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Hata pays tribute to Civil Rights movement

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- Donald Hata's visit to the Albany Civil Rights Institute on Thursday night was more of a pilgrimage than a lecture.

Hata, 71, an emeritus professor of history at California State University Dominguez Hills, was just three years old when he and his family were rounded up by the U.S. War Relocation Authority and sent to a internment camp at Gila River, Ariz., during World War II.

The Hatas were among the approximately 110,000 Japanese Americans and those of Japanese ancestry who lived along the Pacific coast of the United States who were rounded up in the wake of Imperial Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

Hata has been on a crusade for justice for the Nikkei, or Japanese-Americans, who he said were victims of a U.S. government policy of "guilt by race."

"I think it's time for Japanese-Americans to say 'thank you' to African-Americans because of the example they set for us during the civil rights movement," Hata said. "We were victims of psychological castration, reduced to impotence.

"A great deal has changed since the civil rights movement. We owe a lot to the movement."

Hata said the history of the Japanese-American internment, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens by birth, has been written and sanitized by the people who caused the harm.

"The bureaucrats knew history would have the final say," Hata said. "They want to control the euphemisms. Insiders use verbs like 'evacuation' and 'internment' when the true terms should be "mass removal,' 'imprisonment' and 'concentration camps.'

"Some Jewish groups said 'you guys are trivializing the Holocaust by using the term 'concentration camps,' " Hata said. "We need to remember that the camps in Germany started out as concentration camps and later became death camps. The whole purpose was to incarcerate a civilian population, but they became something much different later on in the war.

"The camps in which we were imprisoned were surrounded by concertina wire, guards towers with .50 caliber machine guns and search lights sweeping the grounds at night. What would you call them?"

Hata went on to say the time spent at the WRA's 10 camps left permanent psychological scars on a generation of the Nikkei.

"Many, many Nisei (second generation Nikkei and U.S. citizens by birthright) left the camps wanting to forget all about it and begin the process of getting their lives back together," said Hata. "Many went back to their lives and bought tiny homes with no adjoining walls because adjoining walls reminded them of the camps."

Then in the early 1950s as the 'Red Scare' of Sen. Joseph McCarthy swept across the nation, Hata said the Nisei became more closed mouthed about their experiences in the camps.

"The Red Scare further traumatized the people," the professor said. "They remembered people turning in one another at the camps.

They didn't even talk to their own children about the experience."

That is why Hata, author of "Japanese Americans and World War II: Mass Removal, Imprisonment, and Redress," and like-minded Japanese-Americans are grateful for the American Civil Rights Movement.

"They showed us what could be done with determined effort," Hata said. "The Movement gave us inspiration for our own redress of crimes committed against us. For that we will always be grateful."