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Japanese and Muslims share pain of prejudice

Mas Hashimoto on March 21, 2002 holds a replica of the tag he wore as a child inside a U.S. internment camp during World War II. For his name, he was given the number12524D, and his home was found at block 220, building 12, room A. Hashimoto lived in the camps for three and a half years.

KAREN T. BORCHERS/SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS/TNS

By PAT GEE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser (Tribune News Service) | Published: October 14, 2017

Amy H. Mizuno rapped on the table she leaned on for support, replicating the pounding she heard before FBI agents barged through the back door of her home in the middle of the night on Dec. 7, 1941 – only hours after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and ushered the U.S. into World War II.

They had cut the telephone lines before entering their home in Santa Maria, Calif., to look for her father, but he was away with their mother in Los Angeles. Mizuno, 19 at the time, and her brother were taken to a police station to wait until their parents were located at 4:30 a.m.

Mizuno, a retired teacher, described the intrusion in a clear, vigorous voice that belied her 95 years of age and the walker she depends on during a recent forum on the discrimination faced by Japanese over 75 years ago, and how it relates to today's racial profiling of Muslims. The monthly Pacific Peace Forum was held Oct. 6 at the Cathedral of St. Andrew.

Members of the Muslim Association of Hawaii, the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii and The Interfaith Alliance of Hawaii gathered to talk story and break bread at a potluck. Hakim Ouansafi, president of the Muslim association, said the internment of Japanese, many of them American citizens, strikes close to home because what happened in the 1940s makes it "easier for what is happening to us as Muslims." In attendance was imam Ismail Elshikh, a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit by the state of Hawaii protesting the travel ban against several Muslim majority countries.

"We rely on folks like you. ... Please keep these conversations going," Ouansafi said, because when people are silent, "horrible things happen."

Mizuno's father, an active leader in the Japanese community in California, "was not allowed to come home," she said. "They took him, and we didn't see him for three months. We didn't know where he was." He was transferred to an internment camp in Montana for two years.

Her daughter Shanti Mizuno said, "A mistake made 75 years ago could happen again to another ethnic group of human beings. Put yourself in their shoes."

Nighat Quadri said she came to the forum primarily to hear what the older Japanese women went through. "I really empathize with them. I wanted to learn firsthand; it was just so cruel. You're a citizen one day, and the next day you're in a camp," she said.

Quadri said she wears a traditional Muslim hijab for modesty and to avoid attention, but it does just the opposite. "All of a sudden everybody stops talking and smiling and looks at you. They're thinking, 'What is she doing here?'"

She said she travels to the neighbor islands and the mainland as part of her job about nine times a year. At the airport, without fail she is "randomly selected" for extra screening by security, taken to a room and patted down head to toe because her hijab makes her suspect, Quadri said.

Naziha Ali, 16, who was with her parents, said personally hearing about the experiences of Japanese had far more impact than reading about it in history books. "It's more touching to your heart," she said. "Muslims are now being thought of as a threat when we're just normal people."

In general, "people watch and stare at you because we're Muslim and I'm wearing a headscarf," Ali said. "They make you feel bad. It's not something physical they show you, but you know mentally."

Jane Kurahara said her late husband, Conrad, was interned during his youth in California but later fought with the heroic 100th Infantry Battalion, primarily made up of Japanese-Americans. Kurahara said Muslims are facing the same discrimination that Japanese-Americans did in World War II. "Our country keeps making the same mistakes. I really feel for them (Muslims) because I know how it was for us." Her own family was not affected by internment when she was a girl, but Japanese-Americans were regarded with suspicion and had their civil rights suspended when Hawaii was put under martial law.

Kurahara was one of four docents representing the Japanese Cultural Center, where there is an exhibit of the Honouliuli detention camp, among 17 others in Hawaii. Another docent, Les Goto, recounted how his father told him that "he knew what was going to happen immediately after (the Japanese attacked)." That night, his father and other Japanese-American families dug holes in their yards and gathered all the family heirlooms to burn and bury. They anticipated that the military and FBI would come searching for evidence of their commitment to Japan, and that's what happened. "There was a strong feeling in Hawaii and the mainland that the Japanese community was not loyal to America."

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A building that was once a housing barrack for Japanese Americans interned at the Manzanar War Relocation Camp during World War II sits on what is now the Manzanar Historic Site, located in the Owens Valley at the base of the Eastern Sierras, California.
ANDY ALFARO/SACRAMENTO BEE/TNS

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