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Mayor, Citizens Warn Against Excusing Racism on 50th Anniversary

December 5, 1991

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Americans should be alert for racist exploitation and ″Japan-bashing″ on the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the mayor and citizens groups said Thursday.

Mayor W. Wilson Goode declared the entire month of December as a month of prayer and remembrance in the city for all Americans. He said that included Japanese-Americans, who suffered following the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Hawaii that brought the United States into World War II.

″The occasion of this 50th anniversary may be racially exploited by some individuals or groups based on wartime memories of animosities, the perception of Japan as an unfair economic superpower and the perpetuation of the view of Japan as an ‘enemy’,″ Goode said in a brief ceremony at City Hall.

″We cannot continue to hold responsible a whole group of people for events that happened 50 years ago,″ Goode said.

He warned that the 1980s saw a dramatic increase in hate crimes directed at Asian Pacific Americans, stemming in part from ″Japan-bashing″ over economic and trade frictions between the United States and Japan.

The Mayor’s Commission on Asian-Pacific American Affairs also put together a list of nine episodes of violence against Asian Pacific Americans in the last month. In three cases, store workers were killed. Another was a student killed on a street corner.

The remaining five cases involved eight victims who were beaten and had to be hospitalized. Victims were Lao, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Chinese and Korean. One was a 15-year-old girl, beaten while sitting in her uncle’s car.

″Bigotry and hatred and hate crimes will not be tolerated in this city,″ Goode said. ″My purpose in being here is to make it very clear that all people, from all parts of the world, are welcome in this city.″

Goode called on citizens to treat others on the basis of character and intellect, not on their ethnic background.

″If we do that, we can continue to build a strong city,″ he said.

Also present at the ceremony were Grayce Uyehara, one of 120,000 Japanese- American from West Coast homes and forced to live in relocation camps after war broke out.

″Fifty years later, I’m not quite sure that I really want to talk about that experience,″ she said. ″And the only reason I do so is because I’m not sure that things have changed that much.″

Tsiwen M. Law, chairman of the city’s Commission on Asian American Affairs, noted that the Pearl Harbor anniversary would coincide with America’s celebration of the 200th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights.

″One of the most glaring omissions in this country’s history was the denial of constitutional rights to Japanese-Americans during World War II when they were detained, evacuated, interned, and later on denied return to their original homes,″ he said.

Another speaker was Allen Okamoto, a native of Philadelphia who received three Purple Hearts while fighting with the 442nd Regiment during World War II.

The 442nd, recruited mostly from the relocation camps, took some of the heaviest casualties of the war. Okamoto recalled that their motto was ″Go for Broke,″ which he said was an old Hawaiian crapshooters’ expression.

Okamoto, a resident of Pennsylvania during the war years, was classified 4- C - ″enemy alien″ - for the draft, but he volunteered for the 442nd and was accepted after passing an intense FBI investigation.

″I went because of honor and loyalty, and to show I was as good an American as anyone else,″ he said.

Teresa Maebori of the Japanese American Citizens League noted an American flag flying outside City Hall with 50 stars, one for each state of the union. Similarly, she said, at least 50 different ethnic groups have come to this country.

″America is made up of many different kinds of people,″ she said. ″Perhaps we can pause and think about what is America now, and what will bring it greatness.″

She said the nation ought to consider the contributions of all Americans who were born here and worked for the betterment of the country.

″If we include all Americans, this country will be stronger and more dynamic; as long as we fight among ourselves, we won’t be.″

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