How World War II Era Internment Camps Changed Little Tokyo

A devastating effect of the paranoia instilled to much of America by World War II, the internment of Japanese and Japanese-Americans had a profound impact on the tight-knit, generally law-abiding citizens of Little Tokyo. Forced to abandon the lives and the community that they had built over several decades and generations, these victims of xenophobic political hysteria nonetheless put their best face forward, obeying orders and ready to face a new challenge, just as many of their ancestors had faced when establishing a new life in a new country.

As part of the Laws That Shaped L.A. column, Sharon Sekhon, founder and director of the Studio for Southern California History, told KCET Departures contributor Jeremy Rosenberg how Executive Order 9066, which authorized the uprooting and incarceration of more than 120,000 women, men, and children of Japanese descent. She writes:

While this law influenced all of the West Coast, Executive Order 9066 altered the physical and psychological makeup of Los Angeles in ways that reverberate today. All individuals lost their personal freedoms, and most lost homes and property. Several forces challenged Executive Order 9066 during and after internment, but the Supreme Court upheld its legality. Ultimately, President Ronald Reagan issued a formal apology and monetary compensation for victims of internment over forty years later.

The effects of the mass incarceration of innocent people permanently shaped the psychology of this community and the physical make up of Little Tokyo, a commercial and cultural enclave that originated in Los Angeles in 1886 along San Pedro Street.

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