WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Doris Matsui (CA-06) testified in front of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties on the discrimination and violence Asian Americans have faced both historically and since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are her remarks:
“Thank you Chairman Cohen, Ranking Member Johnson, and members of the committee for the opportunity to testify.
“I am very proud to join this distinguished panel of our colleagues. And, yet, I wish it was not necessary for us to be here under such troubling circumstances – to address the disturbing spike in discrimination and violence against AAPI communities across the nation. Just a couple days ago, eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent, were shot and killed outside of Atlanta. This latest attack stands as a horrible reminder of the fear and pain felt by AAPI communities across this country.
“I have lived an American story – I grew up on a farm in California, went to UC Berkeley and got a great public education; I got married and settled in Sacramento with my husband where we raised our son, and I have had the privilege to work in public service in the White House and here in Congress where I work on clean energy policy, good healthcare and jobs, and flood protection for my district.
“But I have a responsibility and a moral obligation to speak out about the normalizing of attacks on the AAPI community. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have heard constant hostile rhetoric directed at the AAPI community, including from leaders at the highest levels of our government. There is a systemic problem here – and we are dutybound to stop the spread of xenophobic and racist ideas that have escalated to physical threats.
“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who fought against discrimination in her remarkable life, used to talk about her mother and ask questions about what the difference was between a bookkeeper in Brooklyn’s garment district and a Supreme Court Justice. Her answer: “One generation.” This kind of family history is essential to understanding American History. We all share the charge to ensure that our country not only learns from but does not forget its past. Because of my history and background, I know I have a duty to speak up. Future generations are listening – especially my grandchildren.
“In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, approving the removal of American citizens of Japanese descent to remote camps. My parents and grandparents were among 120,000 forced to leave their homes and businesses. They were sent by their own government – our government – to a camp in Poston, Arizona. They lived in appalling conditions, surrounded by a barbed wire fence, armed guards on towers – incarcerated solely because of their ancestry.
“Despite the good fortune in my life, I am not even one generation removed from that experience. I was born in the Poston internment camp, but because I was a baby, I have no personal memories. My parents rarely talked to me about their time there. I had an ordinary childhood. I think my parents didn’t want to burden me with that experience; they just wanted me to move forward and reach for the stars. I would hear conversations from time to time about life in the camp. I sort of knew what happened but I didn’t realize at that time how much their lives had been turned upside down.
“It was when I went to college that I met students whose parents were very affected by the internment and we started talking. The vast majority of the people who were sent to camp were American citizens. And you wonder – how did this happen? It was then that we all realized that ‘We have to learn more about this – this is part of our family history. This is part of American history.’
“During World War II, many were blinded by prejudice. Our government and many of its leaders advanced the myth that the Japanese American community was inherently our enemy. Americans across the country believed it – acceded to institutionalized racism and acted on it. It was not uncommon to accuse an innocent person of violating our country’s trust – with no evidence. This societal shift to accept and normalize wrongdoing was exactly what kept Japanese Americans imprisoned for over three years.
“These were Americans who previously lived normal lives. They owned homes, shops; were farmers, doctors, lawyers, teachers – just regular folks who were betrayed by their country because of a dangerous spiral of injustice.
“Last year, when I heard those at the highest levels of government use racist slurs like ‘China Virus’ to spread xenophobia and cast blame on innocent communities, it was all too familiar. Comments like these only build upon the legacy of racism, anti-Asian sentiment and insensitivity that seeks to divide our nation.
“So yes, I was deeply shaken by the angry currents in our nation. The heated discourse at the highest levels of our government cannot be viewed in isolation from the ensuing violence in our communities. The fear of ‘the other,’ whether racial, religious, or tribal, that works to suppress the better angels of our nature. We have seen the consequences when we go down this path. My family has lived through these consequences. This is what we are working to root out from its deepest place in our social conscience.
“After the incarceration of the Japanese American community, our country moved on for decades without coming to terms with what our government did and what many Americans turned a blind eye to. It took decades for testimonies to be heard in Congress. It took decades for lawmakers to hear our pain.
“My late husband, Bob Matsui, was first elected to Congress in 1978 and served on the Ways and Means Committee. He loved that work. But because of his parents’ experience – the experience of the Japanese American community – he passionately believed in justice and therefore devoted an enormous amount of time and dedication to the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, by which the United States government apologized and paid token compensation to the Japanese Americans who had been incarcerated. Bob said in the floor debate on that legislation that he believed it was possible because ‘this is a great and wonderful country.’
“Today’s hearing is another reminder that our country is capable of growth – that this legislative body will no longer sit in silence while our communities suffer racism and hatred. Now is the time to recommit to moving forward with a shared vision for our future built upon basic human dignity.
“Again, I thank the Chairman, the Ranking Member and I yield back. Thank you.”
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