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80 years after Executive Order 9066 forced 120,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps

Aiko Sumoge Japanese internment tule lake california
FILE - In this May, 1943 file photo, Aiko Sumoge, an assistant teacher, leads a Kindergarten class to sing an English folk song at the internment relocation center for Japanese Americans in Tule Lake, Ca., during World War II. Roughly 120,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans were sent to desolate camps that dotted the West because the government claimed they might plot against the U.S. Thousands were elderly, disabled, children or infants too young to know the meaning of treason. Two-thirds were citizens. (AP Photo, File)

Feb. 19 marks 80 years since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the forced internment of 120,000 people of Japanese descent during World War II. The majority of those detained were American citizens.

In Hawaiʻi, nearly 2,000 were interned. Another 1,500 were displaced from their homes.

Bill Kaneko is the former president of the Japanese-American Citizens League in Honolulu. He says that at the outbreak of the war, 37% of Hawaiʻi’s population was of Japanese descent.

WWII US Japanese Internment Camp
A Japanese relocation center in Tule Lake, Calif., on May 23, 1943. (AP Photo)

"It was not feasible economically and otherwise to displace over a third of your population. So as a result, the Japanese-Americans who were interned had perceived — and I want to underscore the term 'perceived' ties to Japan, which included Buddhist ministers and Japanese-language school teachers, editors of Japanese newspapers. And they were interned at Sand Island and Honoʻuliʻuli," Kaneko said.

Kaneko says prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, there were also anti-Asian laws that prohibited Asians from owning land and becoming citizens.

"So it was a very, very scary time for not only Japanese-Americans, but for all Asian-Americans living on the West Coast," he said.

The Japanese-American Citizens League will hold a commemoration Saturday over Zoom at 5 p.m. You can find more information at

This interview aired on The Conversation on Feb. 18, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

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