More than 70 years after the last train left Heart Mountain, filled with Japanese-American incarcerees who had been held against their will during World War II, we should have reached the point where …
More than 70 years after the last train left Heart Mountain, filled with Japanese-American incarcerees who had been held against their will during World War II, we should have reached the point where people of all ethnicities, races, backgrounds and beliefs are welcome in America.
Yet here we are.
President Donald Trump’s recent tweets telling four American Congresswomen they could “go back” to where they came from unleashed a firestorm in our country. House Democrats condemned the comments, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling Trump’s tweets racist. That was followed by U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., saying that Republicans’ real issue is with the four women’s ideas — and accusing Pelosi of violating Congressional protocol.
In this latest round of left-versus-right, it’s easy to see this as just another political showdown in our deeply divided country.
But amid all the tension and sparring, we must recognize that the four Congresswomen are American citizens and three of them were born here.
We’re not here to defend these representatives’ politics, beliefs or statements. In fact, we strongly disagree with them on many issues and find some of their past statements offensive. But as Americans, each of them has the right to express those views — even if we don’t share them.
And as Americans with differing views and backgrounds, we are all welcome to stay here. From new citizens like those who were naturalized in Cody this month to those who can trace their American heritage back to our Founding Fathers, or the Native American tribes that have been here much longer than that, this country belongs to us all.
Unfortunately, America has a troubling history of telling certain citizens they’re not welcome here.
You only need to look at Heart Mountain to see painful reminders from the not-so-distant past.
Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 — “a date which will live in infamy” — America officially entered World War II and soon began forcing West Coast persons of Japanese descent from their homes. Though many were American citizens, 120,000 children, women and men were uprooted from their lives and confined as prisoners for the remainder of the war, with roughly 14,000 at Heart Mountain.
This week, former internees and their descendants will return to Wyoming for the annual Heart Mountain Pilgrimage, sharing stories, music, memories and history. It’s a history we cannot forget, especially at a time when some Americans are being made to feel they don’t belong here.
A couple years ago, Northwest College and other higher education institutions around the country joined a campaign to tell international students: You are welcome here. Those four simple words are powerful.
Sadly, it’s a message that Japanese-Americans did not hear when they were forced from their communities more than 70 years ago. We wish more people would have stood up for their fellow Americans then. But while we cannot rectify past mistakes, we can work to not repeat them today.