As a sixteen-year-old Belmont High School student, Lazo's decision seventy years ago in May 1942 to depart by train would note him as as the only unmarried non-Japanese person detained at Manzanar. Why would someone voluntarily subject himself to one of the more shameful episodes in U.S. history? Lazo told the Los Angeles Times in a 1981 interview that “internment was immoral…It was wrong, and I couldn't accept it.”
Back in the day on February 19, 1942, Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 following the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan the previous December. It paved the way for more than one-hundred thousand Japanese-Americans to be forcibly relocated into internment camps in desolate, inhospitable areas like Manzanar. Lazo, who had many Japanese-American friends, bore witness to families frantically selling personal possessions before uprooted from their daily lives by the egregious injustice and took action to suffer alongside them in their struggle.
As a collaborative effort between Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress and Visual Communications, the half-hour feature Stand Up For Justice retells this inspiring history of inter-ethnic solidarity. NCRR members Patty and Steve Nagano will be on hand for a discussion of the film at tomorrow night's screening. Written and directed by John Esaki, it retraces Lazo's more than two-year interment, but the story doesn't end there. He would go on to graduate high school and be drafted into World War II serving in the Pacific Theater. It was only then that government officials realized that Lazo wasn't Japanese!
Later in life, his cause never strayed far from his heart, joining efforts to gain reparations for surviving Japanese-American internees. “There are those who struggle all their lives,” as the old quote from playwright Bertolt Brecht goes, “these are the indispensable ones.” So too, are their memories. See you there!
Stand Up for Justice: The Ralph Lazo Story screens tomorrow (con subtítulos en Español) at the Old Orange County Court House, 211 West Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana, 7:00 -9:00 p.m.