Public Law 109-441 · Dec 15, 03:57 PM

In September (yes, breaking news, I know), I attended a ‘listening session” presented by the US Park Service about Public Law 109-441: Preservation of Japanese American Confinement Sites. The session was held at the Japanese-American Service Committee (JASC) building, which also happens to be where my Quaker meeting has its weekly Meetings for Worship.

I arrived a half hour late, having misremembered the start time, and found 50-60 people already present and listening to the end of the US Park Service’s presentation. Luckily, I hadn’t missed the most important part, as this session was only partly informational. The main focus was getting the community’s input about selection criteria for the grant proposals: for what, to whom, etc. We divided into two groups of participants with a facilitator and a note-taker each, and away we went!

As is to be expected with any large group, the input was all over the map. It included a few pet projects and complaints (mostly that the law was too little, too late, and didn’t include other groups interned during WWII, such as German- and Italian-Americans). Still, a lot of good ideas were generated. I particularly appreciated the focus on sustainability, preservation, and accessibility.

For me, the event was fascinating on several fronts:

  • as a grant administrator, to observe the process of developing a grant program from the outside
  • as a non-Japanese-American, to witness the passion felt about this issue
  • as a person interested by maps, to see how many sites across the West, Rockies and even Midwest were associated with WWII internees; and
  • as one who has been deeply affected by war internment memorials abroad (a WWI-related sites in Canada, Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany).

I truly hope that the program is successful. I think it’s crucial, particularly while the US is in the throes of the Iraq war and the “war” against illegal immigration, to be reminded of our ability to demonize the “Other”—and that the “Other” could be us.