Our guest for the hour is Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles and newly elected chair of the Global Assembly of Amnesty Interational. She gave the keynote speech for the Tanner Center for Human Rights lecture series on August 30th at the University of Utah. The title of her lecture was "Never Again is Now: Remembering and Reaffirming Our Collective Commitment to Protecting Civil Rights."
Ann Burroughs, who grew up in South Africa, was arrested and jailed as a political prisoner because of her opposition to apartheid. She was just 22 years old at the time. Burroughs was released after Amnesty International took up her case.
It was an early lesson in what it means to stand up for racial and social justice, and set Burroughs on a lifelong effort to promote understanding, acceptance, and appreciation for ethnic and cultural diversity -- now as president of the Japanese American National Museum.
Burroughs says that we need to remember history to "stand guard" against current events that threaten liberty and equality, particularly access to immigration. The internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II shows how easily "a climate of hatred and fear can be created." Burrows has said, "how easily rhetoric can normalize division and exclusion and how easily that same rhetoric can drive acceptance and submissiveness."
The order that led to the detention of Japanese Americans -- Executive Order 9066 signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 -- was "unbelievably stark in its ordinariness, a banal government document" that had devastating consequences for Japanese Americans. Burroughs says this unfortunate chapter of American history risks being replayed today.