Seventy-four years ago this week, the California Legislature’s Joint Immigration Committee sent a manifesto to the state’s newspapers warning the population to keep a close eye on “ethnic Japanese.” Californians were told they were “totally unassimilable” and undoubtedly loyal to the Emperor of Japan. Those were strong words less than a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
They were strong words that this newspaper did not challenge, and this is our apology 74 years too late.
We were silent even as 1,218 Japanese-Americans and resident aliens in San Mateo County were rounded up, held in barracks and ultimately sent against their will to camps carved into the desert dust of Godforsaken places. The Review did not question the wisdom of incarcerating upstanding Americans who were singled out solely on the basis of their race. The newspaper did not comfort the afflicted in that instance. It failed to live up to the standards journalists shared then as now.
We apologize particularly to the hundreds of loyal Japanese-Americans who worked the land in Pescadero and together formed the backbone of the South Coast agricultural community. The Review should have made headlines of the fact that these good citizens, many of whom had been here for decades, were among our very best, hardest working neighbors. Because we said nothing, our community suffered profoundly.
It’s true that it was a different time. Few of us remember the fear that gripped the United States as we entered World War II. It was the first time our sovereignty had been attacked. For all we knew, the California coast was in the sights of aggressors across the sea — aggressors who bore a resemblance to hundreds of local farmers.
Review headlines from the time speak to blackouts and air raids. In fact, air raid sirens blew over the coast seven times in the days before the Joint Immigration Committee released its racist screed. Americans were told to watch the skies for enemy aircraft, to spy on their neighbors, to buy war bonds. Leading Coastside citizens who would be household names for generations to come leaned on their neighbors with bigoted slogans. Alvin S. Hatch, who lent his name to a local elementary school, was among those who led the war bond effort for the local chapter of the Native Sons of the Golden West. The local campaign’s motto was, “No quarters for the Japs: Put ’em in bonds.”
If this feels like ancient history, it’s likely that your family wasn’t carted away in 1942 solely on the basis of race and heritage. The past is always with us.
Former Half Moon Bay Mayor Naomi Patridge, who herself was forced into horse stalls and internment camps right here in the United States, told a gathering earlier this fall that she worried our country would once again let bigotry and ignorance get the better of us. Fear does things to people, she said. It’s not hard to imagine what she thinks today when she hears politicians say that Muslims should be denied entry into the one country that once accepted immigrants with open arms.
The reason the Review is apologizing today — all these years on — is that the past tends to repeat. El Granada journalist Marie Baca’s extraordinary report in today’s newspaper does what all good journalism does: It shines a light into dark corners. We are privileged to present it here and online at hmbreview.com as a permanent record of an atrocity we failed to adequately report 74 years ago.
Let this unusual front-page editorial serve as a pledge that we will not fall for the clammy, cold comfort of bigotry and racism the next time fear comes to town.