There’s a movie called The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) that stars Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal. It’s about a flying saucer that comes to earth and warns the earthlings that unless humans quit fighting among themselves, the planet will be destroyed. As a demonstration of their cosmic abilities, the aliens neutralize electricity and offer an ultimatum that people better live in peace or face annihilation.
Not much explanation is necessary about what happened on September 11, 2001, other than it was a day the earth stood still. You likely know where you were and what you were doing that day. My unremarkable commute to work that summer morning is one I’ll remember.
When the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were hit by three commercial passenger jets, and a fourth that crashed in a Pennsylvania field, those terrorist attacks would fan the flames of racial and ethnic xenophobia in America that was sparked similarly when the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and drew the United States into World War II.
After the attack on Hawai’i, in May 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) signed Executive Order (E.O.) 9066 that ordered, among other things, Japanese – particularly those living on the West Coast – to uproot themselves from their homes and businesses.
There was fear that there may be Japanese spies embedded within the general citizenry on the West Coast.
Throughout Beyond Heart Mountain, I provide some insight into the huge government bureaucracy established as a result of that national paranoia.
Parts of the federal government were reorganized, and new agencies established to manage somewhere between 112,000 to 120,000 men, women and children of Japanese descent who were sorted out in 15 assembly centers before being herded up and shipped by rail to one of 10 makeshift war relocation centers constructed in remote places within the interior of the United States.
To say that E.O. 9066 dug a cultural trench between Asians and white America is an understatement. While researching this story, I learned the American quest for cultural and racial homogeneity is nothing new.
It’s not like the U.S. government always propped up a xenophobic culture.
After the United States left Vietnam in the capable hands of Communists in 1975, thousands of “boat people” travelled to the free world, including the United States. The military set up detention camps at several army bases to temporarily house Vietnamese refugees.
The week before Saigon – now Ho Chi Minh City – fell, U.S. Navy ships and its air force evacuated 95,000 South Vietnamese. Later in 1975, another 125,000 refugees left South Vietnam and received at U.S. military bases in the Philippines and Guam before being transferred to other domestic installations where they were housed in preparation for permanent resettlement.
At the beginning of the mass exodus, there wasn’t a strong consensus among Americans around whether South Vietnamese refugees resettlement in the United States was a good idea or not.
Despite the split public opinion, the U.S. Congress approved the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act and signed into law by President Gerald Ford in May 1975.
The legislation allowed Vietnamese refugees to enter the United States under a special status and allocated $405 million in resettlement aid.
To prevent the refugees from forming ethnic ghettos and minimize their impact on local communities, they were distributed around the country, but over time, many coalesced in California and Texas.
Flash forward to 2019, there are thousands of immigrants and asylum-seekers who have crossed America’s southern border illegally and legally. Families are separated into sparse living conditions. In some cases, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security doesn’t know what kid belongs to which family.
There are some news pundits who continue to perpetuate America’s historic xenophobia and wont to preserve racial and ethnic homogeneity. The talking heads demonize the influx of newcomers as a “attackers” or “invaders.”
The earth is still standing still.