S.F. DOR remembers civil rights icon Hirabayashi, urges vigilance


Lane Ryo Hirabayashi accepts a wall scroll honoring his uncle from Karen Korematsu. photo by Kahn Yamada

On Feb. 19, hundreds gathered at the Bay Area Day of Remembrance (DOR), which was held at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco’s Japantown, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066. The order, signed by then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, authorized the mass incarceration of some 120,000 Nikkei during World War II.

The Bay Area DOR Consortium dedicated this year’s program to Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi, who passed away on Jan. 2 after a bout with Alzheimer’s disease.

Hirabayashi was an icon of the Redress Movement. His stalwart resistance to both the curfew order of Japanese Americans, which was instituted a month after the signing of E.O. 9066, and the wartime incarceration, eventually led to vindication when, in 1987, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated his wartime conviction for violating the exclusion order.

Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, a professor of Asian American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, served as the keynote speaker at the event. His presentation focused on his uncle’s younger years, and the formation of his pacifist beliefs. Hirabayashi shared intimate knowledge of his uncle that he had gleaned through reviewing the civil rights icon’s photographs and letters.

A Man of Principle
“The Hirabayashis were Japanese Christians,” said Hirabayashi. Their religious faith played a central role in Gordon Hirabayashi’s identity formation.
According to Lane Hirabayashi, the sect of Christianity his family followed, the Mukyokai, practiced pacifism. Prior to resisting the curfew and mass incarceration, Gordon Hirabayashi had written “conscientious objector” on his draft card.

Letters Hirabayashi wrote following his arrest for breaking curfew revealed that his need to resist outweighed his concern for his family.
In his high school yearbook, Hirabayashi was said to have been a member of the school’s basketball team and the glee club. He was described as “a true gentleman” in his yearbook photo.

“He was a social guy interested in religion,” said his nephew. While a student, Hirabayashi was active in the YMCA and the Japanese American student groups. He also became a Quaker, joining the American Friends Service Committee.

‘Ancestry is Not a Crime!’
This year’s ceremony started with a recording of late redress activist Sox Kitashima’s “Let Us Not Forget,” which voiced the ire and hardships of the wartime incarceration. “Military necessity, a weak excuse for racism, was never justified,” Kitashima said, lambasting the exclusion in her iconic speech.
Karen Korematsu, daughter of civil rights icon Fred Korematsu and co-founder of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education, served as emcee for the day’s presentation. She quoted Hirabayashi in reiterating, “ancestry is not a crime!” and reflected on her own father’s fight for civil liberties, especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Fred Korematsu defied the relocation order, going as far as to obtain minor plastic surgery to alter his looks. His arrest and subsequent court case went up to the U.S. Supreme Court. His case was reopened in the 1980s and vacated by the judge.

San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar also spoke at the event. “Gordon Hirabayashi was a hero to me,” he said. “I tried to learn from his experiences. Seventy years after Executive Order 9066, we have a lot to celebrate, but we still have a long way to go.”

The program featured a number of cultural presentations, including previews of John deGraff’s “A Personal Matter: Gordon Hirabayashi vs. The United States” and Konrad Aderer’s “Enemy Alien.” The films were shown at the “Films of Remembrance” program that took place the next day.

The hip-hop group, the ScoJourners, performed “Herd ‘em up, Pack ‘em Off” and “Warchild,” pieces that describe the Nikkei wartime experiences.

The Rosa Parks Elementary School Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program students gave a reading of “Why I Refused to Register for Evacuation,” a letter Gordon Hirabayashi wrote to the FBI in May of 1942.

Lane Ryo Hirabayashi accepts a wall scroll honoring his uncle from Karen Korematsu. photo by Kahn Yamada

Korematsu then presented a calligraphy scroll painted by Konko Church Rev. Masato Kawahatsu to Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, representing the Hirabayashi family, prior to his keynote address. The scroll read “yuukan na hito” (a brave person).

Indefinite Detention
Robert Rusky gave an address on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and “indefinite detention.” Rusky, who served as a part of Fred Korematsu’s coram nobis legal team in the 1980s, described the potential abuses of power, which the NDAA made capable.

Rusky said he attended a conference for the 25th anniversary of the Ninth Circuit Court opinion of Hirabayashi v. United States, hosted by the Korematsu Center for Law and Equality. “It was sad and sobering as Gordon had just passed,” he said. “We gathered in the name of remembrance, but why remember them?”

The law, which President Barack Obama signed on Dec. 31 of last year, provides funding to the nation’s military budget, and authorizes the president to “indefinitely imprison anyone who, in any way, aided or supported the enemy,” Rusky said. “The wording is vague and gives lots of leeway… the law expands (military) power and violates constitutional rights.”

