President Donald Trump announced his updated travel ban on March 6, reminiscent of a dark chapter of history when 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were imprisoned based on their ethnicity.
Over 40 people filled the Cervantes and Velazquez Conference Room at UC Santa Cruz the following day for a discussion hosted by the Muslim Student Association, Japanese Student Association and Asian and Pacific Islander Student Association (APISA). Representatives from the Asian Law Caucus Joyce Xi and Jehan Hakim facilitated the event, called “From Internment to the Muslim Ban: Mobilizing in Solidarity.”
“An entire group was rounded up because they were seen as suspects, spies and enemies just because of how they looked and where their families may have come from,” Xi said. “This is playing out in a different way again, and it has been playing out throughout our history.”
Trump’s updated ban restricts travel from six majority-Muslim countries in North Africa and Southwest Asia and comes just weeks after the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which led to the mass incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II.
“It’s discrimination under a different name,” Hakim said. “There’s a different face, but nonetheless, hate is hate. We are trying to build bridges between our communities to get together and sit at the same table.”
Xi and Hakim facilitated a conversation about the parallels between the new travel ban and Japanese and Japanese American internment and highlighted factors like xenophobia and racism that made them possible.
“In the Japanese concentration camps, what started was a registry. This is why this is so worrisome, this is why we find these parallels,” Hakim said. “It began with a registry, and thereafter it was normalized.”
Through sharing personal experiences, Xi and Hakim sought to build a sense of solidarity and community. Understanding the Japanese American experience can help make sense of the proposed travel ban and other policies, they said. The U.S. government forced thousands of Japanese and Japanese Americans to relocate across the country to settle in concentration camps across the mid and southwest.
“There are people that have a fetish for Japanese culture, but they don’t care about the Japanese American experience,” said APISA member and event co-organizer Laurel Mayeda. “I’m a fifth generation Japanese American, both sides of my family were interned and you can see the generational trauma — mentally [and] physically.”
Audience member Victor Kimura shared his personal connection to the internment system — he was born in the camps. His parents, born in Petaluma and Watsonville, were transported by train to Poston, Arizona, where Kimura was conceived and born.
Kimura was one of the founding staff members at UCSC and at one point served as the campus’s budget director. He now is a member of the Watsonville chapter of the Japanese American Citizenship League, and helped plan the recent Day of Remembrance ceremony which reflected on Executive Order 9066.
“I can tell you that in 1942, 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were rounded up and put into prison for three years because nobody protested. Not one word,” he said. “It’ll happen again, unless people protest.”
After the rollout of Trump’s first travel ban, demonstrators — including Xi and Hakim gathered at airports across the country to protest the policy, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit would ultimately rule was unconstitutional. But given the new travel ban will not be fully implemented until later this month, much uncertainty remains surrounding what the policy will actually look like.
“We really don’t want what happened before to happen again. And that can only happen if we are united. That kind of work, that kind of solidarity — that movement has to happen together. We have to unify,” Hakim said. “We don’t know what’s to come, but we are ready to fight.”
That understanding and solidarity is essential to build before taking action, said Thooba Samimi, a Rachel Carson College fourth-year student who works at the Islamic Center of Santa Cruz.
“Once you understand the certain person and the community they come from, you have a whole breadth of understanding,” she said. “Because then you know what you are actually fighting for.”