In a state not often associated with the Japanese American experience, Houston-area residents Donna Cole, Dr. Abbie Grubb, Glen Gondo, Linda Toyota, and Sandra Tanamachi brought the WWII Japanese American experience to the forefront of American history classrooms. In March, the state of Texas became a feature headline across the country as the State Board of Education (SBOE) voted to approve a series of controversial amendments to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum standards. Though many of the proposed changes came under fire, the Japanese American community was particularly concerned that none of the amendments mentioned the all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) or the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) linguists. In addition, the only mention of the Japanese American confinement equated the mass internment of Japanese Americans with that of German and Italian Americans.
In response to these concerns, organizations like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)-North Texas and Southwest Region, National Japanese American Memorial Foundation (NJAMF), the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), and the Japanese American Veteran’s Association (JAVA) among others launched a letter-writing campaign to change the proposed amendments prior to the final vote on May 21, 2010. Ultimately, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) received tens of thousands of comments from the public and had a record 206 people register for a public hearing in Austin on May 19, 2010. Five of these testifiers traveled from Houston and patiently waited through hours of testimony for the opportunity to express their perspective on the importance of Japanese American history.
Representing the NJAMF, Cole spoke first on the significant contributions of the 442nd during their heroic rescue of the “Lost Battalion,” a surrounded unit of the Texan 36th Infantry Division, an act which inspired Texas Governor John Connally to name all members of the 442nd RCT "Honorary Texans" in 1963. Calling the story of Japanese American history one of “tragedy, faith, and ultimate triumph,” Cole’s testimony emphasized the significance of the Japanese American experience as an American story and urged the board to include the 442nd and the MIS in the curriculum standards.
Following Cole’s introduction of the subject, Dr. Grubb provided a brief history of the importance of distinguishing between the racial and prejudicial basis for the unconstitutional Executive Order 9066 and the legal, albeit harsh, internment of German and Italian enemy aliens. As Dr. Grubb explained, EO 9066 allowed for the illegal removal and confinement of over 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans from the West Coast as a result of racism, not military necessity. In contrast, the internment of Italian, German, and Japanese Americans by the Department of Justice and FBI was based on a centuries-old law allowing non-citizens of an enemy nation to be confined legally and with a right to a trial.
Glen Gondo’s testimony supported the Board’s decision to amend the TEKS to include a discussion of the liberation of concentration camps in Germany to ensure students bear witness to the Holocaust, particularly in light of the role of the Japanese American 522nd Field Artillery Battalion and the Texan 36th Infantry and 90th Infantry Divisions in liberating camps at the end of the war. According to Gondo, who spoke for the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission and the JACL, it is important to include this amendment to remember the horrors of the Holocaust and the role of both Texans and Japanese Americans in liberating the death camps.
Linda Toyota’s testimony focused on the distinction between the internment of Japanese Americans and other ethnic groups, and also called for the inclusion of the rescue of the Lost Battalion in the TEKS. Representing JACL, Toyota described her father’s service with the 442nd during the war, and read briefly from the “Japanese American Creed,” written at the start of the war to affirm the commitment of the Japanese American community to the democracy and guidance of the United States of America. Toyota stressed the need to include the 442nd in the curriculum stating, “Japanese Americans showed their courage, patriotism, and [the] meaning of citizenship by serving in the U.S. Army.”
Sandra Tanamachi, representing JAVA, provided the last related testimony of the day. Her presentation relayed her family’s internment experience and military service before encouraging the SBOE to include the 442nd and MIS linguists as part of the Texas school curriculum. Tanamachi concluded, “I encourage you to give recognition to the heroic deeds of the 442nd and the MIS, so that they can stand side by side with the Tuskegee Airmen, the Flying Tigers, and the Navajo Code Talkers…Heroes all.”
The Board responded positively to each testimony and in fact, was often visibly touched by the accounts of the suffering of the Japanese American community and their dedicated patriotism despite their unjust treatment. The progression of testimonies built a case on both personal experience and historical fact that stressed the uniqueness of the Japanese American internment and the significance of the service of the 442nd RCT, the most decorated unit for their size and length of service in US military history, and the MIS, who are credited by General MacArthur's Chief of Intelligence, Major General Charles Willoughby with shortening the war by two years and saving over one million lives. Questions from the Board revealed an interest in learning more about the specifics of EO 9066 and about the Japanese American mindset as revealed in the “Japanese American Creed.”
Two days after the public hearing, the SBOE held a final vote on the curriculum. According to Chairman Gail Lowe in a personal email to Tanamachi, the vote was unanimous to include the 442nd RCT and to address EO 9066 when discussing the internment of enemy aliens. Board member Pat Hardy also wrote that she had learned much regarding the Japanese American experience from the presentations, and she was pleased to know that future generations of schoolchildren would not be unaware of this aspect of the nation’s history. Released on June 25, the revised TEK 113.41.c.7.D for High School US History now includes “the internment of German, Italian, and Japanese Americans, and Executive Order 9066,” while TEK 113.16.b.5.C will require fifth-graders to "identify the accomplishments of individuals and groups such as... the Tuskegee Airmen, and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who have made contributions to society in the areas of civil rights, women's rights, military actions, and politics." Though the exact wording of the TEKS may not be as strong as originally hoped, it is satisfying to know that students will now be required to learn of EO 9066 and of the brave men of the 442nd RCT for the first time in Texas history classrooms.