By: Keith Kitani
Normally I try to keep personal and business issues separate but the recent immigration ban impacts me both as Co-founder and CEO of GuideSpark and as a US citizen of Japanese American ancestry.
As we approach the 75th anniversary of the Japanese internment order on February 19th, the new executive order on immigration brings up old memories and new fears.
My father and grandfather, along with 110,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were already U.S. citizens, were “evacuated” from their homes, assigned numbers and sent to internment camps in other parts of the country. Executive order 9066 was declared by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt, for reasons of national security and to prevent Japanese Americans from spying for Japan. Ironically, throughout World War II, only 10 Americans were convicted of espionage on behalf of Japan, but none of them were of Japanese ancestry.
Perhaps the Executive Order didn’t have the impact FDR hoped for, but I can tell you the impact it did have on my family via the stories my father would only share with me as recently as 15 years ago. My dad and his family’s lives were uprooted when that executive order became law. They were separated from loved ones, lost their property, lost their income and were treated as criminals without having committed a single crime. There was no regard for the contributions his family had made to the U.S. or their loyalty to this country; the order was based purely on race.
My parents had to work doubly hard to overcome the setbacks they experienced because of the internment order: starting from scratch, dealing with racial discrimination and focusing on the positive aspects of this country vs. the negative. My dad also served in the Korean War along other U.S. soldiers because that’s what American men did during that time. My parents’ determination without bitterness or blame served as an example to me and also my brothers to work hard and appreciate what we have. But I often wonder what our lives would have been like if EO 9066 had never happened.
Today we look back and realize the great injustice of it all. The reparations, public apologies and the recent visits by President Obama to Hiroshima and Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzō Abe, to Pearl Harbor, have all helped to heal wounds that are 75 years old.
If I were to fast-forward 75 years, how would history characterize this new immigration ban, which targets immigrants from 7 predominantly Muslim countries, regardless of background or status? When the chaos at airports ensued, applying the executive order to all entrants, including U.S. citizens, dual citizens, Green Card holders, valid visa holders and refugees, it all sounded eerily familiar. Some people affected had already lived in this country for years, having built their lives here, founded companies, obtained jobs, and started families. But this broad brush of “law and order” was applied uniformly across the board. U.S. businesses have been adversely affected and GuideSpark has joined the list of companies opposed to the immigration ban, many that were also founded in Silicon Valley and rely on talent from around the world. 75 years from now, will we look back and also think this was a great injustice under the guise of national security?
My dad and grandfather are no longer here to remind us of the lasting legacy of racism and discrimination. As a CEO of a workforce made up of global employees, as a Japanese-American, and as a father who wants the best future for my children without fear of persecution based on race, religion, gender or other demographic, I want to serve as that reminder so that we continue to embrace the original intent of this country, as a safe haven to those seeking to build their lives in a democratic, immigrant-friendly nation.
(A few photos that remind me that my father wanted to build a life similar to many other Americans of his generation.)