When Obama signed the bill into law, he expressed his objections to it despite signing it; however, “Obama’s objections were not based on the Constitution,” said Rusky. “He was afraid it would restrict presidential powers … ordinary folks don’t care who wins here, because we lose.”

Rusky noted that a Senate bill and House resolution are currently working their way through Congress to allow the government to strip U.S. citizens of their citizenship. Rusky stressed that a vocal opposition is needed. “Just as Min, Gordon and Fred did, it’s our duty as citizens if we want our freedom preserved.”
Grace Shimizu spoke, representing the Campaign for Justice: Redress Now for Japanese Latin Americans!.

During the war, 2,200 Japanese Latin Americans were taken from their homes and sent to the U.S., where they were imprisoned in Department of Justice camps. Shimizu said the detainees were subject to forced labor, such as digging the Panama Canal, and were used as hostages to trade with Japan for American nationals. After the war, they were denied the right to return to their homes in Latin America and were refused U.S. citizenship. “The United States steadfastly refuses to acknowledge them,” said Shimizu.

Sen. Daniel Inouye submitted a Senate bill calling for the establishment of a fact-finding commission to investigate the incarceration of Japanese Latin Americans, but Shimizu said the bill had been shelved.

Shimizu also called for the repeal of NDAA, and claimed, “We don’t have to repeat history.”

PAINTER AND PEACE ADVOCATE — Iwao Lewis Suzuki accepts this year's Dr. Clifford I. Uyeda Peace & Humanitarian Award. photo by Kahn Yamada

Veteran, Artist, Peace Advocate
This year’s Dr. Clifford I. Uyeda Peace and Humanitarian Award was presented to World War II veteran and painter, Iwao Lewis Suzuki. The award, named after a San Francisco pediatrician and human rights activist, honors individuals for their courageous leadership and dedication to the principles of peace and social justice.

Suzuki, at 92, resides in Berkeley, Calif. His art, which is shown across the world, supports peace. He created a poster for the World Peace Conference in Vienna, Austria with themes such as “No More Hiroshima,” “Freedom Now” and “Peace on Earth.” He was also honored last year with the Congressional Gold Medal for his service in the Military Intelligence Service as a bilingual instructor for Nisei linguists.

Chizu Iiyama, the 2009 recipient of the award, presented this year’s award to Suzuki. “Lewis’s art fills you with hope,” said Korematsu.

“It is an honor to receive this from my own community,” said Suzuki, who stressed the need for peace and called for the U.S. military to pull out of Okinawa and other occupying regions.

Candle Lighting Ceremony
The ceremony concluded with the lighting of 11 candles representing the 10 concentration camps, which held persons of Japanese descent from the U.S. West Coast and the 27 Department of Justice camps, including that which incarcerated the 2,200 Japanese Latin Americans.

Rachel Inouye, programs coordinator for the National Japanese American Historical Society and Ryan Kimura, director of programs and community affairs at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC), emceed the candle lighting.

Art Shibayama, a Japanese Latin American who was abducted from Peru, lit the candle for the Department of Justice camps. Stephanie Miyashiro, an activist for disability rights and the Redress Movement, represented Manzanar, Calif. Molly Kitajima, a Japanese Canadian redress activist, lit the candle for Minidoka, Idaho. Karl K. Matsushita, director of the Japanese American National Library, lit the candle for Jerome, Ark. Florence Ohmura Dobashi, a community member who worked at the ACLU, lit the candle for Poston, Ariz. Jo Tanaka, who serves on the board of directors for J-Sei, formerly known as Japanese American Services of the East Bay (JASEB), lit the candle for Heart Mountain, Wyo. Wardah Chowdhry, a 17-year-old youth director of American Muslim Voice, lit the candle for Rohwer, Ark. Susumu Yenokida and Ken Yoshida, both Nisei draft resisters, lit the candle for Gila River, Ariz. Koji Ozawa, a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal for his service in the Military Intelligence Service, lit a candle for Topaz, Utah. Shigeyuki “Shig” Doi, a veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, lit the candle for Granada (Amache), Colo. Finally, Hiroshi Kashiwagi, a Nikkei writer and actor, lit the candle for Tule Lake, Calif.

Following the event, participants were invited to a reception at the JCCCNC. Audience members met with Suzuki, as well as the other speakers and performers.

Major sponsorship of the Day of Remembrance was provided by Lane Hirabayashi, Aratani Endowed Chair, Asian American Studies, UCLA.

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