By Morgan Montalvo
Evan Taniguchi, an Austin architect and activist whose family in part inspired Jan Jarboe Russell's book The Train to Crystal City, last evening offered San Antonians an intimate look at his Japanese immigrant grandparents and U.S.-born father, among thousands of Japanese, German and Italian nationals interned after Pearl Harbor as a national security precaution.
As part of his hour-long presentation at the Thousand Oaks Branch Library on the far north side Taniguchi, a third-generation American, drew parallels between World War two hysteria and similar fears fed by today's War on Terror.
"It's very inspirational that this book came out when it did, before the switch in politics here in the country," Taniguchi told News Radio 1200 WOAI. "We're worried about immigration now, we're worried about a lot of issues that we didn't worry about before, but this is exactly what the Japanese-Americans went through when they were incarcerated during World War Two.
"That's my inspiration for going out and talking about this book; I don't want history to repeat itself," Taniguchi said.
Executive Order 9066, also known as Public Law 503, was signed in early 1942 by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt. The order authorized the creation of military zones in designated parts of the U.S and allowed for the roundup and imprisonment of Japanese, German and Italian nationals, along with their U.S.-born children and relatives. At the time, the U.S. was at war with the Axis powers of Japan, Germany and Italy, and immigrants from those countries were viewed as potential spies, saboteurs and subversives. The U.S. Government established a "family camp" in South Texas in hopes that it could trade "alien" families from Axis countries for American citizens or prisoners of war, even though many internees were native-born U.S. citizens.
FDR suspended Executive Order 9066 in December 1944. Internees were released, often returning to their home towns during a time of continued, intense prejudice against "foreigners," especially those of Japanese ancestry - even though thousands of Japanese-American Nisei (U.S.-born) internees volunteered for the U.S. military and were fighting against the Axis.
Taniguchi said soon after Pres. Donald Trump issued a travel ban affecting seven Moslem-majority countries, he was "bombarded" with questions from friends and readers asking: "Evan, what is this? Is history really repeating itself?"
The Train to Crystal City, subtitled FDR's Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and American's Only Family Internment Camp During World War II, provides a glimpse into the lives of families uprooted by Executive Order 9066 and relocated to a "family camp" in South Texas. It is the recommended Mayor's Book Club Spring 2017 read.