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Local internment camp survivor reacts to proposed resolution seeking CA legislature apologize for past treatment of Japanese-Americans

Posted at 11:56 PM, Feb 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-18 02:56:26-05

A California Assemblyman is calling on the state legislature to apologize for the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II.

State Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) says he is concerned with history repeating itself.

For 93-year-old Guadalupe resident Harry Masatani, his family's ties to California started with his dad searching for a relative.

"He hitch-hiked or [did] whatever [he had to] and came all the way across the country to Guadalupe from the East Coast, Masatani said.

His dad eventually purchased what's now known as the Masatani Market in Guadalupe in the 1920's.

Life for the Masatanis was pretty normal until one day--everything changed.

"December 6th, 1941 we were American citizens. After December 7th, we got reclassified as enemy aliens," Masatani said.

Masatani says he and his family were forced on a train to an internment camp in Colorado.

"Coming through small towns they told us to put the shades down so people don't know who we are--they didn't want them to see we're Japanese," he explained.

Masatani says he didn't really realize what was happening because he was just 13 years old at the time.

Once he was of age, he joined the army.

"My folks are locked up behind a barbed wire fence and here I am fighting for the country," Masatani said.

Three years later, a Supreme Court decision brought an end to internment camps.

The Mastani family returned to Guadalupe and the market, where Harry eventually took over.

Now looking back on history, Masatani says he's fearful this could happen again--this time to other ethnic groups.

"That's what the Japanese people are fighting against--warning people--don't let stuff like what happened to us happen to the Muslims," Masatani said.

State Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi has those same fears and is now asking the state to formally apologize in a resolution.

He told us in a statement:

What I hear over and over from the Japanese-American community is about how bothered they are about what is happening at our borders with children and families held in cages, being torn apart. For many survivors of the Japanese-American camps it strikes a deep chord. They see in many ways history repeating itself.

The state legislature is expected to vote on this resolution on February 20.

The state has been working to better acknowledge Japanese internment since the 1980's, with Governor Jerry Brown signing a law in 2017 that gave funding to grants that help expand education about Japanese internment camps.