In a May 18 hearing before the Arizona House Rules Committee, Chairman Anthony Kern took the stand-alone bill to honor civil rights advocate, Fred Korematsu (SB 1352), and moved it into a legislative package titled, “COVID-19 Enforcement, Action and Liability.” In his explanation, Mr. Kern equated the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans and the struggles of Fred Korematsu with Arizona’s COVID-19 safer-at-home order. Mr. Kerns proceeded to dismiss any relationship between the rhetoric of COVID-19 and an uptick in violence against Asian Americans. JACL rejects the initial comparison as an insult to both the legacy of Mr. Korematsu and to the Japanese Americans who suffered the unconstitutional injustices of incarceration. Moreover, JACL reaffirms the power of words to unite, divide, heal, or to incite. Words have consequences.
JACL Arizona Chapter President Donna Cheung states, “As an Arizonan who experienced the safer-at-home order, I was free to move about without threat of arrest or incarceration. Unlike the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes during World War II and made to endure sweltering deserts, freezing winters and/or treacherous swamplands, with only bare-bone shelters and supplies at hand, while under the constant watch of armed guards, unlike them, I continue to enjoy the privilege of returning to my home and sleeping in my bed under air conditioning. To equate the hardships and trauma of our Japanese American elders with COVID-19 orders is beyond false equivalency. It is obscene.”
As JACL continues to caution against the use of the Japanese American experience in comparisons with COVID-19, Cheung adds: “The hijacking of the Korematsu bill, for purposes other than its original intent, erodes trust between elected officials and public citizens. It undermines the integrity of the Arizona legislative process. Ironically, as the chairman demonstrated, the history of Japanese Americans is deemed valuable enough to exploit, but the protection of Asian Americans, from rhetoric-induced violence, remains a non-existent afterthought. However, just as Fred Korematsu encouraged us to speak plainly about injustice, he also emphasized the need to educate. In that spirit, should any Arizona legislator wish to learn more about the Japanese American experience, I am open for such a discussion."