To commemorate the 70th anniversary of Japanese-American internment during World War II, George Takei and Ancestry.com are coming together to help Japanese-Americans reconnect with their past.
Before he rose to fame as Mr. Sulu on Star Trek, George Takei lived a very different life. At the age of 5, he was one of more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent who were forced to enter internment camps following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite being born in Los Angeles, he spent three years in the camps before being released and has since called them “one of the most egregious violations of our constitution.”
Sunday, Feb. 19 marked the 70th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, Franklin D. Roosevelt's authorization that placed thousands of men and women of Japanese descent living on the West Coast in internment camps. Two-thirds of those imprisoned were American citizens and half of them were, like Takei, just children. The camps began closing in 1944 and finally in 1988, more than 40 years after the camps closed, Congress passed a bill that provided an official apology and reparations to Japanese-Americans.
In honor of the passing of Executive Order 9066, Ancestry.com has partnered with the Japanese American National Museum’s Remembrance Project to release two of its databases for free to the public for a limited period of time. An index of internees’ biographical information is now available as well as a variety of documents like newspapers, records of employment, and church records. The site also opened a database that contains passenger lists into Honolulu from 1900 to 1959.
“Seventy years is not that long ago,” said Ancestry.com’s Anastasia Harman. “It’s important for people to understand what their grandparents and parents went through.” She hopes that the 180,000+ records that Ancestry.com has released, spanning the years from 1942 to 1945, will spark discussion among Japanese-American families and encourage all Americans to develop a better understanding of their nation's history.
"I was only a small child when the government sent soldiers to remove my family from our home in Los Angeles," Takei said of the tragedy. "We could only take what we could carry. First we were sent to the horse stalls of Santa Anita racetrack and then to government-run prison camps in both Arkansas and California. My hope is that all Americans will learn about the unfair treatment visited upon Japanese-Americans like my family and will ensure it never happens again to any other group."
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