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A CAUTIONARY TALE ABOUT FALSE ASSUMPTIONS

Early on in researching my book, Dear Miss Breed, I went to Washington, D.C. to read the testimony from the 1981 hearings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC), whose mandate from Congress was to investigate the policies directed at Japanese Americans during World War II. I found those voices so unforgettable, I used some of the voices of the 750 witnesses in Dear Miss Breed and again in Unforgettable Voices. But like all the other voices, there were some gems that had to be cut. This one from Kay Yamashita, reminds me of how in the early 1930s German Jews thought of themselves as German citizens, with all the rights of citizens.


Kay, College Age Student

When we first heard on radio broadcasts the possibility that all Japanese were to be moved inland or into detention centers we hardly believed it. We are Americans. They could not do that to us. Well, it did happen, and it happened so quickly that we had no time to think, no time to react…we were helpless, as the government of the United States failed to protect the rights of an identifiable group of citizens and resident aliens.

- Testimony Kay Yamashita, Chicago, Sept.22,1981



This memorable testimony expresses assumptions that I think most of us make about being protected by our own government. It also reflects the horror of finding out otherwise. From her words we get the sense of shock and disbelief so many experienced with the announcements that they were to be imprisoned, though they had committed no crime. These feelings are also expressed in several other entries in Unforgotten Voices. Kay Yamashita’s testimony reminds us that even in a democracy, we can make no assumptions about one’s citizenship being protected. As more and more of our civil liberties are being eaten away, it becomes urgent for all of us to become more active in voting and urging others to elect representatives who will defend the rights of all of us.


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