Letter from James Y. Sakamoto of the Emergency Defense Council Seattle Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League dated March 23, 1942. Emergency Defense Council of the Seattle Chapter, Japanese American Citizens League. Box 18. Manuscripts and University Archives, UW Libraries.
March 23, 1942The Honorable Franklin D. Roosevelt
We, the American Citizens of Japanese parentage in these United States, have taken seriously your various statements on the Four Freedoms. Our parent generation too has taken comfort from those assertions. They have not enjoyed the rights of citizenship in this country. For that reason they are at this time particularly open to accusation and suspicion.
We were reassured when war broke out and heard your directions as to the treatment to be accorded aliens of enemy countries. We felt those were commands upon all American citizens to pull together for a common objective. Even when the clamor against us rasied by a national organization whose patriotic motives are undoubted seemed about to threaten our very lives, we trusted in your protection.
The picture has changed since then. Evacuation has now become a certainty for all of us, non-citizen and citizen alike. We citizens have been singled out for treatment that has hitherto not been meted out to any American. Though the medicine was bitter, we have attempted to obey without criticism, and to swallow it.
We were prepared to go where we might be sent, to be uprooted permanently from the homes we have known since childhood. Our parents before us had in many instances built up the only homes we knew. They had given us an American education and in some thousands of instances sent us gladly into the service of our country. They, too, were to accompany us. We thought it would simply be a matter of transfer to another locality in which we might carry on, under a cloud indeed, but demonstrating our loyalty none the less, by obeying a humiliating and distasteful command.
We are still so minded. We shall obey willingly. We shall continue to trust you and to give our allegiance to the ideals you enunciate.
In the working out of the details of evacuation, we have noticed an insistence upon the necessity for speed in going to places not designated by anyone. We are willing to go, glad to escape from even the possiblity of ever being accused of even being present in the area where sabotage might conceivably take place.
Under the circumstances prevailing, we have been so completely discredited by the American people at large that it is impossible for us to appear anywhere without giving rise to some hysterically false assumption that we are engaged in some nefarious design against a country that is as much ours as it is that of our fellow citizens. So marked is this that had we any intention such as we are popularly credited with, the easiest manner in which it might be accomplished would be for us to simply pick up and spread our unwanted presence over the American map and so precipitate, under Army decree, that complete disruption of the war effort.
Our people have not been unconscious of the extent to which our country has been dependent upon them for the production of certain articles of food in areas now filled with Army installations and all lines of war work. Certainly, had they any mind to sabotage they could have done so no more completely than by ceasing to produce the food upon which so much of the war effort depended.
Mr. President, we have protested our loyalty in the past. We have not been believed. We are willing to assume the burden of continuing to demonstrate it under all but impossible conditions. We would be deeply grateful if you would point it out to our fellow citizens that we are not traitors to our country as the above facts, in our opinion amply demonstrate.
Restore our good name to us that our soldiers of Japanese ancestry need no longer hang their heads in shame as their hearts secretly bleed in anxiety over the whereabouts of their parents and loved ones possibly stranded penniless in some desert of the Southwest, or begging their bread in the streets of some strange place.
Give to us some refuge in the heart of the country far removed from even the suspicion or possibility to do harm. We have helped to feed the nation in the past. Let us continue to do so now that it is needed the more. Only let us do so freely and not under that compulsion made notorious in an enemy country. We do not have to be driven to work for a country in which we believe for ideals more precious than our life-blood.
We know there have been dissident elements among us, often unknown to ourselves. We know that some of the customs brought from abroad do lay some members of our parents open to suspicion even yet. We, like our fellow citizens, have complete confidence in the all-seeing eye of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We have seconded their efforts when told what it was they were searching for and we shall continue to do so.
We hope to find in the hearts of those like ours some understanding of our problems and some surcease from the burdens that oppress us. We have confidence that you yourself may present our case to them as a demonstration here of sincerity toward the promises you have made to the world.
Trusting that you will give us your sympathetic assistance and with the greatest hope for your continued good health, I am, my dear Mr. President,
James Y. Sakamoto
21 February 1997