Crowd remembers Japanese incarceration at immigrant detention center in Tacoma | KNKX

Crowd remembers Japanese incarceration at immigrant detention center in Tacoma

Feb 24, 2020

Hundreds of people gathered Sunday outside the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma. The crowd was filled with signs bearing slogans that have become typical during anti-detention protests.

"Libertad, no murallas," read one. "Freedom, not fences."

Other sights spoke to the particular moment of this wet and windy February day. Strings of paper cranes covered in plastic lined the chainlink fence surrounding the immigrant detention center, along signs that read, "Never again is now."

It was 78 years ago this month that President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. That order authorized the U.S. Army to incarcerate people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast during World War II. 

As people across the country remember this painful history, some Japanese-Americans are tying it to present issues around immigrant detention.

"We need to be the friends we did not have in 1942," said Stan Shikuma, with the group Tsuru for Solidarity.

Tsuru means crane in Japanese. Origami cranes, like those that lined the fence of the detention center on Sunday, are symbols of peace and healing. Tsuru for Solidarity formed last year to ally with other activists seeking an end to immigrant detention nationwide.

Strings of paper cranes covered in plastic lined the stage and the chain fence outside the immigrant detention center in Tacoma during an event remembering Japanese incarceration during World War II.
Credit Simone Alicea / KNKX

The local chapter of the group, along with the Seattle chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and local history nonprofit Densho, partnered with anti-detention group La Resistencia to create a Day of Remembrance event that highlights modern immigration issues.

"We're trying to mobilize folks who haven't been mobilized before," Shikuma said.

Before he was born, Shikuma's parents and older brother were incarcerated in camps during the war.

"We know what it's like to be targeted. We know what it's like to have families separated. We know what it's like to suffer mass incarceration," Shikuma said.

Some 200 or so people stood for two hours as the weather shifted from heavy rain to roaring wind to the occasional sun break. There was little chatter as speaker after speaker took the stage. The crowd simply listened, chanting when prompted. The Spanish chants were underscored by Japanese taiko drums.

"I think it's a new way of partnership, a new example of how we can work together," said Maru Mora-Villalpando, a longtime activist organizing against immigrant detention.

Activist Maru Mora-Villalpando speaks during an event remembering Japanese incarceration during World War II.
Credit Simone Alicea / KNKX

Karen Yokota-Love is a pastor at a Seattle church who brought a group from her congregation to the rally. She says other events remembering the wartime incarceration focus on the past, and she appreciates having the opportunity to connect history to the present.

"And to then realize that it's not just one group," Yokota-Love said. "There's always a group that's being targeted."

There are some differences between then and now. Executive Order 9066 targeted U.S. citizens, as well as immigrants of Japanese descent. Places like the Northwest ICE Processing Center holds immigrants awaiting deportation.

But event-goers and organizers say much of the current rhetoric around immigration, especially about migrants from Latin American countries, is similar to the way Japanese people were targeted during the war.

Survivors of the wartime camps and their descendants hold signs bearing the names of camps that held those of Japanese ancestry during World War II.
Credit Simone Alicea / KNKX

During the remembrance ceremony, survivors of the camps and their descendants gathered at the front of the stage, each holding a sign with the name of a camp that held Japanese-Americans during the war.

The last person to join them was Mora-Villalpando, holding a sign that said "Northwest Detention Center." The display was followed by a moment of silence.

This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Karen Yokota-Love's name.