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In Response to Executive Order 9066

In Response to Executive Order 9066

Last month, I posted Remembering Executive Order 9066, commemorating the 75th anniversary of FDR signing this historic, unfortunate executive order. Given how often the term “executive order” is currently in the news, I wanted to do more than simply reflect on an injustice from the past. Today I am posting a new lesson/hyperdoc to the Time of Remembrance (TOR) website: In Response to Executive Order 9066.

The goal of this lesson is to introduce students (Grades 4-12) to the possible impacts of any executive order that targets a specific group of people. During the months following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, over 110,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of them citizens of the United States, were evacuated from the West Coast and “relocated” to detention camps established by the U.S. Government. As captured in Ansel Adam’s iconic photos, many internees would spend the next three years behind barbed wire. Their stories of discrimination and forced removal provide a window into a time when our nation failed to uphold the rights guaranteed to all citizens by the U.S. Constitution — regardless of nationality, race, religion, or ethnicity.

As students delve into the lesson by watching the I’m American Too – Stories from Behind the Fences documentary and exploring the primary source interviews in the TOR WWII Archives, they will gain an understanding of how virtually overnight West Coast farming communities were forever changed, with very few internees returning to their former homes. The students are then tasked with capturing a “story from behind the fences” by drafting a letter in the voice of the internee to someone, real or imaginary, outside of the camp. Using Dwight Okita’s “In Response to Executive Order 9066” poem as a model, their final task is to transform their letters into letter poems.

The lesson is also a call to action. Students are warmly invited to take their letter poems beyond the walls of the classroom by submitting them to the TOR Student Gallery for publication to a national audience. If you work with students, I am pretty sure you will agree that when we support students in speaking out on issues of social justice, we are often providing a lens to view the impact of bystanders and the difference a single upstander can make.

During the month of March, many West Coast school districts and museums commemorate Japanese-American internment with activities and exhibits. And, of course, probably all school districts celebrate April as National Poetry Month. Whatever the occasion or lesson might be, if you are a teacher, I hope you will encourage your students to create letter poems in response to Executive Order 9066 and to publish them to an authentic audience, such as the Time of Remembrance Student Gallery.

 

Remembering Executive Order 9066

Remembering Executive Order 9066

Seventy-five years ago today, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal of over 120,000 people of Japanese descent, many of them citizens, from the West Coast. Virtually overnight, an entire group of people lost their jobs, their homes, and their constitutional rights.

Thanks to a beautiful article in today’s SacBee from California farmer, journalist, and author David Mas Masumoto, I am reminded of the importance of standing up and speaking out on behalf of targeted groups. I teach in a school district that was once home to a hard-working community of Japanese-American farmers, who transformed the region into beautiful, productive strawberry fields. Following the signing of Executive Order 9066, the history of the Elk Grove-Florin region was abruptly and forever changed.

In honor of the many contributions of the Japanese-American community and in recognition of the need to stop history from repeating itself, I am proud to co-direct my district’s Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project (TOR). David Mas Masumoto’s words complement the purpose of the TOR project:

“We remember through stories. They frame events, add context to the past beyond a history of facts. Stories add rich and personal details that generate an emotional connection to what was and what can be.”

America is a nation of immigrants. In response to the current political climate and an executive order that is similar to 9066, the TOR project invites youth from across the nation to interview an immigrant or refugee and then share their stories on our TOR Student Gallery. We’ve created On Coming to America, both the lesson and teacher’s guide/toolkit, as an opportunity to showcase the sacrifices and contributions of immigrants and refugees. Again, David Mas Masumoto’s words sum up our commitment to documenting stories from our communities:

“To recognize today’s stories of hate against a class of people, to demand these stories be heard is a first step to building a more democratic and just nation. To be American is to remember all our stories.”

Note: Opening image is from Reiko Nagumo’s TOR interview.

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