An Open Letter from Vietnamese Americans to our Japanese American Brothers and Sisters

By PIVOT, The Progressive Vietnamese American Organization

PIVOT member, Thu Quach, looks daily at a photograph by Ansel Adams, taken in 1943 at the internment camp in Manzanar. The two children highlighted here are her father-in-law and his sister. (Illustration by Thi Bui)

Today, February 19th is your Day of Remembrance, a day that marks the injustice authorized by Executive Order 9066 when 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced to forfeit their homes and belongings, and to live behind barbed wires in internment camps. This day, each year, reminds us of what happens when we, as a nation, let go of our conscience and act out of fear.

For Vietnamese Americans, we have our remembrance day too. April 30, 1975 is the day when Saigon fell and the Viet Nam War ended. Similar to yours, it marks a moment of massive displacement for many of us who left Viet Nam as refugees to eventually resettle in the U.S. and other countries.

In our collective memory, such painful events have often been narrated through tragic and powerful images. For us, it is the images of frightened people climbing walls to escape and of mass exodus from the country. For you, it is the images of huddled masses forced at gunpoint to evacuate their homes and children behind barbed wire. Decades later, to an often disconnected society, these images, shown once a year, may elicit a shameful shake of the head, disbelief, and a sentiment of “how could we have let this happen?” And yet, today, as we face dangerous times under this regime, these casual, commemorative sentiments are simply not enough.

Instead, let us be the kind of Americans who are bonded together not just by our history of displacement, but also, by our shared moral obligation to speak out in the face of injustice, wherever it is found—bans based on religion, the threat of a Muslim registry, and unnecessary wars abroad. For war, as we remember well, both creates and exacerbates the conditions of being a refugee. Let us, together with others who will never forget days such as these, be the voice of conscience. After all, silent sympathy and compassion during those times have led to these painful days of remembrance. Let us stand in solidarity with one another, so that there will not be another day of remembrance like ours. Let us not just shed tears when we see images of the Syrian child lying dead on the beach. For these images are only powerful when they can elicit acts of resistance against the perpetrators.

On your Day of Remembrance, we pledge to stand with you to be the voice of conscience for this nation, and to remind everyone of our shared humanity.

PIVOT – The Progressive Vietnamese American Organization

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