Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Habibti America

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Current mood: melancholy

So my oldest son reminded me of a post I meant to do earlier this week. Tonight, he put a sticker with the American flag on a piece of paper and wrote underneath it: I love USA. Do you love USA. And wanted me to write yes or no. And I wrote: Yes. I love being an American. And he asked his Daddy the same when he came home for dinner tonight. And Mark said: Yes. I love the USA. I love being an American. My kids are both very patriotic (:

But that incident reminded me that this post has been waiting since this weekend to be written. See, it began when I watched the movie "The Visitor". I originally watched it for the djembe drumming. (Not going to lie.) But that's not really what it's about. It's about illegal immigrants in America, their treatment 'by the system'. And a brief look at this particular group of people's lives. No, I don't think it's a documentary.... But that doesn't mean that what it has to say is any less true. One of the things I picked up from this movie is that "Habibti" means "my beloved" in Arabic. Another thing I picked up will make more sense later in this post.

I was reminded of the meaning of Habibti just a few days later when we watched "You Don't Mess With The Zohan." On an aside, -very- funny movie. But if you take the humor out of it, it also deals with immigrants of Middle Eastern descent to America. And how they can and do get along here.

I watched Colin Powell's interview when he chose to endore Obama. I've always liked Powell. Ever since my mother worked with him at the Pentagon and he came to her going away party. The part of his speech that stuck with me, and pertains to this blog, was when he was talking about the smear campaign McCain and Palin, and other members of the Republican party have been tossing around the idea that Obama is of Middle Eastern descent, and a Muslim. His father was from Kenya. In Africa. And he's Christian. And Powell pointed out that there were two right answers. The one that corrects the wrong statements. And the even more correct answer that says "And what if he was?"

It immediately reminded me of the days following 9/11. When I got some angry and scared looks from strangers, at work, while shopping, at school. And was even rudely asked by more than one stranger if I was Middle Eastern. I told them I wasn't-- I'm Hawaiian. But I followed it up with the same question-- but what if I was? It wouldn't make me less American. It wouldn't make what happened on 9/11 less horrifying to me. And it wouldn't change the fact that I didn't have a thing to do with what happened.

It also reminded me that McCain voted against a cloture to reinstate Habeas Corpus for Detainees of the United States. If you didn't read the blog about that one, it's a summons with the force of a court order addressed to the custodian (such as a prison official) demanding that a prisoner be brought before the court, together with proof of authority, allowing the court to determine whether that custodian has lawful authority to hold that person, or, if not, the person should be released from custody..... As a prisoner of war, I would have expected differently of him.

But that reminded me of the last time America targeted a specific racial group because of war. WWII, February 19, 1942, Executive Order 9066 provided the initial authority for the roundup and internment of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans, including those who were American citizens. Congress later passed legislation to enforce the order. The Japanese Americans affected by the mandate, primarily those living on the West Coast, were divided and sent to ten detention centers located in California, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas.

The War Relocation Authority served as the administration responsible for overseeing the detention centers. Life in the camps was humane for the occupants, but even efforts meant to help or entertain the detainees often proved to be culturally insensitive. In 1943 the federal government forced the internees to take a loyalty oath, forswearing "any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor," and it asked if they were willing to serve in the United States military. Some Japanese-American men refused to serve and over 200 were sentenced to prison for their resistance.

A series of court cases also challenged the wartime treatment of Japanse Americans. The first, Hirabayashi v. United States (1943) regarded in general the restrictions placed on all Japanese Americans on the West Coast. After violating a curfew imposed on Japanese Americans, Gordon Hirabayashi objected that the law infringed on his civil rights. He also challenged the federal order authorizing the detainment of Japanese Americans in camps. In its decision, the Supreme Court avoided the issue of internment and instead ruled on the curfew, arguing that wartime conditions sometimes made it necessary to "place citizens of one ancestry in a different category from others." The decision not only maintained the curfew but also sanctioned continued limitation of Japanese Americans' movement, regardless of their citizenship status.

Other court cases directly contested the internment of Japanese Americans. A key case resulted from the resistance of a Japanese-American man who attempted to avoid detainment. Fred Korematsu ignored the orders for evacuation and remained in Oakland, California. After being arrested by the FBI, Korematsu argued in court

Japanese citizens waiting in line at the Japanese internment camp in Manzanar, California, March 24, 1942. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS
that due process of law had been violated. Despite the expectations of many legal professionals, the Supreme Court did not strike down the legislation authorizing detainment. Instead, in Korematsu v. United States (1944) the Supreme Court upheld the detention of Japanese Americans.

Finally, the Supreme Court acknowledged that not all Japanese Americans posed a threat to national security. In April 1942 Mitsue Endo filed a petition of habeas corpus, protesting her detainment at the Topaz Camp in Utah. After two years, in Endo v. United States (1944), the Supreme Court ruled that the War Relocation Authority should make an effort to separate "disloyal" internees from "loyal" ones and release the latter from the detention centers. Following the decision, the government announced that all the camps would be closed and the detainees released. The last of the camps closed in 1946.

The detainment episode can be put into a larger context of discrimination toward Asians. Decades earlier, the federal government enacted such measures as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 in order to curb Asian immigration. Although provoked partially by security fears, the wartime internment was ultimately another expression of the United States' racism toward Asians. In 1982 a presidential commission declared that racism, a deficiency of leadership, and war hysteria provided the impetus for the detention. A few years later, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, awarding $20,000 each, as well as an official apology, to more than 80,000 individuals who had been detained.

(from http://www.bookrags.com/research/civil-liberties-world-war-ii-aaw-03/)

You would think, with as many quotes are being brought out from the past, as our leaders appear to look back, that they wouldn't miss the striking similiarities between then and now. Watch The Visitor.

Tell me that's not a detainment camp. Tell me this isn't a case of targeting a racial group.

Now tell me it isn't wrong....

There are so many of us, both American and immigrant, who can answer my son's innocent question: I love USA. Do you love USA?



Habibti America.

My beloved America.

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