At its General Membership Meeting on March 18, 2023, JACL Philadelphia voted to approve the following statement in support of the creation of a Philadelphia Reparations Task Force.
The Japanese American Citizens League is the oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization, founded in 1929 by U.S. born children of Japanese immigrants. Our local chapter, JACL Philadelphia, was established in 1947 by Japanese Americans who resettled in Philadelphia after experiencing their forced West Coast eviction, forfeiture of their property, and incarceration in American mass concentration camps during WWII.
JACL Philadelphia unequivocally supports the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America Philadelphia Chapter in their efforts to establish a Reparations Task Force in the City of Philadelphia.
Japanese Americans are no strangers to racism in this country. Our Japanese grandparents and great grandparents who immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century, was during a time when the KKK was actively lynching Asian immigrants in the West Coast. Beginning in 1790, Japanese immigrants along with other immigrants from Asian countries were denied the right to vote because they were barred from becoming U.S. citizens. Further, Japanese were prohibited from purchasing land after 1913, and were restricted from conventional bank loans.
In 1963, members of JACL and members of the National JACL Board accepted the invitation of the NAACP, and marched in the civil rights march on Washington, DC. Since then, national progress toward civil rights and reparations for Black Americans has fallen ashamedly short of otherwise well intentions. It is hard to imagine Japanese American history in America written with anything as bad as the experiences of Black history in America. Now is the time for the Japanese American Citizenship League of Philadelphia to stand in alliance with Black Americans to advocate for reparations.
It was only through the friendship, solidarity, and allyship with African American civil rights leaders that Japanese Americans and other Asian American communities gained the right to become naturalized citizens (1952 McCarran-Walter Act), the right to freely migrate between US and Asia (1965 Hart-Celler Act), and countless other hard-won legal victories championed by Black activist leaders.
Japanese Americans are one of the few communities who have received reparations from the United States government as a result of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, signed by President Ronald Reagan. Also known as the Redress Movement, this was a long and hard fight for more than twenty years as Japanese Americans and our allied communities fought in the halls of Congress, and across the country in city council chambers and in grassroots community spaces. Throughout this process, African Americans and elected officials were among our most vocal supporters. In particular the Congressional Black Caucus led by Representative Ron Dellums (D-CA) demonstrated their allyship on the floor of Congress. Speaking in support of Redress, Dellums a native of Oakland California, recounted a childhood memory of his Japanese American friend being led away by armed US soldiers. His powerful act of kindness and solidarity is not, and will not be forgotten.
In support of Black Reparations, JACL Philadelphia recently joined over 75 other Japanese American progressive organizations across the country as members of the National Nikkei Reparations Coalition. We raise our voice in chorus with N’COBRA PHL demanding that the City of Philadelphia establish a Reparations Task Force.
Speaking as a community who has deservedly attained our own redress, we do not believe that any amount of reparations is capable of erasing the harm, pain, or trauma that persists for generations as a result of the enslavement of Africans, Jim Crow and other prejudicial regulation, disproportionate policing, and the many further inequities that African Americans continue to endure. Moreover, redress in the form of reparations will open a space for meaningful conversation and healing, as has occurred in communities of Japanese Americans.
To quote James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” In order for our country to truly heal from the foundational sins of African slavery, Indigenous genocide, and institutional white supremacy, JACL Philadelphia believes it is necessary to face this particular issue head on by establishing a Philadelphia Reparations Task Force.