The little-known government displacement of 10,000 Italian Americans in California during World War II was acknowledged as "a fundamental injustice" by the state Legislature last Friday (Aug. 20). Some were interned while others were forced to move away from the coasts or had other restrictions on their movements.
More than 1,500 were reported arrested under an order from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Legislators in the state Assembly and Senate expressed their "deepest regrets," in passage of Senate Concurrent Resolution 95, which was authored by State Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto).
The resolution will "help repair the damage to the Italian American community, and to discourage the occurrence of similar injustices" in the future, Simitian's office announced. The measure is consistent with action taken in the U.S. Congress earlier in the decade.
During World War II, the United States government designated more than 100,000 California residents as "aliens" and forced many to leave their homes or endure other hardships. The majority of those targeted were of Japanese descent but 10,000 Italian Americans were also forced to leave their homes.
Greater numbers were required to carry identification cards, were restricted in their travels and were subject to curfew. In some instances, their property was seized, and their livelihoods, particularly fishing along the coast, were denied.
Simitian's resolution originated in a proposal from Chet Campanella, a resident of San Jose's Willow Glen neighborhood, as part of the senator's annual "There Oughta Be a Law" contest. Campanella's parents, while not interned, were subjected to a curfew and searches of their home, he said.
"We refer to it as the 'untold story' because it was classified. No one was supposed to know about it," Campanella said. "Younger people probably don't know that this ever happened. I love this country, and I think a formal apology is so important to the older people, the survivors, before we die."
Passage of the resolution "makes me really happy on behalf of grandparents, aunts and uncles, my parents and their friends -- people who were really mistreated during World War II. It's finally coming to an end," he said.
A report to Congress in November 2001, entitled "A Review of the Restrictions on Persons of Italian Ancestry During World War II," chronicled the injustices against Italian Americans, who at that time were the largest foreign-born group in the United States.
"The impact of the wartime experience was devastating to Italian American communities in the United States and its effects are still being felt," the congressional report concluded.
Simitian said, "The treatment during World War II of people who were unjustly considered 'suspicious' because of their ethnic background was a sad chapter for our state. For survivors of that experience and their descendants, I hope this resolution will provide a long-due measure of recognition and respect."
The resolution addresses a historic event, but Simitian said the issue "has never been more timely. Given America's ongoing conflict abroad, the World War II experience is an important reminder of the need to respect the role and rights of those who have ties abroad."
Simitian's "There Oughta Be a Law" contest invites constituents to suggest legislation. The winning ideas are introduced as bills. Campanella traveled to Sacramento to testify in support of the resolution in the Senate Rules Committee.
Simitian said he was particularly moved to seek acknowledgment by the legislature because of the its "regrettable" role in the episode. The legislature's 1943 report of the "Joint Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities in California," commonly referred to as the Tenney Report for its author Sen. Jack Tenney, "was not an effort that reflected particularly well on the legislature," Simitian said.