Japanese Americans board a train for an internment camp

Acknowledging Our History

  • BY Cal State East Bay
  • February 17, 2022

Eighty years ago this week, 70,000 American citizens in the Bay Area and along the West Coast were forced to leave their homes, sell their belongings and submit to being incarcerated.  

Feb. 19 marks the 80th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which resulted in some 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, 70,000 of them American citizens, to be sent to live in one of the 10 Japanese internment camps. 

“The signing of that executive order gave the government the right to remove people from their homes, disrupt their businesses and forced many to lose their property — solely based on their race,” said Linda Ivey, Cal State East Bay Professor of History. “This event was an egregious violation of civil rights. As a U.S. citizen I want to understand how this happened in my country.”

Ivey co-authored two books about the Japanese Internment with Cal State East Bay History Professor Kevin Kaatz. Their most recent book, “Documents of the Japanese American Internment: Eyewitness to History,” was recently named to the 2022 Outstanding References Sources List by The Reference and User Services Association.

“One of the most surprising things was finding the speed at which all of this happened,” said Kaatz. “It was also interesting to learn about the depth internees went to in order to try to live a ‘normal’ life. Most of them were U.S. citizens, removed from everything and moved to very inhospitable places, but they attempted to make life as normal as possible.”

Ivey says many Americans don’t know much, if anything at all, about the Japanese internment because it was largely absent from our history classrooms and textbooks at least until the 1990s, but she encourages everyone to pay attention to history because it can help us put things into context — to see patterns of behavior and what those patterns could lead to. 

“It is so essential that people understand that prejudice against ethnic groups within the United States is a longstanding tradition and one that we have not been able to shake,” said Ivey. “It is also essential to understand how quickly that kind of fear and hate can escalate into something as astoundingly awful as the Japanese internment was.”