Shared injustice: The Japanese-American and Native American experience

On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued a decree that would tear apart the lives of countless Japanese Americans.

Executive Order 9066 authorized the forced relocation of over 100,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast. These citizens were uprooted from their homes, banned from returning and sent to live in internment camps.

Speaking about the ensuing personal and cultural devastation, Japanese American Citizens League board member Susan Leedham said, “Community leaders were the first ones that were taken away—all the Buddhist ministers, the lay leaders in the Buddhist church, businessmen. Then, when people were living in the incarceration centers, there was a complete breakdown of the family, because people weren’t living in their homes; they were livingin barracks.”

Leedham went on to say that when the prisoners were finally released, they were compelled to relinquish their traditional affiliation with the Japanese Buddhist church.

“We lost our culture.”

For two years, Leedham served as co-president of the JACL, which is the oldest and largest Asian civil rights organization in the U.S. Since its founding in 1929, the JACL has evolved to focus on civil rights for all.

This month, the Portland chapter of the organization will commemorate the tragic events of 1942 by joining with Portland’s Native American community to present Shared Injustice: The Japanese American and Native American Experience. A panel of JACL and Native American Youth and Family Center members will discuss their shared history of injustice and discrimination.

“We will talk about our shared experiences with our government letting us down and taking away our rights as citizens of this country,” Leedham said.

In addition to a discussion panel, the event will feature an exciting musical presentation by the award-winning Portland Taiko drumming ensemble and Native American drummers.

Drumming is integral to the religious traditions of both communities.

“It appeals to people on a primal level; it shows a commonality of the human spirit,” Leedham said.

This free event is open to the public and will take place on Sunday at 2 p.m. in Hoffman Hall.