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Monday, April 14, 2008

Traveling show depicts wartime hardships in U.S.

Ethnic groups, such as Muslim Americans, historically targeted

The abuse of Japanese, German and Italian American civil rights during World War II is being repeated against ethnic groups associated with the Sept. 11 attacks, according to advocates who spoke Saturday during a traveling exhibit called "Inalienable: Immigrant Rights."

At least 50 attended Saturday's event at the Oakland Museum, organized by the Enemy Alien Files Consortium & Partners — a collaboration of several German, Japanese and Italian American rights and history groups. Enemy Alien Files describes the traveling exhibit as an opportunity to hold "multicultural, intergenerational dialogues on challenges to civil liberties during wartime."

Muslims, Arabs and South Asians are being profiled as "potentially dangerous persons" because of their ethnicity and religion, echoing theexperiences of World War II when nearly 1 million members of the Japanese, Italian and German communities were targeted because of their ancestry, organizers said.

"It already has happened again, and it's going to keep happening if we don't do something about it," said Rose Viscuso Scudero, whose family was once confined to their rural Clayton home because of their Italian descent.

As part of the U.S. government's World War II enemy alien program, Italian, German and Japanese communities in the U.S. were restricted geographically, forced to carry ID papers, had to observe curfews and were imprisoned arbitrarily without a hearing or their families knowing their whereabouts.

"I never thought, being born in America, (that) I would be treated like an enemy alien," Scudero said. "People are still condemning us for who we are."

The enemy alien program was separate from the internment of 120,000 U.S. citizens and resident immigrants of Japanese descent during World War II.

Another 6,000 people of Japanese, Italian and German ancestry in 13 Latin American countries — including citizens — were arbitrarily rounded up and forcibly sent to the United States to be interned in camps. The Enemy Alien Files Consortium contends that some were used in exchange for U.S. hostages held by Germany and Japan.

Saturday's event was intended to expose a hidden chapter in the country's history and give a human face to government policies and activities that are recurring today, said Grace Shimizu, a member of the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project.

The experiences of all the affected communities — past and present — are part of the history of this country, Shimizu added, referring to a rash of anti-Muslim sentiment that erupted in the wake of Sept. 11, including the detention of an estimated 2,000 men believed to be Muslims by local and state authorities.

In 2007, the Los Angeles Police Department announced plans to map the city's Muslim community in order to identify potential extremists, according to the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. The plan was discarded a week later under harsh criticism.

"I am so sick of being afraid of people who are supposed to keep me safe," said Helema Buzayan, a University of California, Davis, student who was detained by police for questioning without a warrant following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Advocates said Latinos also are being caught up in post-Sept. 11 anti-immigrant profiling and policies such as arbitrary detention, as well as being mistaken for Arabs and Muslims.

Arrests, incarcerations, deportations and separations from homes are control methods the U.S. utilized in many parts of the world, said Yuri Kochiyama, a former internee whose Japanese immigrant father was arrested by the FBI after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

"We must not forget what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II," Kochiyama said. "And we must be vigilant to protect rights of Middle East immigrants who are being attacked today." [Link]

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