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SFGate: Formerly interned Japanese Americans stand up against Muslim hate

Photo: Santiago Mejia, Special to The Chronicle Karen Korematsu (right), comforts Samina Sundas of the American Muslim Voice Foundation at a news conference.

Photo: Santiago Mejia, Special to The Chronicle
Karen Korematsu (right), comforts Samina Sundas of the American Muslim Voice Foundation at a news conference.

By Kimberly Veklerov

At the age of 93, Hiroshi Kashiwagi fears the country hasn’t changed much since he was interned at Tule Lake during World War II, and he empathizes with Muslim Americans who are enduring hate that Japanese Americans like him once endured.

“No one really saw us off,” said Kashiwagi, referring to when he was shipped out to an internment camp — which he referred to as “a prison” — more than seven decades ago. “They were glad to see us go.”

On Tuesday, Kashiwagi, a poet, joined a consortium of Asian American and Muslim American organizations to denounce a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment sweeping the country, fueled, in part, by proposals by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to ban Muslim immigration and enact surveillance of some mosques.

Karen Korematsu — whose father, Fred, made judicial history after he refused to be interned during World War II and appealed his case up to the Supreme Court — said at the news conference that her father’s suit is as relevant today as it was in 1944.

“Fortunately, now we have other organizations that are able to speak up, whereas in 1942 there really wasn’t anyone,” she said. “But now that’s all changed, and we should all work together so that we can change the hearts and minds and stop this racial profiling and this racial discrimination in this country.”

Last week, Public Policy Polling found that about half of Trump supporters in Iowa believed Japanese internment was a good idea. Another 78 percent approved of his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

The uptick in anti-Muslim sentiment is not limited to Iowa. On Sunday, police arrested 55-year-old William Celli of Richmond on suspicion of plotting to harm Muslims. Authorities said he frequently posted support for Trump and disdain of immigrants on social media.

Former Japanese American internee Flora Ninomiya, 80, called the case “very, very disturbing.” She was interned at Camp Amache in Colorado and now lives in Richmond, where her family has resided for more than 100 years, except during the period of internment.

Sameena Usman, government relations coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, pointed to vandalism of mosques in recent weeks as well as a confrontation against Muslim men who were praying at Lake Chabot. A video of the incident posted Dec. 7 on Facebook purported to show a state Corrections Department employee, Denise Slader, hitting a Muslim man with an umbrella and throwing coffee on him. She has since been charged with a hate crime.

Samina Sundas, founder and executive director of the American Muslim Voice Foundation, said the anti-Muslim activity has made Muslim girls afraid of going to school out of fear of being bullied — a concern Korematsu identified with growing up in the postwar period of lingering anti-Japanese sentiment.

“Some of our public figures began to draw the historical connections themselves in surprising ways,” said Yaman Salahi, a staff attorney for the Asian Law Caucus. He questioned whether Americans “have learned our lesson” about Japanese internment.

Several speakers at the news conference said Japanese Americans were among the first to support Muslim and Arab Americans in the wake of Islamophobic incidents after 9/11.

“If the leadership is not good enough, let us be the leaders like Japanese American communities are leaders today,” Sundas said.

Kimberly Veklerov is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.
E-mail: kveklerov@sfchronicle.com
Twitter: @KVeklerov