More awareness needed of Japanese-American internment: activists

As the 25th anniversary of the U.S. apology for the forced internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II nears, key players behind a redress bill passed at the time said Thursday that while it better informed the world of the "egregious event," more work remains to be done.

"There's not as much awareness of this egregious event as we would like, but there is much more than there was 25 years ago and redress was part of the education of that," Grant Ujifusa of the Japanese American Citizens League said at an event to commemorate the 1988 bill at the Asia Society in New York.

Although not interned with other Japanese-Americans, Ujifusa became a leader in the 1980s to pass legislation to apologize and compensate the internees in the U.S. Congress. Then President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 on Aug. 10 of that year.

"This legislation also strengthened the relationship between the U.S. and Japan by alleviating a pain in the hearts of Japanese and (Japanese-American) communities here," Consul-General of Japan in New York Shigeyuki Hiroki said.

"The strong bonds of trust between our countries have only deepened."

The law not only apologized for the executive order that forcibly relocated more than 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry, but also provided $20,000 to each surviving internee.

While it created a "public education fund" to "prevent the recurrence of any similar event," educators themselves have to take up sensitive topics like the internment in their curriculum, said former New Jersey governor Tom Kean, who talked personally to Regan to request support for the bill.

"It is so easy in history, particularly in the history of your own country, to simply cover up the darkness," the former history teacher said. "Some of the darkest parts of our history -- they've got to be continually brought up to see why they happened and how they happened."