Japanese American monument stands in Sacramento’s lost Japantown, an area that had over 300 thriving businesses prior to California’s “evacuation” of Japanese Americans after the Pearl Harbor bombing. It is on the grounds of Nisei War Memorial Hall, the only remaining Japanese American building from the pre-World War II period. The monument, through its grand artistic and architectural design, and its apt locale, decries government-sanctioned racism while cementing Japanese Americans’ great courage in the public mind.

State Librarian of California, Dr. Kevin Starr, the keynote speaker at the memorial dedication, says this about California’s Japanese American Civil Liberties Monument:

In its severity, simplicity, and fullness of information, the internment monument expresses a simple yet complex message: never again! And let us each remember the society that was so tragically disrupted. For decades to come, this monument will remind all Californians of the commitment of Japanese-American to a better nation, despite the broken trust of 1942-1945.

Photo of the Japanese American Memorial Monument
Provided by: Osaki Design

Monument design

Artists at Osaki Design of Berkeley created the monument, a wall that stands eight feet tall and 13 feet wide. Their goal was to “construct a physical legacy that would accurately describe the history, challenges, hopes and dreams of the Japanese American community in California.”

The front wall is of strips of wooden planks, resembling a typical barrack’s crude walls at the concentration camps. According to Osaki’s designers, the rear wall’s “cold, rough texture and jail-like pattern [symbolizes] the period of mass imprisonment of Japanese Americans caused by war hysteria… and prejudice.”

The United States flag, representing achievements in the areas of redress, recognition of equal rights, and enhanced policies promoting civil rights, is imprinted into the monument’s rear wall.

The monument’s windows symbolize freedom, the antithesis of what trapped

Japanese Americans felt in darkened, sealed trains bound for the desert. The windows embody hope even under the most oppressive conditions.

California State Library’s Civil Liberties Public Education Program

The California State Library, through its Civil Liberties Public Education Program (for which Assembly-member Mike Honda created legislation in 1998) has, for more than four years, provided to individuals and organizations grants that fund and support projects about the Japanese American experience during World War II. The driving force behind educating Californians about the “relocation” of Japanese Americans during World War II, the State Library’s Civil Liberties Public Education Program has made real the state of California’s mandate to ensure, through public awareness and curriculum change, that the mass incarceration of human beings stay forever in the past.

For more information, please contact the Civil Liberties Public Education Program director, Diane Matsuda, at (916) 653-9404.

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