RABBIT RAMBLINGS: Revisiting the redress days

The death of Gordon Hirabayashi closes the chapter on some of the heroic actions taken by three Japanese Americans during WWII. Hirabayashi, Min Yasui and Fred Korematsu were all men who challenged the government over our illegal incarceration in the courts, and their cases went up to the Supreme Court of the United States.

They were not the only ones to consider a legal fight; there were others who tried to go the judicial route, but were thwarted. These three had lawyers who were determined enough to follow through on the cases.

Gordon had the Quaker lawyer, Arthur Barnett, Fred Korematsu had the ACLU’s Ernest Besig and Wayne Collins. A private lawyer, Earl Bernard, represented Min Yasui.

Anyway, as you all probably know, all lost their cases, and the Supreme Court more or less said that during wartime, the military was allowed to incarcerate people that were thought to be potentially disloyal or dangerous.

One of the highlights of the years when we were involved in redress was the vacating of the rulings of guilt placed on these men. Now, we’re faced with the actual legalizing of imprisoning citizens, but that is a big topic I’m putting aside for later discussion.

Another reminder of those days is the publication of “Speaking Out for Personal Justice: Site Summaries of Testimonies and Witnesses Registry of the U.S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians Hearings, 1981,” edited by Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga and Marjorie Lee, published by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund.

Perhaps you don’t know about or don’t remember those hearings that took place in cities across the U.S., with a commission appointed by President Jimmy Carter. For the first time, former inmates of the camps were given an opportunity to speak of their experiences before an official body. Reading this book enlarged my understanding of those commission hearings because I didn’t really understand the scope of the undertaking. I did attend the Seattle hearing, and now I’m really impressed with the numerous hearings that involved many of the government officials that were connected to the program and were still alive in 1980-81.

So, this thorough and expanded compilation makes this book a vital link in enlarging our knowledge of the redress years. It has been years since Aiko and Jack Herzig undertook the mission of editing the commission papers for publication, and now it has been completed. I do remember that part of the redress bill that said $50 million was to be appropriated for educational purposes. Well, of course, only $5 million was finally appropriated, and the rest was just forgotten. We should have pushed for it, but we didn’t.

The proceedings of the hearings were also supposed to be printed by the commission, but they said that they ran out of money. So, the Herzigs took up the laborious project but again, lack of money slowed the project down. Fortunately, the UCLA Asian American Studies Center took up the cause, so we should be very grateful for this decision.

Reading this book reminded me of the tumultuous days of working for redress, and one of the most galvanizing high points were these very hearings, held all across the country, and their intensity. Hearing these individuals tell their stories was a revelation, and for those who actually attended them, reading “Speaking Out for Personal Justice” will bring vivid recollections of those drama filled days. The heartfelt testimony of a good cross section of our community was electrifying for me. I helped gather some of those stories from Issei who requested help in translating their testimony into English and thinking back on it makes me mad all over again.

Anyway, you all ought to order the book and read it. Their Website is: www.speakingoutforpersonaljustice.com.

Chizu Omori, of San Francisco, is co-producer of the award-winning film “Rabbit in the Moon.” She can be reached at chizuomori@earthlink.net. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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