According to local media, San Juan Bautista Mayor Leslie Jordan, at the gay pride flag raising on May 29, compared the LGBTQ community to other marginalized groups who led the way to equality in California, including the Japanese-Americans who were incarcerated during WWII.
A review of history may reveal the total inappropriateness of Mayor Jordan’s comparison. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 (February 1942), approximately 120,000 Japanese-Americans were ordered by President Roosevelt to be interned in concentration camps. Of those interned, about 80,000 were second-generation Americans, born in the U.S. and were American citizens. Japanese-Americans were ordered to leave designated military exclusion zones, areas within Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona, or be placed into camps.
The camps were typically livestock stables at fairgrounds in these states, quickly modified into housing for families of up to six members. Wood barracks were constructed for other housing and common latrines, laundry facilities and mess halls—to become the new “communities” for these uprooted families. More than 92,000 Japanese-Americans were moved into these temporary facilities. Often, 25 people were housed in a space designed for four. Armed guards patrolled these facilities to prevent escape.
The U.S. Public Health Service recommendation of one physician for every 1,000 inmates and one nurse for every 200 was not met. Food poisoning and dysentery outbreaks were common. The availability of medications and surgical equipment was limited. A total of 30,000 of the internees were children. Education facilities and materials were very limited. There were no libraries in the camps.
A December 1944 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, regarding the detention of U.S. citizens, finally directed the release of the internees. By then, many of their possessions had been stolen or lost. Decades later, under President Ronald Reagan, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 offered an official government apology to these Japanese-Americans, along with reparation payments of $20,000 to each of the still-living 82,000 survivors.
For Mayor Jordan to compare the status of the LGBTQ community to the Japanese-Americans interned during WWII is both inaccurate and shameful. The mayor should apologize to the Japanese-American community, and to the rest of us, including many in the LGBTQ community who have compassion for those who are mistreated, for twisting the facts of history, and for ignoring the efforts we are all making to treat one another fairly in San Benito County. Especially during this time of heightened awareness of aggression toward our Asian-American populations, the mayor’s comments are clearly insensitive and out of place.