During WWII, immigrants and American citizens of Japanese descent were assembled and relocated to internment camps for the duration of the war. Rep. Doris Matsui was born in such a camp and reflects on civil liberties and remembering the lessons from this time in our nation’s history.
Recorded April 26, 2017. Hosted by Robert Traynham. Read a partial transcript of this interview below:
Traynham: In 1941, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Americans of Japanese descent were forced to relocate to internment camps for the duration of World War II. President Ronald Reagan officially apologized for what he called “A grave wrong” in 1988. Hello, and welcome to “Comcast Newsmakers.” I´m Robert Traynham. With me is Congresswoman Doris Matsui, who´s a Democrat from California, to share her unique perspective on how this story relates to the modern day. Congresswoman, welcome to the program.
Matsui: Thank you, Robert.
Traynham: It´s unfortunate that we´re talking about this anxiety that a lot of Americans feel, particularly people that look like you and I in this country, in the context of internment camps, in the context of immigration. What do you make of all of this?
Matsui: Well, I think it´s really unfortunate because, quite frankly, I think all of us thought it was settled law after President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, and I really hadn´t been thinking too much about it, and, quite frankly, I was also — I was born on an internment camp at the end of World War II. So I don´t have any memories of it, but what you realize is that even though you yourself don´t have memories of it, your parents and grandparents have —
Traynham: It´s in your DNA. It´s part of who you are.
Matsui: Yes, and even if they didn´t talk about it, when we found out about it — It was in college for me when we really started talking about it — we really realized it was a grave injustice, and so many of us of my generation really got involved in it to make sure that — We had to let the people know, let the country know what happened. And I think the greatest thing about this country is that they recognize that this was a mistake, and that does show the greatness of the country, because they´d apologize for it. But I must say, today, when I thought it was settled, we´re beginning to find that there are many challenges, even today.
Traynham: The rhetoric is very heated. Emotions are very raw. I still believe that a lot of people still come to this country for a better life and for a better tomorrow, but, understandably, there are some people in this country that feel afraid of that change, particularly if, in fact, those individuals that are coming to this country do not look like them. Congresswoman, as someone that´s in leadership in the United States Congress, how do we bridge this divide? How do we have a thoughtful conversation about the changing demographics of America?
Matsui: We have to remember that our country´s a country of immigrants, and we´re stronger because of that. If you look at every sector of our lives, there are people from all over the world who made this place stronger, and I believe we need a conversation about that. When you get to know a person, you realize that, you know what? We´re all Americans. We want the same things. We want to have a good job to raise our kids, shelter. We want to be able to provide for the next generation, and that´s what it´s all about — the future of our country, our kids, and particularly our grandkids, ´cause we may not be there to be there their entire lives, but we want to make sure that we leave behind a good country. And that´s really what everybody wants, and this fear that is occurring now, you know, happens, what, every 60, 70, 80 years, and I think it´s because we take things for granted.
Traynham: You mentioned a few moments ago a national conversation that this country needs to have. Who should lead that? Is that the President? Is that people such as you in the Congress? Is it some civil-rights leader that we probably have heard about in terms of household-name I.D.? Who is that? Is it the students? Are there are immigrants? Who leads that conversation?
Matsui: I hear a lot of conversations, actually, Robert, and it would be good, though, for the leadership of this country to have those kind of conversations. You know, words matter, and people hang on words, and it´s important to have words that are welcoming, non-judgmental, trying to figure out where people are. We seem to have a lack of empathy in this country, and we just can´t be spouting off words, not realizing how they´re received by the person around us.